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Worsman & Vadney take aim at county personnel costs

LACONIA — Representatives Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), who chairs the Belknap County Convention, and Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) delivered a one-two punch at county personnel costs when the convention began considering the 2014 county budget last night.

Worsman opened the meeting by charging that the Belknap County commissioners, by shuffling appropriations authorized by the convention, "overspent salary and benefit lines to the detriment of maintenance and capital" then "falsely blamed" the convention for underfunding routine maintenance and capital projects.

After the convention stripped funding for sick day and longevity bonuses as well as increased health insurance premiums from the 2013 budget, the commissioners drew funds from some 90 lines to fund what they believe are contractual obligations under the collective bargaining agreements with the State Employees Association local, which represents employees of the Corrections Department, Sheriff's Department and Nursing Home.

Looking ahead, Worsman warned of a "financial meltdown ahead for Belknap County" unless steps are not taken to rein in personnel costs. She conceded that since 2008 the number of employees has been reduced by nearly a fifth, but highlighted the 62-percent increase in the employer share of health insurance premiums. "Remaining on this track," she said, "will be a trainwreck for Belknap County taxpayers." She said that health insurance costs are projected to climb by $500,000 in 2014, when they will represent 12-percent of the county budget.

Next Worsman turned to "the ballooning salary cost of the administration and finance departments," where she claimed the compensation for six employees has risen 91.7 percent since 2009. These departments, she said, "have not shared the financial challenges of other county workers. Indeed, they have thrived." Moreover, she noted that the actual salary expenditures in the administration and finance departments are expected to exceed what the convention budgeted by "a whopping $73,000."

Worsman said that the commissioners struck the $554,000 to fund the Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid Association from the 2014 county budget in favor of billing the municipalities directly, but rather than heed the expressed wishes of the cities and towns to reduce the county by an equal amount replaced it with more spending. The commissioner's recommended budget, she said, was equal to that of 2010 when the county received $2.7 million in federal stimulus funds.

"On behalf of our constituents it would be irresponsible to affirm this budget," she declared.

"The money is in the people," added Vadney, riffing on Worsman's theme. "That's where the money is."

Vadney said that he compared the salary of department heads with those of their counterparts in the other nine counties and found "we are paying our managers fairly well." The nine positions, he continued, cost $774,000, which is $141,000 more than the average for the same positions in the other nine counties.

Vadney offered a motion to withhold any increase in the appropriation for salaries, wages and benefits until there is a substantial increase in the employees' contribution to health insurance premiums and a thorough review of compensation and benefits. He explained that the base line would be the appropriation for compensation and benefits in 2013 authorized by the convention, not the actual amounts expended by the commission.

"The commissioners have treated us as though we're not serious," he said. "On this we are serious."

Vadney's motion carried by 11 votes to 7, with Republican Representatives Bob Luther of Laconia and Dennis Fields of Sanbornton joining the five Democrats — Representatives David Huot and Beth Arsenault of Laconia, Ruth Gulick of New Hampton, Ian Raymond of Sanbornton and Lisa DiMartino of Gilford in opposition.

Representative Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) suggested the convention adopt a target of a 1.5 percent increase in the amount to be raised by property taxes in preparing the 2014 budget.

His proposal drew a sharp response from Sheriff Craig Wigging, in the audience, who reminded the members of the convention that he was elected by all the voters of the county. He cautioned the convention against "laying down the gauntlet" and "throwing out a bottom line." Instead of saying "here's your money, make it work," he urged the convention to meet with department heads and "educate yourselves."

"You're talking out of both sides of your mouth," Wiggin remarked. "You say you don't want to micro-manage, but clearly that's just what you want to do." He sat down amid a round of applause from the crowd of more than 50 attending the meeting.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 09:33

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Police report armed robbert in parking lot of Laconia apartment complex

LACONIA — Police are investigating the armed robbery of a local man at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday in the parking lot of 103 Blueberry Lane.

The victim, a 30-year-old male, was walking to his car and said he was punched in the face and robbed by two men, one of whom pulled a handgun and demanded he empty his pockets.

The suspects made off with a cell phone, a silver ring with a black, stone cross, and an undisclosed amount of money.

The victim said one man was white, about 6-feet tall and weighed about 200 pounds and the other was about 5-feet 10-inches, about 200 pounds and clean shaven. He told police the first man wore a dark ski jacket and the second man wore a dark hooded sweatshirt.

Police ask anyone with any information to call the Laconia Police Department at 524-5257 or the Greater Laconia Crime Line at 524-1717.

