Commissioners wrap up county conversations
October 06, 2010
LACONIA — Selling the Belknap County Nursing Home is out, but regionalizing police dispatch is a possibility, the Belknap County commissioners said during a wrap up of their second annual "County Conversations" tour.
Commissioners Ed Philpot and Christopher Boothby told an audience of mainly town, city and state officials Thursday night that their visits to each of the county's municipalities during the summer had been productive and that they had come to several conclusions. Selling the county nursing home to an outside agency, for example, is now off the table, based on overwhelming feedback from town officials and residents.
"We certainly heard the message loud and clear," Boothby said. "If you can maintain a high quality of care and not have the most expensive nursing home in the state … that would be good."
Philpot said that by consolidating human resources and maintenance programs and centralizing management, the county is already saving $430,000, and the commission will be looking at more potential savings during the upcoming budget process.
Another proposal discussed repeatedly this summer was the possibility of centralizing police dispatch. After hearing from the municipalities that they expect the commissioners to take on a greater role in figuring out how to regionalize such services – and whether it would be worthwhile – the commissioners decided to hire an outside agency to conduct a study on police dispatching services in the county.
"We need to have a comprehensive look at dispatch to see what it's going to look like in the future," Philpot said.
Philpot said the purchase of dispatch consoles has already been approved, but the commissioners insisted that it be portable.
"We're trying to make sure things we're doing now aren't going to box us in," he said. "We're trying not to spend money twice."
The Community Action Program and its transportation system was hotly debated as Tilton Selectman Pat Consentino accused the commissioners of cutting funding for bus services in half. She said seniors in Tilton can't get to the doctors or get food unless they're willing to take a four and a half hour trip.
" You folks cut funding … nothing's been done about it," she said.
Philpot told Consentino he would reiterate what he'd said during their visit to Tilton.
"The county didn't cut it," Philpot said. "CAP didn't ask us … when we see CAP this year (during the budget process), we're going to be talking about those programs."
The CAP budget actually increased last year, but Consentino said the money was spent on hiring a public relations person. She asked what she's supposed to tell elderly residents in Tilton who have to walk to get their medicine or food. The commissioners repeated that they will ask CAP why the transportation program isn't being fully funded.
"I'm not backing off our commitment to seniors," Boothby said. "We have a long and proud history of supporting that outside agency. I don't want anybody to walk away."
"They got every dime they asked for," Philpot added.
Talk of having a countywide juvenile prosecutor also surfaced during the county conversations, and the commissioners said that now they're hoping to see elements of that discussed in this year's budget. They said Strafford County is doing, and a recent visit showed that the process is working well. That county spent $21 million to build a county courthouse and jail, but the jail produces $6 million each year in revenue. They've also reduced recidivism in the county by about half.
The commissioners emphasized that visiting Strafford County was just a starting point.
"You can't just go and copy (what Strafford County did)," Philpot said. "You plan what's going to work for your county. It's not like we can step off the curb and have a program that's just like Strafford County's."
One of the major projects the commission has been working on is a facilities analysis that resulted in several recommendations to deal with immediate safety issues as well as long-term recommendations to deal with programmatic and structural problems.
"We've got some pretty old buildings, and we're going to need to be planning for that pretty soon," Philpot said. "We've got some serious problems with our jail; we've got some serous problems with our courthouse."
Several short-term facilities improvements are being paid for with stimulus funds, but more are needed. The commissioners said the two top priorities are finding administrative space for human resources and finance, and fixing the jail's safety and space problems.