After former Derry Town Councilor Kevin Coyle expressed interest in becoming a Rockingham County commissioner, he was flooded with questions.
“I can’t tell you how many people have asked me, ‘What does a county commissioner do?’” Coyle said.
The answer is simple.
“We run the county,” he said.
But as Coyle, 48, and fellow newly elected Commissioner Thomas Tombarello of Sandown prepare to be sworn in to office tomorrow, perhaps few people realize the significance of the three-member panel.
The Board of Commissioners manages an annual budget of approximately $75 million and is responsible for several hundred county employees. It also oversees the county nursing home, jail, sheriff’s office, attorney’s office, the registry of deeds and several departments.
The pay isn’t bad either. Commissioners are paid $19,800 a year, far more than the $100 a year state lawmakers earn.
What was a small-scale operation has grown tremendously over the years. It’s now the equivalent of a big business and requires a professional manager to run, just like any municipality, according to outgoing Chairwoman Maureen Barrows of Exeter.
“We have no county administrator – we are the only county in New Hampshire that doesn’t have a business administrator,” she said. “I just want someone to oversee the finances in a more comprehensive way.”
Having an administrator would avoid the type of contentious situations that occurred in the past, when commissioners didn’t always see eye to eye, she said.
“It’s all about a personality conflict over what gets done or doesn’t get done,” she said.
Barrows, a 19-year commissioner, lost to Tombarello in the September primary by 124 votes.
“I can’t wait to get in there,” Tombarello said last week. “I’m hoping to bring something to the table.”
Barrows, 76, has mixed feelings about stepping down. The former human services administrator is leaving county government after 25 years.