November 17, 2011OSSIPEE— "We can't ask a man to do a job if he doesn't have the tools to do it," Rep. Harry Merrow said in support of purchasing a new pickup with plow and sander for the county farm.
His comment came in the middle of discussion at the Nov. 14 county delegation meeting and during a confusing shuffle of parliamentary procedure.
At their October meeting, the delegation voted not to allow the county commissioners to withdraw $38,000 from the nursing home contingency fund to purchase a pickup, sander and plow.
At the Nov. 14 meeting, they voted to reconsider that vote. Then they voted not to take the money out of the contingency fund. Then they voted to allow the commissioners to buy the truck as long as they pay for it out of unspent money in this year's operating budget. After several questions about the correct un-voting a previous vote and re-voting on whether or not to take it out of contingency and then voting on whether or not to even purchase the truck, by the end of the day none of the voting mattered since they were right back where they started.
When it was settled, however, the question remained whether or not the delegation has any authority over how the county money is spent after the budget is approved or whether this is just a power struggle between the delegation and commissioners.
Delegation chair Betsey Patten explained that the commissioners were coming to the delegation as a courtesy to keep them informed about how they are spending money, something she said past commissioners did not do. After the meeting, Commissioner David Sorensen said a legal opinion is needed on who controls the purse strings because it is a "gray area."
Commissioners argued that taking the money out of the new nursing home contingency fund makes sense. The new home, they said, with added parking lots, driveways, and walkways has created an increased amount of work for the maintenance crew. All delegates at the meeting agreed a new truck is needed.
They got to view the old truck on their way into the meeting as farm manager Will DeWitte had it parked on the front lawn of the administration building with a cardboard sign asking "Is this safe to drive?"
Perhaps the old truck with its rusted out floorboards and side panels and the sander loaded in the back of it that makes the rear of the truck nearly touch the ground helped them visualize the need.
Registrar of Deeds Ann Aiton expressed her disgust at the squabbling over whether or not the snow removal equipment should be purchased and said if she had leftover money in her budget she would be "honored" to give the money to the purchase. She said she is "really frustrated that when a true need or emergency" arises it is handled this way. She said $38,000 is not a lot of money when compared to the amount of money the county will have to pay out if the snow and ice are not cleared and someone has an accident or a fall.
Commissioners had been chastised at the last delegation meeting for not including the request for a new truck in the 2010-11 budget if it was in such dire need of replacement. When that issue was brought up again Monday, DeWitte spoke firmly in response to the condescending tone of the accusation that he should be more thoughtful in his budgeting requests and ask for equipment he really needs. He said he was well aware of the equipment replacement needs for his department when he went through the 2010-11 budget cycle with the delegation. He said he asked for three pieces of critical equipment including the new truck, lawnmower, and snow blower. The delegation squashed his full request, granting him permission to only buy the lawnmower. DeWitte and commissioners are now left to scrounge for the money for the new truck and the snow blower elsewhere in the budget.
Commissioners had already instructed DeWitte earlier this month to place the order for the new truck. They came to the delegation meeting Monday to get the delegates to tell them how to pay for it. The delegates offered a few suggestions.
Rep. Chris Ahlgren (R-Wolfeboro) suggested the commissioners take the money out of the $2.3 million nursing home operating surplus that is anticipated to be available by the end of the year.
County Finance Manager Kathy Garry told Ahlgren there is no way the nursing home operating budget is going to come in with such a surplus at the end of the year. It was questioned whether or not Ahlgren was confusing this with the new nursing home construction budget, which Commissioner David Sorensen said pending final review is expected to come in $2.6 or $2.7 million under budget. Ahlgren insisted he was talking about the operating budget. Sorensen said the nursing home has always run in the deficit and though that margin has been getting smaller and smaller due to the efforts of the nursing home administrator and staff and the home being at capacity all the time.
Old nursing home
Delegates who attended the meeting were upset that Chairman Betsey Patten agreed not to hold any votes on the old nursing home, at the request of delegates who could not be at the meeting. Those who did not attend were Mark McConkey (R-Freedom), Gene Chandler (R-Bartlett), Laurie Pettengill (R-Glen), and Frank McCarthy (R-Conway). Chandler never attends the county delegation meetings on Mondays due to work obligations. Delegates who attended the meeting said votes have never been held off in the past just because some members of the delegation could not attend and it shouldn't have been done this time. Patten had already promised the absent delegates there would be no vote because they couldn't be there so no vote was taken on the fate of the old nursing home and the renovation plan.
The delegation meeting agenda was also rearranged the morning of the meeting. Third quarter budget review for all departments was set to take place first and then a presentation and discussion about the cost of renovating the home was to happen next. The two agenda items were switched at the start of the meeting, leaving anyone who planned to come later in the meeting to hear the nursing home discussion out of luck and missing out on that discussion.
In the proposed renovation and reuse study of the old nursing home, Bonnette, Page and Stone Corporation's President Randall Remick presented a summary of potential work to be done.
The estimate for renovating the 4,500 square feet including new heating and cooling systems, wiring and ceilings for office space to house UNH Cooperative Extension is $452,400. The home has a core and four wings. The estimate to reroof the 15,000 square foot core area is $405,000. To make improvements to the laundry area's 1,600 square feet, $154,800 is needed. The maintenance work and storage space will be completed not by contractors but by the county's maintenance staff so there is no cost in the presented estimate. The cost of demolishing the four wings has many questioning whether or not it is a good use of taxpayer dollars. Some delegates are arguing that the four wings should be demolished for fear keeping them up will only lead to unnecessary expansion of government in the future. Others argue that the wings should be "mothballed" and left standing for future possible needs of the county. In the estimate, BPS suggests the cost of tearing down two wings and closing in the holes left in the core is $230,600. If all four wings are torn down, that demolition cost would be doubled. The delegation has voted, reconsidered, and then voted again to tear down all four wings at previous meetings.
Because of the absence of four delegates at Monday's meeting, any vote to reconsider or to spend money to renovate will have to wait until the county delegation meets next on Dec. 12 at 9 a.m. at the county administration building in Ossipee.
Anyone wishing to contact the county delegates can find partial contact information at the county's website at www.carrollcountynh.net or by calling the county business office at 539-7751.