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 01:08

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St. James Preschoolers find temp home at Normandin Square

LACONIA — Youngsters from the Saint James Preschool got to attend classes for the first time in nearly a month yesterday when they showed up at their new temporary home at the Lakes Region Child Care Services Early Learning Center at Normandin Square.
The pre-school has been closed since December 8, when vandals left water running in an upstairs sink which had been blocked, flooding the basement classroom space used by the students at the Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region.
''It's our first day here and the kids are having a great time. They haven't been able to attend school in a month and they're really glad to see each other again,'' said Gayle Sullivan, preschool director, who said that one of the big attractions for the 21 students who attended school yesterday was a climbing structure at the Early Learning Center.
''We don't have anything like that and they were fascinated with it,'' said Sullivan.
She said that within 24 hours after Saint James Preschool was forced to close the Early Learning Center reached out with on offer to share its facilities and the preschool now has about 1,350-square-feet of space to operate its own programs.
Students and their parents got to view the facility at a December 20 open house and the first day of classes at the school was originally scheduled for January 2 but was postponed for three straight days by school cancellations.
''It's a beautiful kid-friendly atmosphere here and we're so happy that Lakes Region Child Care Services has allowed us to use the facility,'' said Sullivan.
She expects that repairs to the Boys and Girls Club will be completed by the end of the month and that the preschool will be able to return to the same classroom spaces that it has occupied at the former Saint James Episcopal Church ever since it was started at the Saint James Day Care Center in 1965 by the end of January.


CAPTION: Saint James Pre-schoolers Brayden Pucci, Cody Houle, Elise Graton and Dante Morin enjoy a little climbing at the school's new, temporary facility at the Lakes Region Child Care Services Early Learning Center on Strafford Street in Laconia. It was their first day at school in nearly a month for the youngsters, who will be returning to their familiar classrooms at the Boys and Girls Club on North Main Street. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 01:04

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Belmont committee eyes Gale School as possible site for town library

BELMONT — Could the Gale School be used as a the town library?

The ad hoc Save the Gale School Committee thinks so, and last night two of its members broached the subject with the Shaker Regional School Board.

Conservation Commission member Ken Knowlton and former School Board Chair Pret Tuthill think the 119-year-old building, which has been idle since the 1980s, can be moved from its current spot behind the Belmont Middle School and placed on the empty lot on the corner of Memorial and School streets.

A recent evaluation by Omega Structural Engineers, PLLC said the building and, with the exception of its foundation, is sound. Tuthill said he knows it would need lead and possible asbestos remediation, but using it is still an option.

The recent study was paid for by the Save the Gale School fund.

According to Tuthill, the Library Trustees think the Belmont Library needs more room. He said there is "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in the Duffy Fund — a fund established in 1927 by Walter and George Duffy, who were the owners of the Belmont Hosiery Mill. The Duffys built the current library and donated 5,000 books to its initial collection.

Tuthill said until recently the Library Trustees were under the impression that the money could only be spent on the existing building, but he said he has since learned differently.

"It is our contention that the money is available," Tuthill said, noting the money left over from the 1927 project has "swollen to quite a bit of money."

He said Diane Marden of the Belmont Historical Society was making a similar presentation to the Belmont Library Trustees at their meeting last night.

Tuthill also said Shaker Regional Building and Grounds Director Doug Ellis got an estimate yesterday of $40,000 to tear down the Gale School — a number that doesn't include any lead paint or asbestos remediation.

"We could offer to buy it from you for and set it on our own foundation," Tuthill said, suggesting the school district could contribute the $40,000 to the move rather than spend it in demolition.

Tuthill said if the library doesn't want the old school, maybe the town would.

He also said that he and Knowlton think the town of Belmont is looking to use the Belmont Mill someday as town offices, a which point the senior center and the daycare center would need a new home.

Should the old Gale School be available and the library doesn't want it, Tuthill said those two uses could qualify the for some state or federal community development grants.

"Can you live with it on Concord Street and with public access?" asked Tuthill, saying he didn't expect an answer right away.

Nor did he get one. Shaker School Board Chair Heidi Hutchinson asked Ellis how current the estimate was to tear it down but after that, the board went on to its other business.

Library Trustee Chair Mary Louise Charnley said Marden made her presentation to the trustees last night.

She said they took no action, but plan to discuss the proposal in a future meeting.

"I don't know what we're going to do," Charnley said. "We're just digging through the paperwork."

Last Updated on Tuesday, 07 January 2014 12:15

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