Convention restores revenue estimates for nursing home but cuts administration budget (376)

LACONIA — Faced with a nearly six percent increase in county taxes if it stuck with its action of last week in reducing revenue estimates for the Belknap County Nursing Home, the Belknap County Convention last night restored $470,00 in anticipated revenue estimates for the nursing home.
Convention Clerk Brian Gallagher of Sanbornton proposed restoring a $370,000 increase to the Medicaid Home Care line, which brings it to $3,370,000, and a $100,000 increase to the Medicare Part A line, which brings it to $1 million. The vote to restore both cuts was made in one motion, which passed by a 13-4 vote,
That stood in sharp contrast to last week when the increase in homecare lost 7-6 and the Part A increase was defeated 9-4.
That was a major victory for the majority of the Belknap County Commission, who had advocated for the increase.
But the commissioners lost out on their proposal to retain funds for a vacant human resources director position in the administration budget which they had sought to retain funds for as a hedge in union negotiations when Rep. Ray Howard of Alton garnered support from nine of the 17 representatives present to cut $100,000 from the administration budget.
The convention also approved a $45,000 cut in funds for debt service and voted 12-5 to cut funding for all outside agencies by five percent, a $22,000 cut.
The cut for outside agencies was precipitated by a motion by Rep. Herb Vadney, vice chairman of the convention, for a token one percent cut as he maintained that the county should gradually withdraw funding for those agencies.
When his motion received support from others, including Rep. Russ Dumais of Gilford, he withdrew it and it made a new one calling for a 5 percent cut.
Supporters of the cut said they were a burden on taxpayers, a view challenged by Rep. Dennis Fields of Sanbornton.
Convention Chairman Frank Tilton of Laconia urged holding off action and appointing a study committee, maintaining that the move was coming late in the budget process.
A subsequent motion by Rep. Michael Sylvia of Belmont to cut an additional $20,000 from the $75,000 Belknap Economic Development Council, lost on a 13-4 vote.
BEDC Chairman Henry Lipman and other officials of the organization testified earlier in the evening against a proposed cut in the agency's budget.

Telephone pole tax legislation could cost Laconia $30,000 in revenue

LACONIA — The City Council is urging state lawmakers to vote against legislation that would enable telecommunications companies — chiefly FairPoint Communications Inc. — to shift a share of its property tax liability to other taxpayers.

Originally House Bill 547 sought to restore the exemption from property taxes on poles and conduits owned by telecommunications companies, which the Legislature ended in 2010. The elimination of the exemption sparked a spate of litigation challenging the authority of municipalities to tax poles and conduits as well as the methods to appraise them.

The House Ways and Means Committee declined to restore the exemption, but amended the bill to prescribe a formula for appraising them in hopes of ending the litigation. The bill specifies that "the direct replacement cost of the pole or conduit, defined as the actual cost of the pole or conduit including the labor cost of installation less depreciation calculated on a straight-line basis for a period of 30 years with a residual value of no less than 20 percent."

Supporters of the bill claim it will not only put an end to the litigation but also ensure consistency in the appraisal of poles and conduits from one municipality to another. They stress that because telecommunications companies operate in a very competitive environment they are seeking a level playing field.

The bill's opponents, however, claim that this formula would ensure an artificially low valuation. They argue that "replacement cost" refers to the original cost which, since two-thirds of poles are more than 30 years old, does not represent replacement cost at all. Likewise, requiring application of 30-year straight-line depreciation ensures that poles 30 years old or older, with market values close to replacement costs, will be depreciated to 20 percent.

In a memorandum to the city's representatives City Manager Scott Myers said that FairPoint Communications owns poles and conduits with an aggregate value of more than $2.4 million, representing more than $30,000 in annual property taxes that would be born by other taxpayers.

Furthermore, Myers anticipates that other utilities — Eversource, the successor to Public Service of New Hampshire, and Liberty Utilities, the natural gas company, would seek to apply the same appraisal method and depreciation formula to their poles and infrastructure, further eroding the city's tax base. "It will mean additional corporate giveaways to for-profit companies, again, paid for by the rest of the local taxpayers," Myers warned.

Myers reminded councilors and lawmakers that all the Republican members of the Ways and Means Committee endorsed the amended bill and urged the city's five representatives — all Republicans — not only to vote against the bill when it comes to the floor, but also to speak against it in the GOP caucus.

HB 547 will come to the floor when the House meets tomorrow.

At Inter-Lakes, sportsmanship culture is cultivated year-round

MEREDITH — Inter-Lakes High School has won the NHIAA's Sportsmanship Award for Division III twice in the past three years. Athletic Director Jeff Cloos, who came to Inter-Lakes four years ago, said that maintaining a high standard of sportsmanship takes more than a policy written in a handbook or a slogan painted on a wall. It requires that all parties involved believe in good sportsmanship as a philosophy.
"It is a culture," he said. It was a culture he found in place when he was hired by the district, and it's one he has taken deliberate steps to encourage. The athletes buy into it, he said, as do the coaches, fans and parents. "And they hold each other accountable. We have high expectations of how we hold ourselves as far as athletes and as a community."
The work begins as early as pre-season meetings, where videos of good sportsmanship are watched and discussed. During the seasons, fans who exhibit excellent behavior are rewarded with Inter-Lakes T-shirts. Athletes are awarded for their conduct in the after season awards banquets.
There's another side to the coin, too. When fans, whether they're students or parents, exhibit what the school considers inappropriate behavior, Cloos said the issue is dealt with immediately, either by him or another administrator. A quick discussion is often all that is required, though repeated offenders will be asked to leave the event. "We want our schools, our community to be well-represented," he said.
"If someone crosses the line of poor sportsmanship, we deal with it quickly. We certainly have our share of issues, all schools do. We're not perfect."
What behavior should and shouldn't be allowed? Cloos said the NHIAA gives each school a certain amount of latitude to develop their own standards. For example, at Inter-Lakes, fans aren't allowed to make distracting noises, such as stomping their feet in the bleachers, when a basketball player is attempting a free throw. However, at other schools, it's allowed. He encourages his athletes to adapt to and respect the rules of the schools they visit, even if the behavior wouldn't be permissible at Inter-Lakes. "That's part of sports and traveling to other schools."
Some of his players, he noted, actually prefer the raucous atmospheres. To some, silence is more distracting than any crowd. "There's a balance that can be found."
For Cloos, sportsmanship is one of the benefits students gain from participating in athletics. He said, it teaches the athletes to have respect for themselves, for their teammates, coaches, opponents and referees. "In sports, as in life, the athletes understand that winning isn't everything."

