Published Date Written by Daymond SteerOSSIPEE — Freedom Selectman Neal Boyle is challenging incumbent county commission chair David Sorensen in the Republican Primary for Carroll County Commission District One.
The winner of September's primary will square off against Bartlett Democrat Erik Corbett in November's general election. Whoever is elected will serve a four-year term.
The first county commission district consists of Bartlett, Chatham, Conway, Eaton, Freedom, Hart's Location and Jackson. However, County Commissioners are elected on a county-wide basis. The Republican Primary will be held on Sept. 11.
CDS: Tell us a bit about yourself.
Boyle: I am in my second term as a Freedom selectman. I am retired after a 40-year career in manufacturing and financial management.
Sorensen: I am the owner and operator of a small pick-your-own blueberry business in Eaton. My family and I moved to Carroll County 43 years ago when I began work as county agent for the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Service. I retired after holding that position for 30 years. As chairman of the Conway Budget Committee during the 1980s, I initiated a 3 percent cap for all departments at a time when increases were in the 7 to 8 percent range. As chairman of the Conway Conservation Commission, I was able to help the town acquire 36 acres to add to the Whitaker Woods property in North Conway. I am currently a member and past president of Fryeburg Rotary Club, past member of Eaton Planning Board, and I was elected president of the N.H. Association of County Commissioners in 2011 for a two-year term. I have a masters degree in plant science, and served in the U.S. Army as captain and executive officer of the 9th Engineer Battalion during the Vietnam Era.
As president of the New Hampshire Association of Counties, I was able to initiate and see to completion the pooling of electrical purchases of the nine counties thereby reducing electrical cost to each county. I have supported the prescription drug program at the National Association of Counties level, saving county residents over $4,000 per month. I helped, with others, save over $2,500,000 in the building of our new nursing home. Supported retrofitting county buildings with new energy-efficient electric fixtures, again saving money in the future. I supported the alternate use of fuel in heating our new nursing home by going to wood pellet furnaces rather than propane, again saving taxpayers money. There are still other cost-reducing measures to be initiated, such as a brand new dental program at no cost to the county taxpayer, but a saving to all county residents needing dental work. I support efforts being made by our farm supervisor in improving efficiency and increasing revenue of the farm operation. In the firewood operation, he has increased use of campfire wood to our state parks as a value-added product, thereby increasing revenue as well as use of inmates.
CDS: Why are you running?
Boyle: I would like to see the county commission run more efficiently without the controversy.
Sorensen: For the past 12 years I have enjoyed the type of work the county board of commissioners is responsible for. We have excellent county department heads and employees who do the day-to-day work. Our buildings and utilities have been modernized and I see no major capital expenses in the near future. We now need a long-range plan to maintain what we have.
The knowledge gained over the past few years as commissioner has given me confidence in doing the job. It takes a year or so to learn the role of a commissioner and to become a team player. Learning to negotiate with three unions and develop a budget requires common sense and determination
CDS: What are the top three things you'd do as a commissioner?
Boyle: Provide better communication to the taxpayers; ensure better management; and ensure the budgetary process is reasonable for the taxpayers.
Sorensen: To present a workable, realistic and accountable budget in today's economy. As a commissioner, you have to balance what you think taxpayers can afford to pay and what a livable wage for employees needs to be.
When there is a 25 percent turnover of employees in our correctional department after training them, we need to look at correcting that. To continue to improve efficiency of county departments by using technology available in today's world. I will initiate and support a county complex purchasing department where all purchases will be done in bulk, using local businesses as much as possible and materials that are non-toxic to employees and to the environment.
Another major challenge is to reduce the 42 percent return of correctional inmates to our county jail. I support and participate in the efforts of our county jail superintendent as a new volunteer committee is being formed to consider alternative programming. The Carroll County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee is made up of police chiefs, probation officers, the county attorney, superior court judge and business people.
CDS: At least three county employees have filed grievances against the commissioners, which suggests there is some friction between commissioners and the staff. How would you address this problem?
Boyle: Utilize better managerial guidelines and return to civility amongst the commissioners.
Sorensen: Up until two years ago, we had a worker-friendly commissioners' office. We need to address this issue and get back to enjoying a team approach to solving problems rather than creating them. We are currently wasting time, energy and taxpayers' money when there are plenty of constructive, positive things that we should be doing.
