By Roger Amsden
FOR THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The Belknap County Convention plowed through the proposed county budget in a two-and-a-half-hour work session Monday night before a virtually full house but put off until its next work session in two weeks any prolonged discussion of budget cuts proposed to outside agencies.
Last week, the convention's subcommittee on outside agencies recommended withholding the entire funding of $75,000 in the 2016 budget from the Belknap Economic Development Council and the entire $34,200 for Genesis Behavioral Health.
It also significantly reduced appropriations for the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Service, cutting the request for $152,217 by $35,000; the Belknap County Conservation District, cutting $43,000 from the $92,400 request; the Community Action Program Belknap-Merrimack Counties, cutting $35,000 from the $89,905 request, and Greater Lakes Region Child Advocacy Center, which saw a $550 cut in its $11,000 request. It also eliminated a first-time request for $5,000 by the Court Appointed Special Advocates program.
Representatives of the agencies affected by the cuts were at Monday's work session but were not able to speak during the meeting. Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), chairman of the Belknap County Convention, said that the cuts will be discussed at the next work session of the convention which is scheduled for Feb. 16 at 7 p.m.
He said the next work session will not be a public hearing but invited the affected agencies to provide more information to the members of the convention.
"It will be useful to get more detail out to us," he said, noting that summaries of the scope of the agencies' work would be useful. "It's not a public hearing, but we can ask questions," said Tilton, indicating that the agencies might be called on for comment by legislators at the work session.
Tilton said that there will be time for public comment at a yet-to-be-scheduled public hearing on the budget which will be held once the convention has finalized the budget.
State Rep. Guy Comtois (R-Barnstead), the owner of Sticks and Stones Farm, said he is opposed to the proposed cut to the UNH Cooperative Extension Service, noting for every dollar the county puts in, UNH nearly triples that amount.
"It would be a huge blow to the agency," said Comtois.
A show of hands on further discussion on the Extension Service cut saw only two legislators opposed to reconsidering it with 15 favoring revisiting it. A similar show of hands on reconsideration of the cut to the Belknap County Economic Development Council showed a slim majority favoring reconsideration,
The convention adopted several budget changes made by the commissioners which included reducing a number of the group health insurance lines in several department budgets, reflecting changes in department's personnel and new insurance coverage for about 20 members of the Teamsters union who switched to a new point of service plan.
It also approved adding wages for two employees in the Sheriff's Department and wages for receptionists at the Belknap County Nursing Home.
Other changes included adding wages for converting eight part-time positions in the nursing home to three full-time positions and for changing a part-time cook's position at the county home to a full-time position.
The bottom line of the budget proposed by the commissioners calls for spending $35,235,571, $13,764,301 of which would be raised through local property taxes, some $72,872 less than last year.