LACONIA — Members of the City Council reviewed police and fire department proposed budgets for 2014-2015 on Monday night and were told by the respective chiefs that they are making progress but severe problems remain to be dealt with.
For police the most recent problem is what Chief Chris Adams calls an epidemic of heroin abuse in the last 18 months which has led to several deaths and for Fire Chief Ken Erickson it is a high rate of structure fires which is three times the state average (4.62 per thousand residents compared to 1.6 statewide.)
Adams said the city ranks first in the state in the rate of violent crimes but is headed in the right direction in many areas in dealing with the problems the city has with substance abuse, drugs, alcohol and high crime and poverty rates.
''It's a community issue and I think we're making headway in dealing with it,'' said Adams, who said innovative policing with Problem Oriented Policing Teams which focus on using a proactive rather than a reactive approach has helped bring a focus to police activities.
Ward 2 Councilor David Bownes said that a lack of treatment and prevention programs hurt such efforts. ''It's not always a law enforcement only issue,'' said Bownes, who said that it is huge problem nationwide and that a policy of just locking people up has been a huge failure nationally.
Ward 3 Councilor Henry Lipman said he would like to see a more comprehensive plan which involved the use of technology and cooperation with other agencies which would make Laconia ''the least attractive place in the state for drugs.''
Adams said that 90 percent of the city's crime can be traced to substance abuse and that in turn is linked to poverty, which is higher in Laconia than the state as a whole.
He said that the city has had several surveillance cameras stolen off from poles in recent months but thinks more of them could be used to deter and detect crimes,
Fire Chief Erickson said that he has a problem with absentee landlords which hamper his building inspection efforts and said that inspections could play a role in dealing with substance abuse. He said he would like to see the city require out-of-town landlords to have a designated local representative so that he could schedule inspections and councilors asked City Manager Scott Myers to research state law to see if such a local ordinance can be drafted.
Erickson said his department has put the four firefighters who were hired last year with a federal SAFRER grant to good use and that they have enabled his department to have seven firefighters and two officers staff each platoon, six at Central Station and three at the Weirs Station, enabling more effective emergency responses and reducing the number of vehicles which respond to emergencies.
''Seventy percent of all responses are single-unit responses,'' said Erickson, who said that two-unit responses have been reduced from 54 percent in 2000 to 18 percent last year.
Councilor Hamel said he would like an explanation of the $727,000 in covered overtime for the 2013 calendar year, which he said council members had expected would be lower with the addition of four additional firefighters.
Erickson and Myers said the number listed for overtime included every dollar spent on Bike Week, paramedics who are funded by the hospital and a host of other items with Erickson doing a quick tally which showed a total of $456,000, some $184,000 of which was for the hospital.
Administrators said they would provide a complete listing of what constitutes the overtime line for council members.