County trims requests for money by $100,000


LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners have reduced supplemental appropriations requests for the Corrections Department and Sheriff's Department by over $100,000.
They will be asking for $95,605 for the Corrections Department and $26,000 for the Sheriff's Department when they meet with the Belknap County Delegation on Tuesday, Aug. 8, at 7 p.m, at the Belknap County complex.
The previous requests for $136,500 for to Corrections Department and $93,000 for the Sheriff's Department were denied by the delegation's tie vote on May 22 when they were lumped together in a single request for $229,500.
The new total is for $121,000 and there will be separate votes on each request by the delegation.
Belknap County Corrections Superintendent Keith Gray provided commissioners with information on the newly revised total when they met Thursday afternoon. He said that plans originally called for hiring four new corrections officers by June 1 ,with an eye on opening the new 18,1000-square-foot, 72-bed facility in September. Opening is now scheduled for late October.
He said three officers have been hired, two of whom will start work on Aug. 13 and one who will start on Aug. 20. The fourth will hired in September.
Gray has held talks with other corrections departments in the state for the temporary transfer of prisoners, which will enable work on the current jail in the second and final phase of the $8 million Belknap County Corrections Center project to start this week.
Carroll County has agreed to take up to 20 prisoners at a cost of $10 per day for up to 26 days according to Gray, who said transfers will start place next Thursday and will likely involve about 16 prisoners, including a small number of women being held prior to trial.
Total costs would be $5,200 but Gray said he hopes to have all of the prisoners back just after Labor Day weekend, when staff training is completed and the new corrections center will be able to house prisoners.

Commissioners also approved holding a grand opening ceremony for the Community Corrections Center for 2 p.m. on Aug. 17.

The delegation will also be considering for the first time Tuesday night a request for a $135,000 supplemental appropriation to make up for an increase in the $6.2 million health and human services budget line that pays for private nursing home care for county residents.
Belknap County Commissioners voted unanimously two weeks ago to allow Corrections Superintendent Gray to hire four new officers, even though the delegation has yet to approve a supplemental appropriation. Gray has maintained that the new officers are needed in order to open the new Community Corrections Center.
Commissioners have maintained that the budget approved by the delegation lacked sufficient funds to hire the new officers and asked the delegation to approve a $136,500 supplemental appropriation for the new officers.
The delegation considered the request at its May 22 meeting and it failed on a 7-7 tie vote after Delegation Chairman Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) ruled that Delegation Vice Chairman Ray Howard (R-Alton) could not abstain on the vote. Howard then voted against the appropriation, creating the tie vote.
In support of their decision to authorize the hiring of the four officers, the commissioners released a letter from Concord Attorney Bruce Marshall, which maintains that the delegation acted in an "arbitrary and capricious manner" in cutting the Corrections Department's budget and then in denying the supplemental appropriation request.
The commissioners hired Marshall after meeting with him in a closed-door session on June 27.
The letter further says that since the Department of Corrections superintendent has made a determination that the corrections facility cannot be opened without the new officers, who are deemed necessary for the operation of the facility, the law requires that delegation appropriate funding for those officers in the long term.
Members of the delegation who voted against the request maintain that the $27.447 million budget approved by the delegation is up substantially over what it was in recent years and maintain that there were sufficient funds in the budget to hire the new officers.


Laconia elections heat up

Former police chief Bruce Cheney files for Laconia City Council; Rodney Roy files for School Board Ward 5

By RICK GREEN, Laconia Daily Sun

LACONIA — Bruce Cheney, a former Laconia police chief and the man largely responsible for developing the state's 911 system, is running for the City Council's Ward 1.

Ava Doyle, who currently holds that position, has announced she will not seek re-election. Michael Foote, a member of the Laconia Zoning Board of Adjustment, is also running for the post.

Cheney, 74, is former director of the state Division of Emergency Services and Communications in the New Hampshire Department of Safety. He retired in December.

He lives on a 55-acre farm off Pickerel Pond Road, where he raises miniature horses.

“I've thought about participating in city government, but it's been hard for me in the past while working for the state,” he said. “I have lived in Laconia a long time and want to see it prosper.

“I think I bring experiences that may help it prosper. I did develop the 911 system. I bring that same sort of ability to start a project and see it through to the end.”