CDS: There was an escape from the county jail in December. Lack of fencing and an insufficient number of staff were cited as contributing factors. What would you do about the jail? Would it be worth the cost to increase the staffing to industry standards?
Boyle: The jail management has implemented several changes to improve security. Let's see how they work out before making additional changes.
Sorensen: Regarding the county jail escape, a proposal has come forward to construct a perimeter fence around the exercise yard and around the female side of the jail as well as to fix and relocate the outside cameras.
CDS: Sets of draft minutes have remained uncorrected for months and correcting them has taken a lot of time per meeting. How would you change this situation?
Boyle: Implement Robert's Rules as a guideline for the meetings and utilize better time management tools. Meetings should be recorded electronically.
Sorensen: The commissioners' minutes are the responsibility of a commissioner who is elected clerk by the full board. A minute-taker was hired to help the clerk. There should not be a problem if the clerk gives appropriate time and attention to the minutes.
CDS: The current board has a reputation for being rather cantankerous. If elected, would you help address that situation? How would you get along with the more dynamic people that appear at the meetings?
Boyle: Each taxpayer has the right to appear and ask questions. In order for that to happen in a timely fashion, tighter meeting procedures should be in place. Civility should be the end goal as the county commissioner position is a people-person position. A good manager knows how to respect the person even when he disagrees with the idea.
CDS: Would you advocate for financially supporting the Blue Loon with county tax dollars?
Boyle: I voted for a one-year trial period for the Blue Loon in Freedom. I want to see if their performance warrants continuing support.
Sorensen: I cannot financially support the Blue Loon bus transportation system with taxpayers' dollars, especially in a rural county. Why should towns like Eaton, Chatham, Hart's Location, Effingham and others support this system with county taxpayer's dollars when the buses have little to no effect in these towns?
CDS: How would you manage working with other elected officials, such as the sheriff, county attorney and members of the delegation? Some of those issues include authority lines between the sheriff and the commission, budgeting with the delegation and pay for county assistant attorneys.
Boyle: Understand the managerial grid that exists for the county at present and then work to make better communication amongst all departments and the members of the delegation. A strong management process that is used consistently ensures a smoother county government.
Sorensen: It is clear in the state regulations who is responsible for pulling together the county budget, and that is with the board of commissioners. It is the local 14 elected representatives to Concord that actually approves the commissioners' budget and raises the taxes to operate county government. The State of New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration then sets the tax rate for each town in Carroll County. Look at your tax bill and see which area is out of control. It is not the county tax. Carroll County Government has outstanding employees who provide the services needed by the communities within the county.
CDS: Some people wonder why New Hampshire even needs to have county government. As a commissioner, how would you make the case for it or would you?
Boyle: The county exists to provide the needed services that a single town cannot afford. The jail, registry of deeds, and county court are examples of these services. The commissioners need to work more closely with the boards of selectmen to seek out areas where aggregate management and purchasing would provide benefits to the towns.
Sorensen: County government exists to help provide services that the local towns would have difficulty in providing. Rep. McCarthy, a member of the county delegation, has mentioned that it is the best service for the dollar spent.
CDS: Mountain View Community has been in operation for about a year. How do you think it's working?
Boyle: As stated the Mountain View Community Nursing Home has been open for one year. It is obviously going through some growing pains, especially in the personnel area. As a commissioner I will work to bring the nursing home to the high level of performance that the residents deserve.
Sorensen: To answer your question about the new nursing home working efficiently, the Mountain View Community is working according to plans. At most times it is filled to capacity (103 beds), where the old nursing home was at best 96 beds filled. At the cost of $275 a room per day, anyone can see the difference in income.
CDS What should be done with the old nursing home?
Boyle: As a commissioner, I will listen to the needs of the Carroll County towns; they are the people who will have to pay for anything the county does with this building. However, the phrase, "unfit for human habitation" was used often when the old nursing home was closed.
CDS: Is the county using its website effectively?
Sorensen: As to the county website, it was not a high priority when it was first started. Now people depend on it for meeting schedules, reports, meeting minutes, jobs available, and it has become a tool for better communications with the public. A lot more can be done with the site. In order to keep the budget down, this was an added job to the human resources (HR) department. The contact person for county employees is the human resources person. When a replacement HR person is hired, that person will be the day-to-day contact for county employees for issues that may arise. The board will consider hiring a part-time county administrator.