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Belknap Commission schedules all-day workshop to find $400k to cut from budget

LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners have scheduled an all-day work session Friday to meet with department heads in an effort to come up with $400,000 in 2015 budget cuts which have been requested by Belknap County Convention Chairman Frank Tilton (R-Laconia).
Tilton told members of the county convention on Monday night that he wants to reduce the proposed increase in the amount to be raised by taxes for the 2015 county budget by $1.1 million.

The budget for the year must be adopted by the convention by the end of March.
Currently the proposed $27.3 million county budget would require a 10 percent increase in the amount of money raised by property taxes, about $1.4 million, from $13.6 million last year to $15 million this year.
On Monday night the convention agreed to over $700,000 in budget cuts and Tilton asked Commission Chairman Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton), who was present at the convention meeting, to have the commissioners come up come up with a list of potential cuts to help reach his goal of a $1.1 million reduction.
When commissioners met on Tuesday Commissioner Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) proposed the all-day work session, which will get underway at 7:30 a.m. Friday.
Members of the convention have tentatively agreed to level fund salaries, hold off on cost of living increases and other associated costs for a potential savings of $205,000.
The convention also agreed to fund health insurance benefits at last year's level, $2,624,925 for a reduction of $428,000 from the amount sought in this year's budget by the previous board of commissioners.
The convention also voted to approve level funding for outside agencies with one exception, the UNH Cooperative Extension Service, which had sought a nearly $5,000 increase from $162,818 to $167,698. The outside agency subcommittee, headed by Rep. Robert Luther (R-Laconia), had recommended a $163,000 budget for the Extension Service.
Other amounts approved for outside agencies were $97,304 for the Belknap County Conservation District, $75,000 for Belknap Economic Development Council, $60,905 for the Community Action Program. $34,200 for the Genesis Counseling Group and $11,000 for the Greater Laconia Child Advocacy program.
During the subcommittee meeting which preceded the convention's meeting on Monday, Rep. Roy Howard (R-Alton) attempted to cut funding for several of the outside agencies but was outvoted by Luther and Rep. Dennis Fields (R-Sanbornton). During the convention meeting Howard voted against the level funding proposal.
Commissioners say that they are hoping to come up with a list of proposed cuts which can be presented to the convention when it meets next Tuesday night.
Commissioners and Belknap County Corrections Superintendent Dan Ward. have been meeting this week with Kevin Warwick, president of Alternative Solutions Associates, Inc., who this week was awarded a $40,000 contract for development of a plan of programs for a community corrections facility.
Commissioners are looking at having the study completed in 90 to 120 days with an eye to asking architectural firms later this year for bids on a jail design. No funds have yet been budgeted for architectural plans for a new community corrections facility.

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 February 2015 02:17

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Ex-wife's statement causes immediate mistrial in sex talk trial of New Hampton man

LACONIA — A trial for a retired New Hampton firefighter and registered nurse accused of prohibited uses of a computer for soliciting a child over the Internet for sexual purposes ended abruptly in a mistrial yesterday in Belknap County Superior Court.

The mistrial in the case against Robert Joseph Jr., 66, was triggered by a statement made by Joseph's ex-wife Kimmilee Reynart, who was the prosecution's first witness and she almost immediately blurted out that she went to a domestic violence shelter after she separated from the defendant in 2012.

Joseph's lawyer, Steve Mirkin, jumped to his feet and objected. Judge James O'Neill brought him and Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen to his bench for a private discussion.

O'Neill ordered the jury to disregard Reynart's statements, but later in O'Neill's private chambers, Mirkin successfully argued that her utterance was far to prejudicial to Joseph to allow this jury to continue.

In open court, Mirkin argued that prior bad acts are not allowed as testimony -referring to her utterance about domestic violence -  and in Joseph's case, there were no prior bad acts. New Hampton Police confirmed yesterday they had never arrested Joseph for anything nor had they ever responded to his home for a domestic violence complaint between him and his ex-wife.

Guldbrandsen offered no objection to the mistrial declaration.

During opening arguments, both sides presented the jury with their theories of the case.

Guldbransen said  that Joseph, in violation of RSA 649-B:4, knowingly used a computer to entice someone he "believed" to be 13-years-old to commit a sexual act or indecent exposure.

She said she could prove he "believed" the unknown person on the other end of a computer e-mail was 13 and that he acted knowingly. She repeated told the jury that her job was to prove to them that Joseph believed he was communicating with a 13-year-old and not his ex-wife or an agent from the Department of Homeland Security.

In his opening statement, Mirkin said Joseph was the victim of entrapment  — first by a  vindictive ex-wife and then by an over-zealous Homeland Security agent who did everything they could to entice Joseph to cross state lines to meet a fictitious 13-year-old girl and that they encouraged him to commit do something he would not ordinarily do.

Both attorneys characterized the Internet chat as often lurid and specific. Guldbransen says he was committing a crime while Mirkin said he had no idea who was on the other end of the e-mails and that he was engaging in a Internet fantasy upon which he never intended to act.

The case against Joseph falls under a relatively new state statute that went into effect in 2009 that addressed the criminal solicitation of children through the Internet for sexual purposes.

According to both the prosecution and the defense, about 10 years ago — and before he met his now ex-wife, Joseph had set up an Internet account identifying himself as a lonely older man under the identification "sooperlooper122146" who was looking to meet a younger woman for sex — someone was who was legal but under the age of 40.

Reynart testified yesterday that she found the account during the time she was married to him but the two separated in 2012. They are now divorced.

Both attorneys agreed that in September of 2013, Reynart, who was living in Pennsylvania, set up a false account under the name "Sweet Sara 18" and contacted Joseph's private paid account for some dirty talk.

