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The power of working together


Barnstead, Gilmanton and Belmont discuss pooling resources for purchases


September 29, 2009
GILMANTON — Officials from Barnstead, Belmont and Gilmanton, as well as a representative from the Belknap County Commissioner's office, gathered at the Gilmanton Academy Building on the evening of Sept. 21 in the first of what many hope to be several gatherings with the towns, to discuss how they can better cooperate with each other in order to save money.

Explaining that the idea of the meeting came after speaking with Barnstead selectmen Vice Chairman Jim Barnard and Belmont selectmen Chairman Ron Cormier at a county forum held at the Belknap County Commissioner's office over the summer, Rachel Hatch, Chairwoman of the Gilmanton Board of Selectmen, said that one of the key matters that she wanted to discuss with the towns was how they could pool their resources together and purchase items in bulk.

Barnstead Selectman Gordon Preston informed Hatch and other members of the boards that Barnstead had formed an informal organization with the towns of Chichester, Epsom, Pembroke, Pittsfield and Strafford (collectively known as the Suncook Valley Regional Town Association) back in 2007, in which towns were able to purchase health insurance for their employees together, which saved, according to Preston, $30,000.

He went on to further say that the organization works "nicely," and that he feels Barnstead should be able to cooperate with the other towns at the meeting on cost cutting initiatives in a smooth manner, since all of the towns are in Belknap County.

On the point of cost cutting initiatives, Hatch said that she felt it would be beneficial to all of the towns if they purchased items such as carbide tipped saw blades and salt together.

She added that any savings "is going to make a difference in the long haul."

Barnard commented that he did not see any reason as to why the towns have to purchase high priced vehicles separately. He said that if they were to purchase vehicles together, their purchasing power would increase, while their prices would decrease.

Regionalization of police and fire

Preston also reported that a survey in regards to the prospect of regionalizing police and fire forces would be going out to area towns. He said that its main purpose is to gauge reactions of local town officials.

Barnard added that he believes that in the not too distant future, towns will no longer be able to afford to independently support their police and fire forces. He said that towns need to start to "think outside of their own community," and that the regionalization of police forces has been successful in a few towns in the state.

But there was no consensus on regionalization of emergency services at the meeting, as Barnstead selectmen Andy Houle and Phil Grillo said that they had different opinions on it.

Gilmanton Selectwoman Betty Ann Abbot said that, short of regionalization, it would be beneficial to all of the communities if the towns merged some of their emergency service resources. She added that the Barnstead Fire-Rescue Department already helps Gilmanton out by supplying their tower truck when it is needed.

Gilmanton Fire Chief Kenneth Lockwood said that when regionalization is brought up, many people feel intimidated. "But, we're already doing it," he said, adding that he works with fire chiefs from area towns, and that the Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid joint venture between the towns works very well.

Hatch said that the regionalization of emergency services could be something that warrants further exploration, but, currently, her main focus with the towns is cooperating on bulk purchasing.

"That [the bulk purchasing] is something that we could accomplish now or soon," she said.

Next meeting

At the conclusion of the hour-long meeting, officials from all of towns reached a consensus that, although just preliminary, they had made progress out of the discussions at the meeting.

Belknap County Administrator and Finance Officer Debra Shackett informed the officials that representatives from the towns are encouraged to attend a meeting with representatives from all 11 of the county's municipalities.

The meeting is scheduled for today, Oct. 1, beginning at 2 p.m. at the Belknap County Commissioner's office in Laconia.

Jeanne Beaudin, Belmont's town administrator suggested that officials from each town compile a "wish list" of supplies that they feel can be purchased in cooperation with other towns in the county, and bring it to the meeting.

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