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Carroll County commissioners present 2011 budget to delegation

DELEGATION members gathered at the county complex in Ossipee for the public budget hearing Monday. Pictured here are NH Representatives Laurie Pettengill, Betsey Patten, Karen Umberger, Frank McCarthy, Chris Ahlgren, Dino Scala, Mark McConkey, Joseph Fleck, Norman Tregenza, Harry Merrow, Steve Schmidt, David Babson, and David Knox. Missing from the meeting was Gene Chandler. (Mellisa Ferland photo) (click for larger version)
December 16, 2010
OSSIPEE — After a standing ovation from the public and elected officials present recognizing him for his valuable service, County Commissioner Chip Albee told the group at the delegation meeting Monday, "I've never had so much fun going to work. We've turned government around in Carroll County. Government can work and it can be efficient and we can bring projects in under cost. But it's not just about the money, it's the spirit of the place and that's changed."

The one-term Commissioner will leave office at the end of the month after being ousted by Republican Asha Kenney of Wakefield in November's election.

Monday, Dec. 13, was the county budget public hearing. The purpose was to give the public and delegation members the opportunity to hear a general overview of next year's budget and any proposed capital improvement projects or major purchases.

Kenney was unable to attend the hearing, as she was touring the White House.

The 14 representatives from across the county that make up the delegation were also assigned to seven different subcommittees who will meet and get to know their assigned department's budgets and form recommendations. In February, the delegation will come back together, listen to budget presentations by county department heads, listen to the subcommittee's recommendations, and then vote on the total 2011 budget. They have until March 31, 201l to complete their work.

The meeting room was packed with 13 delegation members, several department heads and about a dozen members of the press and public.

The nursing home has a proposed budget increase of 4.9 percent with a total budget of $11,344,596. The home's anticipated income next year is $8,941,231. Representatives Norman Tregenza, Chris Ahlgren, Joseph Fleck, Betsey Patten, and David Knox are assigned to the nursing home subcommittee to study their budget.

Even with the new nursing home construction project coming in on schedule and a projected $2 million under budget, there seemed to be general agreement that hiring a clerk of the works for the project is an idea worth considering.

The delegation will also explore the best use for the old nursing home building. Commissioners are in favor of a plan to move the county-supported UNH Cooperative Extension office from its $40,000 per year rental space in Conway to the old home and also use the building for county laundry facilities, maintenance storage, and the wood pellet heating system being installed for the new home. Rep. Harry Merrow pointed out that when the delegation originally agreed to move the Extension office to Conway it was with the stipulation it would be moved back to the county complex in five years. Commissioner David Sorensen said the building will need renovations to accommodate its potential future uses including raising part of the roof to allow for garage space for the county's two busses.

Rep. Mark McConkey expressed concern that when the delegation was sold on the need for a new nursing home it was under the assumption the old home was no longer useable, and now the commissioners are recommending sinking money into improvements for the old home. Two of the wings will be torn down, said Albee, and the commissioners are trying to find the best use of the remaining asset.

Rep. Patten reminded the group that Monday's meeting was not for decision making, but a start at gathering information. "This is not the end of the discussion," she said, "only the beginning.

Regional appropriations, budget lines requested from various non-profit agencies including UNH Cooperative Extension, will be studied by McConkey, McCarthy, Schmidt and Umberger.

The county attorney's office has a projected increase of seven percent and a $442,517 total budget. Ahlgren, Dino Scala, Knox, and Laurie Pettengill are assigned to work on this budget with incoming county attorney Thomas Dewhurst, who defeated 12-year incumbent Robin Gordon in November's election. Former representative Robert Bridgham urged the delegation to take necessary precautions to ensure there is no chance of conflict of interest or liability concerns the county is now open to with newly-elected Thomas Dewhurst taking the office of county attorney. Dewhurst plans to continue operating his private law practice in Conway while serving in the full-time position as top prosecutor in the county. "I urge you to institute procedures to be sure there is no conflict of interest…that one side isn't blindsided by the other," said Bridgham. Albee agreed with this concern, "Bridgham is correct. The delegation needs to work on this issue," said Albee.

Scala, Pettengill, Merrow, and Steve Schmidt are assigned to the registry of deeds subcommittee. That department's proposed budget is up 2.1 percent to $515,540. That department is also the county's largest revenue generator with anticipated income in 2011 of $737,248.

For the jail's proposed budget, David Babson, Frank McCarthy, Merrow and Tregenza have been assigned to study the $3,380,880 line item that is up 3.7 percent. At issue for this department is the request to hire at least one additional staff person to increase security and efficiency, measures to increase programs to reduce the staggering 40 percent recidivism rate, and other security and maintenance measures for the building.

Karen Umberger, McConkey, Patten and Schmidt will study the sheriff's office and dispatch center's budgets totaling $2,518,698, which are proposed to increase a total of about eight percent.

All other budget lines such as maintenance, human resources, and administration will be studied by Babson, Fleck, and Patten.

In total, the proposed 2011 county budget expense is $26,566,549 up from $23,299,370. The subcommittees will meet through January and the full delegation will be back Feb. 7 to continue work on approving a proposed 2011 budget.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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