Cheney said he doesn't have a specific agenda.

“I don't have an opposition to growth, but at the same time I hope we can grow while still maintaining the Laconia we have all known for decades,” he said. “With a little bit of thought you can make sure the city continues to grow, but in a way all of us can enjoy.”

The mayor and all six City Council positions will be on the ballot this year. Doyle is the only council member who has announced she will not seek re-election.

Also on the ballot will be Laconia School Board positions in Ward 5, currently held by Stacie Sirois, and Ward 4, now held by Chris Guilmett.

Rodney Roy, 50, the director of recreation at the State Prison in Concord, is running for the Ward 5 School Board post.

He said he's not happy with the programs and positions that have been cut in the school district in recent years and the talented teachers who have gone to jobs elsewhere.

“I'm looking for answers,” he said. “Why do you cut band, B team sports? Why are we losing teachers to other schools? Why are stipends being cut? Why is the athletic director position cut? I'm not getting any answers. My priorities would be to stop the bleeding. Remember, it's about the kids and should be about the kids.”

A primary will be held Sept. 12 if any race has more than two candidates. If there are two candidates or fewer for any of these positions, the race will be decided in the Nov. 7 general election. The filing period for elected positions in Laconia ends on Aug. 11.

Action called for on city parking garage


LACONIA — The owner of commercial space on the ground floor of the city’s dilapidated downtown parking garage says he agrees with local business owners who have urged the city to repair or replace the structure.
Massachusetts businessman Dan DiSangro said Friday he frequently gets complaints from his tenant businesses about conditions in the 1970s-era, three-story structure.
“The tenants say it leaks when it rains,” he said. “There’s filth, garbage, urine in there. It’s dark and dirty. There’s pigeon droppings, it’s unsafe, there’s homeless people who sleep under the ramps or they try to sleep in the hallways.
“How would you feel if you are a woman or a child and you’ve got to walk through someone sleeping there? Do you feel safe?”
It’s been a year since the City Council punted on a costly proposal to replace the structure, which has corroded steel beams reinforced with wood, graffiti-scrawled walls, and a top deck that is closed because of structural issues.
Barbershop owner Breanna Henderson, who is running for City Council, and jeweler Robert Sawyer are among downtown business owners who have called for the City Council to once again address the issue.
Private ownership of the retail space on the ground floor of the garage complicates the situation. If the city wanted to demolish the structure, it would first have to buy the private space, which at one point was for sale for $1 million. It would cost another $500,000 to knock down the building, and as much as $6 million to build a new one.
Refurbishment of the existing structure could cost as much as $3 million.
DiSangro said he would entertain an offer from the city to purchase his 28,473 square feet of retail space. It is appraised at $846,500.
“People think I’m making money off this building and I’m not,” he said. “I’m just trying to stay afloat.The best possible solution for the town is to sit down with me and buy this building. Then, whether they want to fix up the garage, or wait until the leases run out and tear it down, it would be up to them. I want to work with the town and come up with a solution. And right now nobody seems to be listening. Maybe we need to sit down with the mayor, the city manager, the financial people and get this done.”
He said stopgap measures providing structural support in the garage were not meant for long-term use and he said there could be safety concerns.
Mayor Ed Engler said the garage is structurally safe and that if it weren’t, it would not be open.
The idea of paying about a $1 million for the privately owned ground floor of the garage and then demolishing the whole structure has been a non-starter for the council.
“It’s fair to say that we’re unwilling to pay market or asking price for something that all we would do is tear it down,” Engler said.
Demand for downtown parking is expected to increase after the Colonial Theatre is refurbished. A large athletic club taking shape in the ground floor of the garage will also bring more cars into the area. Live entertainment at the Whiskey Barrel nightclub has also brought more people downtown.
The mayor and City Council members are finishing out two-year terms. Downtown parking will likely be an issue in the election and in the new term.
“Parking in general is going to be something that will be addressed in the next two years, certainly,” Engler said. “Whether or not we will focus on that specific building or not, obviously that has to be part of the conversation, but I think it is a broader conversation than just talking about that building.”
Councilor Robert Hamel said there is general agreement about one aspect of the issue:
“Most people don’t like the garage at all.”