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Carroll County commissioners finally have a bottom line

THE COUNTY DELEGATION, led by Chair Betsey Patten (left) approved a final Carroll County 2011 budget during an emergency meeting in Concord on March 31. (Mellisa Ferland photo) (click for larger version)
April 07, 2011
OSSIPEE — Three months of scrutinizing, meeting, and haggling once again came to an end March 31 as the county delegation voted to approve the county's 2011 budget of $25,687,243. The delegation had until that date to put their stamp of approval on the county budget or the commissioners' budget would go into effect, $880,000 higher than what the delegates wanted. The county commissioners have been working on the budget since last fall, nearly an eight-month process.

The final budget vote took place during a lunch break in Concord, at an emergency meeting held by the delegates, who were at the state house voting on the State budget that day as well.

After six hours of chiseling the budget line-by-line on March 21, the delegation meeting ended with the group unable to come to agreement on a final number, after a motion to set the budget at $25,937,243 failed with five delegates voting in favor and seven against. They decided to come back a week later, March 28, at the county complex in Ossipee and try again.

Again, no success after a morning meeting adjourned with the delegation telling commissioners to shave an additional $250,000 out of the budget anywhere they could find it.

Commissioners held an emergency meeting that afternoon intent on finding the quarter-million dollars in cuts. They managed to squeeze the budget down to a number the delegation could approve.

Time will tell how the budget cuts will affect county business this year but Commissioner David Sorensen did say the commissioners to not expect any layoffs to result from the cuts. Two new hires for the nursing home will be delayed until later in the year, saving $30,000 and commissioners announced at their March 16 meeting that the move to the new nursing home will likely be delayed a bit until August.

While the delegation was scouring the budget in subcommittees and at their Monday meetings, those attending the Wednesday commissioner's meetings weren't holding back their frustration with the way the delegates were handling the budget process or treating the department heads.

Former District 3 state representative and regular commission meeting attendee Susan Wiley told the commissioners it was time for a "reality check" at their March 23 meeting. "We elected a delegation … who said you were coming on to serve as legislators and create jobs and help us with the economy. And what have you done? Where are the jobs? You are harassing the department heads in the county who have done the best they can do with the least amount of money. I am so angry. This is a prosperous state. These are hard working people. We have no business, when this commission went through that budget line by line and found every deficiency they could. Then the delegation comes in with 14 republicans saying we can't do this. I do give Representative Babson credit for standing up for the farm budget and for making certain there is a business plan at the farm," said Wiley. During the budget process, she said, representatives who needed to attend and learn about the farm, the jail and the nursing home didn't bother to come and learn.

As for the nursing home administrator, Wiley said the representatives didn't even take into consideration the hundreds of thousands of dollars she has saved the county, the fact that the nursing home has a waiting list for the first time in years, and the staff works harder than they ever have.

"We can't trust these people? Give me a break. These privileged legislators who think that the backs of our hard working employees at the county need to suffer because they need to have privilege and they can't find any other place for revenue in the state other than cut, cut, cut. This isn't Wisconsin or Alabama this is New Hampshire. We are prosperous. We are careful. We have good policy. We have commissioners who have done their jobs. After 30 years of watching the county commissioners, this is the first time I've seen them go line-by-line looking. And then 14 people can come in and totally rip apart budgets that are well planned and well thought out?"she asked.

Current N.H. District 3 Representative and regular attendee at commission meetings, David Babson, chastised his fellow delegates and said, "I find it offensive. The representatives are not in session today. I have been coming for four years and other than Rep. Wiley and once when it affected Rep. Patten, I haven't seen an elected representative here and yet they sit here and make all the decisions on the budget. I think that is wrong. I still think we should elect a representative like we do for Concord to sit here every week and do the budget work. I listen to these blowhards that have no idea what they are talking about."

Babson was an advocate throughout for the expansion of the county farm business to include raising livestock as proposed in the business plan. He was one of three that voted against the bottom line county budget. Representatives Norman Tregenza (District 2) and Frank McCarthy (District 1) also voted against it. Tregenza tried a last minute motion to cut a position from the sheriff's department but his motion was denied by delegation chairman Betsey Patten. "You don't want to do that. There is not enough time to get the figures, get it certified and get it to DRA (NH Department of Revenue). They need this by the end of the day or else the commissioners' budget goes into effect. You can do that next year," said Patten.

What's in, what's out

Some things will go ahead as planned this year including the design and upgrades to the old nursing home once the residents move into the new home. The deadline is April 12 for applicants interested in the project coordinator/construction manager position. Project duration is expected to last a year. The right candidate will have experience in renovating county/public office space, capital finance, planning and design and contractor oversight. More information about the position can be found by calling human resource director Robin Reade at 539-1721. One projected use of the old building is housing the county's UNH Cooperative Extension office. Currently, the county pays rent for office space in Conway.

Another project that didn't make the budget cut is the proposed vehicle-impound area. Before the budget was even finalized, commissioners sent word to area selectmen and state police that the delegation had voted down money needed to build a new impound area. Vehicles that are being held for evidence in cases have to be kept in a secure area and previously other police agencies could use the lot at the county campus. Possible ground contamination issues arose, however, with upgrades needed to prevent vehicle fluids from leaking into the ground. The plan went to the town's planning board for review but will not be funded this year.

All three commissioners are now charged with working with department heads throughout the year to keep an eye on the bottom line. Freshman commissioner Asha Kenney took some heat at the March 30 meeting from commission meeting regular attendee Henry Spencer. "At the end of the delegation meeting on Monday, you ended the meeting by stating that this wasn't your budget and you didn't support it. I've been coming to the meetings on Wednesdays and I have never heard you say anything like that before. You represent my district. Why did you feel it necessary to separate yourself from the budget at the very end of the process as opposed to doing it throughout the last couple of months?" he asked. Kenney responded that she was not sworn in until January 4 so it was not her budget but rather she inherited it. Later in the meeting, however, she did say that it is a good budget after all the cuts.

One item that is still planned for this year is the upgrade to the county Web site to make minutes and information more accessible. In the meantime, commission and delegation meetings are videotaped and are being posted at www.governmentoversite.com.

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