Capital Comments: Comm. Reports on District Court Closings in December

By Senator Bob Odell

The committee studying the closing of three district court facilities including the Claremont District Court met for its next to last meeting on Thursday, Nov. 19.

While the public meetings held in recent weeks in each community facing a court closing drew 25 to 50 residents and local officials, the committee meeting in Concord drew an audience one Senator (John Gallus, Berlin), one House member (John Cloutier, Claremont), one staff member, one newspaper reporter and two court officials.  It was proof again of the importance of holding our meetings in the impacted municipalities.

Judge Ed Kelly reminded the three committee members that the court closings were the result of budget cuts the Governor asked for as he was putting his budget together around this time last year.  But for the Judiciary, Judge Kelly said they really “did not have a dog in this fight.”  The Judiciary has been following a plan of consolidating courts around the state as new or renovated facilities become available.  The facilities, he noted, are managed not by the Judiciary by the Department of Administration.

Going further, the Judge said he supports community courts.  He even mentioned the possibility of using a disbanded State Police barracks in Milford to replace the current court facility in that town.  One would question why we would close the court in Milford, shift the court’s business to Merrimack if the state is looking to relocate the court to the old barracks.

Committee members raised a number of the issues that came before us as we traveled around the state.  Most importantly, the only savings if the court closures go forward are the rental and lease costs of the facilities.  That would be about $13,000 in the case of Colebrook and just over $100,000 per year for all three courts.  Current operating and staff costs would remain as they are now.  But substantial costs will be incurred by communities as more police time is required for travel and waiting time at consolidated court facilities.

The Committee chair, Representative Peter Leishman (Peterborough) and I will draft a committee report which will be presented to the full committee for vote in early December.  In the draft we will be making a recommendation to the legislature on whether or not to close the three courts.

On a different track, a major study by an independent outside organization will be conducted over the next couple of years.  The study will examine and make recommendations about what the court system will look like in the future when electronic records and communication replace our dependence on paper records, the need for people using the court to have to physically be in the courthouse will be reduced and other changes required if the court system is meet the needs of citizens down the road.

*   *   *

I have wanted to report on the work of the Committee to Study Business Tax Credits and the Revenues Attributable to Business Tax Credits and Their Effectiveness.  That committee name alone is enough to push a reader to move on.

But a recent front page story in the Eagle Times on brought home how important tax credits are to economic development.  The story was about the expansion of Mike Satzow’s North Country Smokehouse in Claremont.  The key paragraph read “One thing that really ‘tipped’ Satzow to proceed with construction was its Economic Revitalization Zone designation in June by the N.H. Department of Resources and Economic Development.”

Those tax credits have evolved from 2003 legislation I co-sponsored to allow communities to create community reinvestment and opportunity (“CROP”) zones.  The legislation provides tax credits against business taxes for companies like North Country Smokehouse which move into or expand within a zone.

It has taken six years for the legislation to start to have an impact on economic development and it wonderful to see a proven locally owned business benefit as it expands its building and adds employees. Congratulations to Mike Satzow and his team at North Country Smokehouse.

Sometimes the legislature does get it right!  This is a good example.

*   *   *

November is National Home Care & Hospice month.  Made it a perfect time to attend a joint Newport and Claremont Chambers of Commerce “Business After Hours” event at the Connecticut Valley Home Care, Hospice and Day Out Program facilities on John Stark Highway.

The programs make a major difference in the lives of patients and their families.  Two programs, Home Care and Adult Day Care also fulfill a commitment the state has made to help adults stay in their own homes until there is no alternative than to go to a nursing home or hospital.

Understandably, most adults want to stay in their own homes as long as they can.  For government, it is a cost issue.  A hospital on average may cost $1,500 per day while providing home health care services through an agency like Connecticut Valley Home Care might cost $150 per day.  In most cases, everyone wins by keeping folks in their own homes.

*   *   *

Thanksgiving may be my favorite holiday.  I have fond childhood memories of traditional Thanksgiving meals followed by time passing a football in the front yard.  And while childhood for me is now several decades in the past, I look forward this year to a family dinner and sharing some time with two grandsons I get to see all too infrequently.  Hopefully, we will be creating some new memories for a new generation.   My best wishes to readers for your own enjoyable and memorable Thanksgiving Day,

NH State Senator Bob Odell (District 8) is chairman of Ways and Means, a member of the Energy, Environment and Economic Development Committee, and the Finance Committee. Senate District 8 comprises: Acworth, Alstead, Charlestown, Claremont, Gilsum, Goshen, Langdon, Lempster, Marlow, New London, Newbury, Newport, Roxbury, Stoddard, Sullivan, Sunapee, Sutton, Unity, Walpole, Washington and Westmoreland.

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