Administration says county is functioning well; representatives remain critical of commission
Conway Daily Sun
BY DAYMOND STEER
OSSIPEE — Carroll County Commissioners object to the disparaging remarks that several candidates for state representative have been making about them. One commissioner said he doesn't read the newspaper because their comments frustrate him so much.
In Carroll County government, a group of 15 state representatives called the delegation passes county budgets, which county commissioners manage with help from the administration and department heads.
At their meeting on Wednesday (June 29), the commissioners David Sorensen, David Babson and Chris Ahlgren) and county administrator Ken Robichaud reacted to statements some candidates have made about them.
Among the commissioners' chief critics is Frank McCarthy (R-Conway).
In a recent interview, McCarthy said one big reason why he's running again is he wants to see county government "get on the right path."
"I want to see (the county delegation) finish the work," he said. "The county is in really bad shape. The sheriff (Domenic Richardi) put out the best budget I've seen down there, plus he got a $400,000 grant (for the dispatch center).
"The jail also is doing great with its budget," McCarthy said. "The problem is at the commission level.
"To the people who pay taxes, we have a fiduciary responsibility to give the taxpayers the best bang for their buck," McCarthy continued. "The commissioners said the county was in danger of going bankrupt. That wasn't happening, but the banks heard that and raised the interest rate. It was a farce from the beginning. The county illegally took $1 million out of its 2015 note to pay 2014 bills. That left the county $2 million short, according to the commissioners, but in the end we had an $800,000 surplus."
Robichaud brought up the subject and said that at least some of the disparaging remarks were published in The Conway Daily Sun.
"He used some pretty derogatory misstatements I think," said Robichaud, adding McCarthy described the county as being in "really bad shape." Robichaud said, "It's not in bad shape. I don't know what he's even talking about."
Babson said there are three people running for office — including McCarthy — who are using the county's financial difficulties to get elected.
Babson said he pointed this out to one of the candidates and said the candidate apologized and added he meant to say something else.
"I'm not going to disclose who he is," said Babson. Nor did Babson name the third candidate (or second candidate) because he said he couldn't quote what the person said verbatim.
"They don't know what they are talking about to begin with," Babson said. "Yes, we were in terrible shape two years ago but we have turned a corner and when this audit (2015) comes along I'm sure it will show we are in fairly healthy conditions here. We've done a good job. All they are doing is running their mouth to try and get elected."
Commissioner David Sorensen asked how they could get the message out that the county is fine.
Robichaud focused on correcting what he believes are untrue statements by candidates. He said that McCarthy was wrong when he said the banks raised interest rates after the commissioners talked about bankruptcy. He maintains that the bank's reaction to remarks about bankruptcy was to temporarily freeze the county's account.
Robichaud also said it was inaccurate to say the county illegally used money in 2015 to pay 2014 bills.
"(Department of Revenue Administration forwarded me a letter saying that there's no such law that you can't use 2015 money to pay for 2014 bills," said Robichaud. "Money is money."
Ahlgren said the commissioners have "implemented many internal controls" and done a lot to improve the county. He said perhaps the other candidates' opponents would point that out when inaccurate and outdated statements are made.
"That's why I don't tend to read the paper because it frustrates me," said Ahlgren. "I tend not to read the paper, especially the editorial page, because you just get caught up in things that aren't true."
Rep. Gene Chandler (R-Bartlett) also made critical remarks about the county in an interview about his reelection bid.
Chandler admits it's been a frustrating two years at the Carroll County level serving on the delegation. He'd like to see county government eliminated.
"If there was ever a time to do it, it might be now," he said. "The whole thing (the county commissioners considered filing for bankruptcy at one point) was very unfortunate. It's still a mess because we don't have the final audit yet. The unfortunate thing is the commissioners don't feel they have done anything wrong.
"Over the last nine years, the county has lost $450,000," Chandler continued. "When people realize how much we are losing and what we could save, I think it'll make a difference. There's a reason there's only one other county farm in the state, because it just doesn't work."
Chandler said the county could bring in revenue by leasing the land it owns.
"People argue that we need to keep the farm because it can supply vegetables to the nursing home," he said. "Even the nursing home director says that won't work."
Democrat Tom Buco (D-Conway) was also critical of the commission.
"It's a mess," he said. "The finances were just all over the place. I don't know what word to put on it, but seemingly commonsense things like balancing the checkbook were not done for five years."
"We were told there was always a surplus, as much as $2 million to $3 million, but that money just disappeared with no good excuse other than for the commissioners to say it was never really there," Buco added.
"Then there was supposedly $2 million left after the nursing home (construction) — where did that money go?"
Rep. Ed Butler (D-Hart's Location) said the situation with the county has been "difficult" in recent years, especially the strained relationship between the commission and delegation.
Delegation chair Karen Umberger (R-Conway) strikes a more hopeful tone for the county.
"I really believe that with the new administrator and the finance person, that with this being their first budget cycle, they are making some real progress towards trying to get the finances turned around," she said, and added that the new staffers, "stepped into a hornets nest" when they arrived.