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Boston and Beyond

September 15, 2013

NH routinely outspends rescue budget


That’s how it did play out last year in Rumney, when 72-year-old Hugh Armstrong failed to return from a walk while on vacation with his family near Stinson Lake. A full-scale search was underway for a week and involved aircraft, boats, canines, divers and trained volunteers.

Armstrong turned up after more than two weeks and nearly 1,000 miles south, in his home state of North Carolina, without remembering who he was. That search cost about $50,000, Jordan said.

The search for Armstrong and the recoveries of seven drowning victims helped drive up last year’s costs. To meet the deficit, they dipped into the agency’s general fund.

New Hampshire is one of eight states that have statutory authority to bill hikers and others for the cost of rescue missions. But collecting is another matter, Jordan said. Over a five year period, the department billed $83,025 for 38 missions and collected $54,317, or about 64 percent.

In 2012, the department billed $13,159 in rescues and collected just $622.

“It hasn’t been lucrative for us,” Jordan said.

Several pieces of legislation to change the way rescues are funded have stalled over the past 20 years, Jordan said. There was a proposal during the last legislative session to charge rescued people between $350 and $600 but the bill died after opponents said it would generate ill will and could result in distressed hikers delaying calls for help.

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