Gradually, said Mirkin, "Sweet Sara 18" became "Sweet Sara 16" and then "Sweet Sara 13." He said Joseph's site was a pay site that charged by the e-mail — or by a monthly fee — and it was logical to assume the anonymous person on the other side was old enough to possess a credit card.

Mirkin said Reynart eventually told Joseph that she was 13 but "likes sex all the time".

Mirkin said Joseph never believed for a minute the correspondent was 13 but it was his chance to live out a virtually fantasy. What he didn't know was that his ex-wife was playing the other role.

"Sweet Sara 13" and Joseph never phoned each other, they never Skyped each other and Mirkin said there was no evidence that physical attempts to meet were ever made.

Mirkin said that Reynart contacted Homeland Security once she began conversing with Jospeh as a pretend 13-year-old and told them she had "got(ten) my ex set up and he wants to have sex with a 13-year-old."

Three weeks after Reynart's contacts stopped, Homeland Security Agent Jonathan Posthumus assumed the persona of "Sweet Sara 13" contacted Joseph. "Sweet Sara 13" told Joseph she had moved to Kittery, Maine and was living with her aunt.

"Sweet Sara 13" wanted Joseph to meet her at a Days Inn in Kittery. She also told him she liked strawberry wine coolers and wanted an iPad. She (Agent Posthumus) set a date for November 10, 2013.

According to Mirkin's statements, Joseph didn't keep the date. He made no effort to contact Days Inn and there were no credit card charges related to Days Inn.

Mirkin and Guldbransen both agreed that Johnson sent an e-mail to "Sweet Sara 13" telling her that he wasn't going to the hotel and that he was concerned with the legal issues. "You are only 13. I'm not a child predator," he writes.

Guldbransen said Joseph contacted "Sweet Sara 13" once or twice more in December and January saying he was home, lonely and that he wanted her.

The contact stopped and in February of 2014, Joseph was indicted for two counts of enticing a person under 16 to have sex using a computer.

With yesterday's mistrial, Guldbrandsen can retry Joseph after a different jury has been seated. The date of a possible retrial is not known.

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 February 2015 02:09

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Medical marijuana zoning proposal takes next step with little interest

LACONIA — With little discussion the Planning Board last night unanimously recommended a zoning ordinance that would restrict facilities dispensing, growing and processing marijuana for medicinal purposes — "Alternative Treatment Centers" or ATCs — to three industrial districts, as recommended by the Zoning Task Force.

The initiative now goes to City Council for final approval.
The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will select, license and regulate the nonprofit corporations owning and operating the ATCs. DHHS has received 14 applications to operate ATCs in four geographic zones, one of which consists of Belknap, Strafford and Rockingham counties. At least one application has been received for each of the four geographic areas, but DHHS has declined to specify either how many applications were submitted for each area or where within each area applicants propose to operate. However, where such facilities operate are questions for municipalities to address through their zoning ordinances.
The Zoning Task Force has recommended that rather than propose different zoning regulations for dispensing, cultivating and processing, the same regulation should apply to all three.
 The ordinance would confine ATCs to the Industrial Park, Industrial and Airport Industrial Districts and prohibited elsewhere. The Industrial Park District refers to the O'Shea Industrial Park on Lexington Drive. There are three Industrial Districts in downtown, two beyond the south end and another near the north end of Union Avenue. The Airport Industrial District lies east of White Oaks Road and borders the Gilford town line.
ATCs would be prohibited in residential districts and within 1,000 feet of schools, daycare centers and places of worship. The dispensaries would be allowed to operate between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. All facilities must be fitted with security alarms and cameras, operating around the clock and connected to the Police Department and an alarm monitoring company.
Corporations seeking to operate in the city would require a conditional use permit as well as an approved site plan. A conditional use permit requires an applicant to demonstrate that the use will not endanger the health or safety of the public, substantially diminish the value of nearby properties, adversely impact vehicular or pedestrian safety, not impair natural resources or necessitate excessive public expenditures. The use must also be compatible with the neighborhood and the uses of adjacent properties. In addition, any signage must comply with the relevant regulations.

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 February 2015 02:03

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Mill Society membership continues to buck its board on sale of historic building

LACONIA — For the second time in as many months, the membership of the Belknap Mill Society resoundingly spurned the recommendation of the Board of Directors to negotiate the sale of the historic building to the city of Laconia when the organization held its annual meeting yesterday.

Some 40 of the approximately 170 members attended the annual meeting where what attorney Rod Dyer, who moderated the proceedings, called "an advisory vote" was taken on the board's recommendation. Only a handful members voted in favor of the society divesting itself of the property. At the same time, a number of members advocated mounting a fundraising campaign to address the immediate needs of the building, including the repair or replacement of the roof and installation of a new boiler, as well as a membership drive to place the operations of the society on a sound footing.

The vote mirrored the outcome between the directors and members in January when a clear majority of the 40 or 50 members in attendance expressed opposition to selling the building in a straw poll.

Attorney Paul Fitzgerald, representing the directors, said yesterday that the directors will weigh a number of options in light of the views expressed by a majority of the membership. He noted the board, by bylaw, is not bound by the vote of the members and is vested with sole authority to negotiate the sale of the mill, but added that the directors have no intention of ignoring the wishes of the membership.

Last October, Christine Santaniello, president of the society, and the directors concluded that the society lacked the financial means to continue to own and maintain the historic building. She said that because the society was operating at a deficit and depleting its reserves it could not sustain proper ownership. The trustees announced that they were searching for a partner who would assume ownership of the property while ensuring public access to the first and third floors of the building where the society would continue to offer its educational and cultural programs. They approached the City Council, offering to sell the building to the city at an undisclosed price, but a majority of the councilors urged them to explore alternative arrangements.

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 February 2015 02:31

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