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Delegates begin 2011 county budget process


Initial focus on the budget for the county jail



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COUNTY COMMISSIONERS Asha Kenney, David Sorensen, and Dorothy Solomon were joined by Sheriff Chris Conley in budget discussions last Monday morning, Feb. 7, in Ossipee. (Mellisa Ferland photo) (click for larger version)
February 10, 2011
OSSIPEE — State representatives who also serve as the county's 14-member delegation met at the county complex this past Monday, Feb. 7, take a closer look at the 2011 budget. They have six weeks to finalize the county budget.

Last month, the group met and chose subcommittees that have been fact finding and meeting with department heads.

Monday's meeting was a run through of some of the departments and mostly an informational session to hear the subcommittee findings. Voting on the line-by-line 31 page budget will take place in March.

Regular commission meeting attendee and Effingham resident Henry Spencer questioned if those subcommittee meetings were regularly posted and was assured they were so he then urged the subcommittees to at least take attendance if they weren't going to be recording minutes of their meetings. According to Rep. David Babson, chair of the jail committee, his group will continue to meet throughout the year after the budget is approved to make sure the jail budget is staying on track and he urged the other committees to do the same. The majority of the meeting was used to review the county complex technology contract for computer maintenance and network service and the jail budget.

The head of the jail, Jason Johnson, told the delegation the committee came to an agreement to hire three corrections officers in 2011 instead of five that he asked for last year. One of the three would be a replacement for an officer that retired and the other two would be new staff.

"We had an operations audit last year and the auditor recognized that current staffing at the jail is questionable," said Johnson. According to Johnson, the initial jail study done in 2003 found it would take 36 staff to run the jail efficiently and currently there are 27.

Rep. Chris Ahlgren pointed out with some quick math that it costs $43,800 to house one inmate for a year, a number reached by dividing the total operating budget by the total number of "cot days." Ahlgren pointed out that another county has a cost of $34,000 per year and questioned the wide variation. Johnson explained that the more inmates in a facility, the lower the cost per inmate.

"Medical staff are getting burned out because they have to work a lot of overtime," said Johnson with the added request to hire another nurse for the jail as well. Delegates questioned the need for RN-level nurses and why the county can't hire LPN-level instead. Nursing home director Sandi Stevens informed the delegates that LPNs cannot work unsupervised and there are tasks that LPNs are not qualified to do that have to be done by RNs.

Technology

Cyberton, a firm out of Bedford has been serving the county complex's basic computer needs for about 10 years, initially with the jail. For $55,000 a year, according to owner Jon Rich, the company provides full support to the computer systems at the nursing home, jail, and county administration building. They found major deficiencies that "directly affect productivity," found multiple viruses, insufficient memory on many computers and no system in place for regularly backing up computer data. "The primary server in the business office hasn't been backed up in months due to inadequate hardware and improper software," said Rich. With the assistance of the county's IT Committee that is now in place, said Rich, many issues are being resolved that went unchecked for years. Currently, the Registry of Deeds uses another network and computer maintenance company, the same one used by all registries in the state, said Rich. It would cost the county $65,000 additional to add the sheriff's office and dispatch center to the service contract, said Rich, basing his estimate on information he received from the sheriff's department second-in-command David Meyers, who is charged with taking care of all technology issues in that department.

"His system is very thorough with many redundancies in place. Whether it is overkill or not I'm not in a position to say at this time. I can tell you he is very thorough," said Rich and added that based on information he received from Meyers, his firm would have to work four hours a day, every day, just on the upkeep of the computer systems in that end of the administration building.

Babson said there is resistance from nurses that work at the nursing home to do double-duty at the jail. Stevens countered and said the nursing ratio at the home is right where it should be and there is no staff to share with the jail.

Delegates mulled over a few possible revenue-generating ideas including researching the possibility of taking in federal prisoners and getting more inmates out of the jail and on electronic monitoring. Currently, said Johnson, there are two bills before the NH legislature that would give jail superintendents more power to decide who does and doesn't qualify for that program that is currently decided by judges through agreements made with prosecutors. Also, electronic monitoring only applies to sentenced inmates, and those under pre-trial confinement do not qualify, something else that could change.

Rep. Mark McConkey and Ahlgren questioned whether there is enough work for all of the additional requested staff. "Do we really have enough work or are we projecting out that we are going to go back to a much larger inmate population?" asked McConkey. Ahlgren said once all the additional staff are in place and then the inmate population drops the county will still have to employ these personnel.

The overall jail budget is up $118,153 from last year and stands, for now, at $3,162,727.

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