Fouls called on local fans

LACONIA — In recent days, fans who have shown up to support their local teams in the highly competitive NHIAA Division III Girls Basketball Tournament have been criticized for what some consider poor sportsmanship.

Susan Colby of Bristol, in particular, has been publicly critical of the behavior of Laconia fans, students and adults, at last Saturday night's quarter-final-round game between host Newfound and the Sachems.

"Oh my gosh," said Colby when reached on Thursday.

She said she was very glad to see that Laconia brought over 50 students to the game and the entire contingent of Sachem fans amounted to about a quarter of the total crowd. She said that at the encouragement of one the Laconia adults present, a group moved to seats behind the Newfound cheerleaders.

"On the first foul (shot by Newfound) they started stomping their feet, and I said to them that we don't do that here," she said. "They looked at me smugly."

Colby said that toward the end of the game, Newfound fans also started stomping their feet on the bleachers during Laconia's free throw attempts and she was equally disappointed in them.

She said the thing that upset her the most was the taunting when Laconia fans yelled "air ball" and "you can't do that" during free throw shots. At the end of the game, she said Laconia fans were yelling "loser" "loser".

Colby said one of her friends called Laconia school Superintendent Terri Forsten on Monday but she doesn't know if there was any conversation between the two.

Colby added that all of the athletes and their coaches on both sides were perfectly well behaved.

A Laconia High School student said Friday that he was also at the game. He said most of the crowd's behavior was "like you would see at any other game that you watch on television."

He said that toward the end of the game the people he was with started chanting "winning team" and "losing team", however Laconia Athletic Director Craig Kozens told them to stop.

"Some of the stuff we did was kind of rude," he said.

The student said there was also an altercation in the bleachers between one Newfound student and the mother of one of the Laconia players.

He said it started out as yelling but then the male Newfound student started to move toward the woman, "like he was going to get in her face" and his friend hauled him back and took him outside.

But according to photographer Alan MacRae, the Laconia crowd got a small taste of its own medicine on Tuesday, when their team played Gilford in a semi-final-round game in Manchester.

MacRae, assigned to cover the game by The Daily Sun, has been photographing high school, college and professional sports for just about his entire adult live. He is a retired police officer.

He said he was "appalled" by the behavior of Gilford's fans when they held up newspapers in front of their faces when the starting five players for Laconia were introduced before the game.

MacRae said there was no foot pounding on either side and, other than the newspapers, both sets of fans seemed well behaved. Both sides were loud, boisterous and supportive of their team and he said it was a close and very well-played game.

"Gilford has a formidable sports program," MacRae said, suggesting the fans, many of them adults, should mimic the good behavior of the athletes and coaches.

MacRae's larger concern is that student athletes are not all alike. "What if you're (taunting) got some kid who's "coded" meaning he or she has an individual education plan, or one who is shy or has ADD?"

"What if this kid was distraught?" he asked. "The average person can brush (taunting) off but some kids are more sensitive."

WEMJ radio sportscaster Keith Murray sees it a little differently than MacRae and Colby.

Murray has called games this year involving Gilford, Winnisquam Regional, Belmont, Inter-Lakes and Laconia teams.

He said someone also told him there was some "questionable behavior" at some of the games including foot stomping during foul shots. Murray said he "didn't think it was out of bounds."

He said most gymnasiums don't have seating behind the baskets and he said Laconia's fans at Newfound were "loud and energetic but not out of order."

Murray said he didn't hear any personal or verbal attacks on the players.

Nevertheless, Murray encourages civility and respect.

Murray also recalled fondly the games in the 1980s and early 1990s between Gilford and Laconia when they shared a superintendent.

"Now that was an intense rivalry," he said, noting both teams were very loud, very supportive but not generally out of order.

Gilford Superintendent Kent Hemingway said he was sorry to hear there were bad reports about the behavior of some of his team's fans in Manchester. He said he had staff and administrators at the game has heard "absolutely nothing".

He said Gilford, which won a NHIAA sportsmanship award in 2012-2013, has taken the rules of NHIAA very seriously.

Those rules dictate that all members are to act with a spirit of good sportsmanship and each school should have a set of procedures and policies to follow. The NHIAA rules say the principal of the school as building leader has this responsibility.

Efforts to contact Laconia High School Principal Jim McCollum this week were unsuccessful however, School Board Chair Joe Cormier said if the allegations about Laconia fans are true, he is very disappointed.

"We really don't tolerate this behavior and I am saddened to learn this," he said.

Superintendent Forsten said she was unable to be at either the game at Newfound or the semi-final game in Manchester, but said her administration is committed to promoting good sportsmanship with all of their teams.

"We've dedicated ourselves to good sportsmanship and we've seen that," she said.

"Our youth represent our community and we see good behavior most of the time." she said. Forsten said that instilling good behavior on the part of the students fans is generally very easy, however sometime adults will behave badly, somewhat tying the hands of the administrators.