County seat challenger focuses on taxes

A court officer who works for Hillsborough County is challenging a seven-year incumbent Tuesday for a two-year county commissioner seat.

The challenger, Democrat Joseph Hickey, 69, of Merrimack, said he is running because he’s concerned about fiscal waste.

Incumbent Republican Carol Holden, 61, of Amherst hopes to return to her seat because she says she’s a strong advocate of county government, so much so that she considers herself a history buff on the subject.

“I enjoy public service. I have grown to become a strong supporter and advocate for county government in New Hampshire,” she said.

Hickey said he’s running “to see the job is done right. There’s a lot of taxes that need to be watched over.”

He realizes that as county commissioner he would be part of a team working to accomplish that goal.

“I won’t be the only person who would be doing it,” he said. “There’s three commissioners.”

When it comes to spending tax be doing it,” he said. “There’s three commissioners.”

When it comes to spending tax money, Hickey said tough choices should be made.

“Spend it, but spend it on the right things,” he said.

“I see a lot of waste in the Valley Street jail. Valley Street lost a lot of revenue when they lost the federal prisoners.”

Holden said the challenges facing Hillsborough County include trying to keep the county tax rate stable. Another is to continue to make the county government more efficient, an effort that took a huge step forward when county offices moved under one roof in a building on Route 114 in Goffstown, she said.

A county administrator also has been hired to handle questions and assist in the day-to-day operations, she noted.

County officials are keeping a close eye on a Medicaid modernization proposal that could affect money available for nursing homes, Holden said.

“For the last four years, we have not had to borrow in anticipation of taxes,” she said.

Commissioners will find out in mid-December if this will mark the fifth straight year.

County officials also will be negotiating contracts with six unions covering employees, ranging from deputy sheriffs to nursing home staff.

Employees now pick up 22.5 percent of health insurance costs, and commissioners are moving toward increasing that to 25 percent, Holden said.

The county employs more than 800 workers in union and nonunion positions. Technology is just one of the changes added during her tenure as a commissioner, Holden said.

“We’ve included technology to improve our services,” she said. “The challenge has been in settling union contracts. In the past, they didn’t get settled.”

The biggest ongoing challenge: to continue to support “responsible, cost-effective government that also addresses the needs of taxpayers,” she said.

Holden noted that she never saw her opponent during the campaign. In fact, Hickey was difficult to track down for this interview. His phone number is unlisted, and several prominent Merrimack Democrats said they had never met him – or even heard of him.

Hickey said he feels he owes a debt to no one – except to the people who give him their vote.

“I would give it 110 percent,” he said. “I owe nothing to nobody. It’s the people who voted for me I’ll be working for.”