Belknap County delegation rejects supplemental budget request.Lede: Public’s support at meeting
By BEA LEWIS
Union Leader Correspondent
May 24. 2017 9:40AM
LACONIA - Following a four-hour meeting this week, the Belknap County delegation rejected a request to add money to the budget to help fund the county jail.
Voting 7-7 Monday, the delegation defeated county commissioners' request for a $229,500 supplemental appropriation.
After the meeting, Rep. Marc Abear, R-Meredith, the delegation's clerk, said lawmakers will meet again in the next two weeks and predicted a second vote where the request will pass.
Rep. David Huot, D-Laconia, moved to approve a $93,000 supplemental budget request for the Belknap County Sheriff's Department and $136,500 for the Department of Corrections, to be drawn from the unreserved fund balance.
Rep. Tim Lang, R-Sanbornton, seconded the motion.
During the hearing, Department of Corrections Superintendent Keith Gray held to his position recommending that the new Community Corrections Center not be opened without four additional correctional officers that were cut from his budget.
All but one of the area residents who packed the conference room at the county complex spoke in support of the funding.
Several lawmakers voiced concern about constant increases in spending.
Delegation Chairman Herb Vadney, R-Meredith, opened the session by recounting that wages in Belknap County remain $11,000 below the state average.
Gray told the delegation the Belknap County DOC has the fewest beds, the highest inmate population and the lowest number of staff when compared to similar counties like Carroll, Grafton and Sullivan.
The average daily cost of housing an inmate in Belknap County is $103.15 compared to $161.77 in Carroll County, $165.01 in Grafton County and $165.50 in Sullivan, Gray said. If the delegation approved the additional funding, it would increase Belknap County's cost to $118.06, still well below other counties, he said.
“What we're looking to address here is safety for inmates and corrections staff,” said David DeVoy, R-Sanbornton, who chairs the Belknap County Commission and the Jail Planning Committee.
Several people who identified themselves as addicts in recovery said the substance abuse education they received in the county jail helped them find employment and become engaged in the community.
Local veterinarian David Almstrom told the delegation he toured the current jail, and characterized it as antiquated and depressing.
“I don't think you're going to get a pat on the back and an attaboy for saving anyone $2.84 on their taxes,” he said. “We're all fooling ourselves that if we had four new guards we're all going to starve to death.”
David Stamps of Laconia urged the delegation not to be penny wise and pound foolish. He said science has proven that good jail management saves money, like in Sullivan County, which he said has seen a decline in inmates and correctional officers needed to staff the jail.
Jacqui Abikoff urged the delegation to think of the human impact not just the financial cost of their decision.
“What we're talking about here is a program that's going to reduce costs not just for the jail, but the county in general,” she said.
Abikoff said the jail's CORE program currently serves 10 inmates and substance abuse counseling and education is offered. When the community corrections center opens, job training and life skills training will be added to the program, she said.
Since its inception just over a year ago, 28 people have graduated and only seven have returned to jail, a recidivism rate of 17.9 percent, she said.
Prior to CORE, recidivism was more than 70 percent, with the majority of inmates coping with substance abuse and mental health issues, she said.
A grant proposal is in the works that could provide up to $650,000 in federal funding to support a treatment component at the jail, Abikoff said. Similar grant opportunities are available to maintain and monitor people for up to two years as they transition into the community, she said.
Former State Rep. Ian Raymond told the delegation he recently had dinner with his son, who works as a firefighter and who told him how difficult it was to have to revive an overdose victim with Narcan twice in the same night.
At a program presented by Dr. Paul Racicot, Raymond said, he learned it cost $85,000 a year to treat an addict and another $100,000 if they have Hepatitis C.
He urged the delegation to vote to approve the supplemental budget.
“Otherwise, you've built an $8-million-dollar bridge to nowhere,” he said of the 18,000-square-foot, 72-bed corrections facility the delegation unanimously voted to bond in November 2015.