GOFFSTOWN — Hillsborough County Attorney Michael Conlon asked county leaders on Tuesday to hike his budget 19 percent, a down payment on a four-year plan to improve an office that has suffered from employee turnover, excessive workloads and leadership issues.
The newly elected county attorney acknowledged recent criticisms of Attorney General Gordon MacDonald when he appeared before Hillsborough County Commissioners on Tuesday.
It is the second year in a row that county officials have received stark news about the largest office of prosecutors in the state. Last year, Conlon’s predecessor, Republican Dennis Hogan, asked for a 24 percent budget increase and warned his office was on the brink of collapse.
“I’m not here to tell you the office is on the brink of collapse,” said Conlon, a Democrat. “I’m here to tell you we’re still struggling and I have a plan to deal with it.”
Last year, MacDonald’s office instituted a review of Hillsborough County. Problems included mentors who were too busy to mentor, a lack of experienced mid-level prosecutors and few policies in place.
Deputy Attorney General Jane Young encouraged him to move quickly to address the problems.
County commissioners said little in response to Conlon’s proposal. They are only the first of a multi-step process of budget approval.
According to county administrator Chad Monier, the county portion of property tax bills would increase 22 percent if county leaders fund requests from all departments -- other county functions include the sheriff and nursing home -- in total.
Conlon said he has a four-year plan to improve the office, which calls for increasing staffing. The first year is a big hit, but he will add positions gradually in the later years, he said.
Conlon said Hillsborough County, the largest in the state, is home to one out of every three felonies committed in New Hampshire.
His prosecutors have an average workload of 162 cases per year. That is twice the workload at Strafford (81) and three times that of Coos and Grafton (54).
Conlon's office now employs 24 prosecutors. He wants to hire 13 prosecutors over a four-year period, starting with five prosecutors after July 1, when the new budget year starts.
Also in his budget proposal: four more legal assistants, a victim witness advocate, a clerk, a part-time investigator and two grant-funded victim witness advocates.
He said staff turnover won’t be resolved until the workload is resolved. Sitting behind him was Leslie Gill, the first assistant prosecutor in his Manchester office, who gave her resignation notice last week. According to Conlon, two prosecutors, one victim-witness advocate and numerous legal assistants have left his office since January; all cited the workload.
“Right now, there is a team that is overworked and overburdened. They are doing the job today, but they could be doing a better job,” he said.
If prosecutors don’t have enough time to prepare for trial, there is a strong likelihood of performance problems, he said. They also prioritize what they can do, with police and victims getting less attention, he said.
Conlon said he hired prosecutors at rates above the starting pay grade, and he will have to adjust pay schedules upward.
Conlon proposed one inexpensive way to increase productivity. His prosecutors waste thousands of hours a year waiting in court for a judge to take up their case.
If Wi-fi were in the courthouse, they could be on laptops working on their cases while sitting in a courtroom, he said. The county’s computer-information department is proposing adding Wi-fi to the courthouses.
Conlon’s bottom line budget is $5.65 million, compared to the current budget of $4.73 million.