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Howard refused to pay for costs he approved in first place

Sep 27, 2018 Updated Oct 1, 2018

To The Daily Sun,

Most of my recent letters have focused on the differences between the votes of my opponent Rep. Raymond Howard in Concord and how I would have voted; today I turn my attention to a more local, county issue.

Voters should keep in mind the importance of our representatives’ county role, where they control the county budget. Whereas in Concord a representative is one of 400, at the delegation level in Belknap County, a representative is one of 18, with proportionally greater influence. We have recently seen (on the disastrous June vote to deny Gunstock a line of credit) how a measure can pass or fail by just one vote. (That vote, fortunately, was reversed by a later vote in favor of Gunstock, which won 14 to 2).

In 2017, the county delegation slashed the budget recommended by the Belknap commissioners. My opponent, Rep. Howard, was among those who had pledged not to raise county taxes, not by one penny, and not for any reason, despite the fact that he and the rest of the delegation unanimously approved a new union contract for Sheriff’s Department employees in 2016 that added costs. In 2017 the same delegation cut the recommended appropriation for the Sheriff’s Department by $135,881. In other words, they refused to pay for the very cost items they had approved, and they disregarded the fact that the actual 2016 departmental expenditures exceeded the 2017 appropriation.

Rep. Howard had what at first blush sounded like the perfect solution to the problem. Pointing out that dispatch is not a statutorily mandated duty of the sheriff, he recommended having the sheriff’s office curtail “extra activities,” like dispatching, to save money. This would in fact have saved the Sheriff’s Department approximately $500,000.

So what’s the flaw with this logic? If the Sheriff’s office no longer does dispatching for the towns, then the towns have to do it themselves. Rep. Howard made this proposal despite the fact that the three towns he represented (Alton, Barnstead, and Gilmanton) were among the six towns in Belknap County receiving 24/7 dispatch through the Sheriff’s Department. Estimates of what the Howard solution would have cost were as follows: approximately $425,000 per town per year, plus an additional $500,00 for the first year (for the set-up cost of equipment and facilities for the new town dispatch center).

In other words, Alton, Barnstead, and Gilmanton would pay close to $1 million extra the first year, and $500,000 each succeeding year.

Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed, and Rep. Howard’s proposal fell flat. Those involved realized that the proposal was obviously penny-wise, pound-foolish. Why save $500,000 for the county at a cost of millions to the towns?

On occasions like this, the attempt to save the taxpayers a few dollars in the short run can be extremely costly to those same taxpayers in the long run. When I included on my palm cards the pledge to look for “long term solutions, not quick fixes,” this is exactly the type of situation I was talking about. I can assure the voters that, if elected, I will give more thought to any solution I propose.

Ruth Larson

Alton

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