Sullivan County budget cuts back on money for nursing home renovation

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/30/2021 9:54:06 PM
Modified: 6/30/2021 9:54:09 PM

UNITY — Sullivan County lawmakers voted this week to approve a $34.3 million budget that opponents characterized as “shortsighted” for failing to set aside enough money for a long-planned renovation of the county’s nursing home.

The Democratic-controlled delegation voted, 8-5, on nearly partisan lines Tuesday to approve a fiscal year 2022 spending plan that officials say will increase the county’s portion of property taxes by 3.8%.

That’s a reduction from the budget put forth earlier this year by the Republican-led Sullivan County Commission, which proposed a $34.6 million plan that would have seen taxes rise by almost 10%.

Democrats celebrated the vote, saying the approved budget is sensitive to residents still recovering from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lawmakers lowered the budget’s tax burden “without reducing any programs, any people or any essentials to the county,” state Rep. Brian Sullivan, D-Grantham, told colleagues.

But others criticized the spending plan for raiding money set aside to help pay for a $54 million renovation of the Sullivan County nursing home.

State Rep. Walter Spilsbury, R-Charlestown, was the lone Republican to vote for the budget.

The delegation opted to forgo investing $200,000 in a nursing home reserve fund that county officials intended to use to help pay for upgrades to the 156-bed facility’s aging infrastructure. Legislators also took an additional $600,000 earmarked for the project and used it to draw down the tax rate, according to County Manager Derek Ferland.

If the nursing home project does move forward, he said Wednesday, taxpayers will now have to foot more of the bill, potentially leading to double-digit tax increases.

County Commission Chairman George Hebert cited similar concerns during Tuesday’s meeting, calling the budget a “reckless disregard for the county’s financial future.”

Hebert added that he’s skeptical that politicians will follow through on their promise to move forward with the Unity nursing home project, which entails gutting the one building, making aesthetic improvements to another building and demolishing a third to clear space for an 82,000-square-foot addition.

“When it comes to words versus actions, I believe in actions and I will believe it when I see it because thus far what I have seen has been disturbing,” he said during the roughly hourlong meeting, which was held virtually and in person at the Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center in Claremont.

State Rep. Judy Aron, R-South Acworth, also expressed frustration with the budget, saying the delegation’s hesitation on the nursing home means it will likely have to spend an additional $60,000 for further studies to determine accurate pricing.

That money, she pointed out, isn’t in the spending plan.

“When will we begin to see loss of employee headcounts and nursing home resident headcounts because no one will want to work or live there?” Aron asked. “Are we preparing for those losses? No.”

Democrats countered that some money in the budget could go toward an initial interest payment on nursing home loans and that they are committed to finding a cheaper solution.

“I think that the delegation, the entire delegation, feels that a nursing home renovation is really needed. There’s no doubt in my mind or anyone else’s mind that that’s the case,” state Rep. Linda Tanner, D-Georges Mills, said in a phone interview Wednesday.

However, “we’re not a rich county,” she said, adding that compromises will need to be worked out. The delegation plans to hold a meeting later this month to discuss next steps for the nursing home.

Ferland, the county manager, said the budget makes few changes to operations and includes two personnel changes — the reduction of one position at the Department of Corrections and more hours for a part-time sheriff’s deputy.

Grafton County

Grafton County officials on Monday approved a $48.7 million budget that nearly level-funds operations in North Haverhill.

The county delegation voted, 25-1, in favor of adopting a spending plan that isn’t expected to increase taxes and results in a 0.44% increase in new spending.

The nearly unanimous vote was the result of a bipartisan effort to keep costs low during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Wendy Piper, D-Enfield, who chairs the Grafton County Commission.

“We did that to benefit our constituents, to provide services and to continue quality services by the county but also to recognize that the county budget cannot always keep going up and up,” she said in an interview Wednesday.

The budget includes a 2% cost of living increase for union employees. It also assumes health insurance rates will rise by 3%, and payments to the New Hampshire Retirement System are set to increase anywhere between 11% and 33%.

Those would be offset by a $117,800 reduction in debt payments, and more than $650,000 for funding for integrated delivery networks, or health care services that provide aid for mental health and substance misuse.

Tim Camerato can be reached at or 603-727-3223.

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