County delegation will carefully scrutinize 2012 budget
County administrator to look for non-essential items
November 16, 2011LANCASTER — The eight members of the 11-member county delegation of state representatives on hand during its Monday morning meeting, in essence, gave notice that it plans to conduct a more thorough review of the county budget than is usual.
After more than a half-hour discussion they passed a motion, 5 to 2, that directs county administrator Sue Collins to conduct an assessment of any non-Constitutionally required programs, buildings, or equipment with an eye to potentially eliminating them, this with the exception of the two nursing homes and the Corrections Department. Rep. Herb Richardson of Lancaster and Rep. Marc Tremblay of Berlin voted "no."
Rep. Bill Remick of Lancaster missed the vote by leaving the meeting a few minutes early; Reps. Gary Coulombe and Yvonne Thomas, both of Berlin, and Bill Hatch of Gorham missed the meeting entirely.
Rep. Duffy Daugherty of Colebrook started the ball rolling by proposing that the county commissioners and county administrator look specifically at disposing of the one-story single-family house located on the grounds of the nursing home in West Stewartstown in which Collins lives, rent-free, in order to be available 24/7, and the area transfer station operated by several area towns at no cost to the county, staffed by jail inmates as well as any other program, building, or equipment.
Daugherty characterized Collins' housing entitlement as a "sweetheart deal."
After discussing the history and future ramifications of these two specific items for half an hour, Daugherty redrafted his motion to be more general.
The "Manchester Union Leader" published Collins' pension yearly payout as $93,000 in its Wednesday edition. Collins told the delegation that she is not at all embarrassed by this figure since she had worked a combined 42.5 years of service to Coös County and the Colebrook School District, both of which belong to the state retirement system. She noted that she not only served as county administrator and head of the nursing home but also had taken on the Corrections Department for a time until an orderly succession plan was in place.
County attorney Robert "Bob" Mekeel also updated the delegation on the status of his office space. Mekeel said he has been working closely with design-build contractor Dan Hebert and the commissioners' attorney Phil Waystack, both of Colebrook, to come up with a suitable plan to renovate the former probate offices in the Coös County Court House to meet the needs of a very busy five-person office.
Mekeel explained that he remains reluctant to leave the current spacious offices in the former Lancaster National Bank building, now owned by the Passumpsic Bank. He said he believes that spending what is expected to be $85,000 of county taxpayers' funds to renovate courthouse space is shortsighted because more space will be needed in the not-too-distant future.
Commission chairman Burnham "Bing" Judd of Pittsburg said, however, that the payback period would be six years, since the state's rent is about half the cost of the bank's lease and other associated costs.
The delegation will likely be asked to vote on this capital project at the Dec. 10 public budget hearing. Delegation members appeared ready to support the county commissioners in their desire to keep all the county's court-related functions in the courthouse.
Mekeel once again invited delegation members to visit the offices in the bank.
A delegation subcommittee meeting will be held there at 10 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 5, likely followed by a meeting with Sheriff Gerry Marcou in his Department offices, previously occupied by the county attorney. The subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Richardson, includes Rep. Tremblay, Rep. John Tholl of Whitefield who chairs the delegation, and Rep. Daugherty, who all were on hand. Rep. Robert Theberge, also on hand, said he also plans to attend.
Rep. Evalyn Merrick of Lancaster served as the clerk, in the absence of Rep. Thomas.