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County commissioners keep conversation going in Tilton


July 14, 2010
TILTON — A year after their first tour, the Belknap County commissioners are revisiting county towns to keep their community conversations moving forward, stopping in Tilton last week.

Commission Vice Chair Edward Philpot, along with Commissioner Richard Long, County Administrator Debra Shackett and several members of the County Delegation, met with the Tilton Board of Selectmen Thursday.

"This whole process started because a little over a year ago the commissioners decided that running a $30 million business, (we ought to) have a business plan," Philpot said.

Philpot said the commissioners are continuing to solicit thoughts and ideas from town officials to set new goals for the upcoming year.

"It's been a great process," he said. "It's been real dynamic We want to continue that process of getting feedback."

Philpot started the discussion by outlining some of the commission's progress in the past year. The county has managed to reduce costs by nearly $500,000 at the county nursing home and has started a single-stream recycling program that's also saving county taxpayers money. The commission has almost finished a complete facilities analysis as well, examining, among other things, a possible expansion for the jail.

Philpot also brought along a few ideas he's heard that he wanted to bounce off Tilton selectmen.

One is the concept of how the county is handling juvenile and adult prosecutions.

"We're not dealing with whole families," he said. "We're dealing with adults and children separately."

Philpot said one of the suggestions he has heard is to have a countywide juvenile prosecutor. He stressed that the commissioners are simply asking whether other towns want to explore the idea based on suggestions they have heard. He called it a "community corrections concept."

"Let the town manage their own affairs and their people," Selectman Katherine Dawson said, reiterating her opposition to regionalization. "When you start regionalizing, it sounds like a cattle call."

In regards to the specific suggestion of having a countywide juvenile prosecutor, Dawson said that keeping those services as local as possible means the town prosecutor knows the families and juveniles involved.

"There is a humanity involved there," she said.

Philpot said the prospect of creating a regional police dispatch is "still out there," but most police chiefs have been against the idea. He also confirmed that regionalizing fire services, which was discussed as a possibility when the commissioners' talks began last year, is not an option at this time.

"Mutual fire is not something we're even talking about, so that's completely off the table," Philpot said.

The board and commissioners agreed that the goal should be to strive for cooperation as opposed to regionalization.

Selectman Sandy Plessner pointed to the aquifer protection ordinances and handbook that Northfield, Tilton and Belmont were able to create for their towns by working together and with the help of Lakes Region Management.

"Yes, it is possible for towns to work together," Plessner said. "Sometimes it seems like a pipe dream, but yes, it does happen."

Philpot also relayed the news that the commissioners have been approached by a company about purchasing the county nursing home. He said the company is legit and pointed out that taxpayers are responsible for covering an average of $3.5 million of the home's budget annually.

"We have a fabulous nursing home," he said, but added that it is the most expensive nursing home in the state.

Dawson said the county and taxpayers should look at the home as an investment into their futures and their loved ones' futures.

"You walk into that nursing home and you would not even know it's a nursing home," she said. "(The thought of) privatizing it horrifies me."

Philpot reiterated that the commissioners' only goal is to open up discussion. He said he had heard numerous positive, unsolicited comments about the nursing home even before this company came along. On the other hand, he said, "There are people out there who say 3.5 million is a lot of money."

"Is this an off the table kind of subject?" he asked. "We felt we'd be remiss to not bring it out to the communities and say, what do you think?"

Selectman Norm Boudreau agreed that the subject should be investigated, as Philpot said they haven't even discussed the details with the company yet.

"I don't think any of us are interested in putting our loved ones in a place where they're just being warehoused," Plessner said.

Going in another direction, selectmen Chair Pat Consentino wanted to know why, when the county pays the Community Action Program to provide senior transportation, CAP is not allowing disabled people to ride the buses. Philpot said he was unaware of that situation and would look into it.

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