Convention chairman warns legislators against attempts to ‘micromanage county’

LACONIA — Belknap County Convention Chairman Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) cautioned fellow lawmakers against trying to micromanage county affairs after the convention’s Executive Committee meeting on Wednesday reduced a request for a $150,000 transfer of funds to meet unanticipated 2015 medical costs incurred by the Belknap County Corrections Department to $112,000.
The transfer request was one of 60 made by the Belknap County Commissioners this year in order to comply with state law and the convention’s policy of requiring approval by the Executive Committee of transfers of more than $800 between budget lines.
“We’ll be meeting up here daily and be accused of micromanaging,” Tilton told his fellow legislators, maintaining that the recommendations of the county commissioners and department heads who are involved in the day-to-day operations of the county deserve to be given due consideration.
The committee voted unanimously to approve the $112,000 to meet outstanding bills already received after rejecting a motion made by Rep. Don Flanders (R-Laconia) to approve the full $150,000 by a 4-2 vote. The only other vote in support of that motion came from Tilton.
Voting against granting the full request were Rep. Brian Gallagher (R-Sanbornton), Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith), Rep. George Hurt (R-Gilford) and Rep. Michael Sylvia (R-Belmont).
Gallagher, who had questioned the need for several transfer requests, suggested that the request be “put on pause” until the county made an attempt to negotiate to lower the bills. He said that approving the full transfer request now would weaken the county’s ability to negotiate for lower fees.
Commission Chairman David DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) said that approach poses risks for the county and pointed out that the county had already received $111,368 in medical bills and was expecting more.
Tilton said “our job is to allocate funds. It is the commission’s job to negotiate.”
DeVoy had said earlier that the county was looking at how Merrimack County has been handling situations regarding medical costs for prisoners and how they were able to obtain Medicaid reimbursements.
He said that Merrimack County has a full-time person working on those situations, something Belknap County lacks.
“We want you to trust us to try and negotiate this down and get a better understanding of the process to recover the money. No one here has ever done this before,” said DeVoy.
Gallagher said that the funds could come from any surplus within the corrections budget but County Administrator Debra Shackett said there is a projected surplus of just $43,932 for the department.
Accounting for nearly half of the medical bills already received is a $53,000 bill from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon for two weeks of treatment for a female inmate who attempted to hang herself in her cell on Sept. 29 and who was taken first to Lakes Region General Hospital and then transferred to Dartmouth-Hitchcock.
During his presentation on the need for the transfer, DeVoy said the inmate had nearly succeeded in her suicide attempt, which was made during a shift change when the interval between visual inspection of cells was a half hour, rather than the normal 15 minutes.
Gallagher also questioned the need for a $20,000 transfer for engineering work on the community corrections facility, maintaining that it could come from the $8 million borrowing approved in early November by the county convention.
But Tilton pointed out that the engineering work is ongoing and cannot be paid for with the bond-sale funds until the $8 million is actually appropriated by the county convention as part of the 2016 budget, which will not likely take place for a few months.
He said that denying the transfer request would slow down the community corrections center program, as the engineering firm is under no obligation to continue its work unless the county has set aside funds to meet its contractual obligations.
He said delaying the funding was an attempt to micromanage county business and that he was comfortable with the approach suggested by the commissioners.
A motion by Flanders to approve the transfer was approved 5-0, with Gallagher abstaining.

Laconia City Manager Scott Myers gets a raise

LACONIA — After evaluating the performance of City Manager Scott Myers, the City Council this week unanimously agreed to increase his annual salary from $120,000 to $125,000 for 2016.
Myers was hired in June 2011 at a probationary salary of $90,000, which was raised to $95,000 after six months. Although his compensation was increased to $100,000 for 2013, Mayor Ed Engler said that in 2014 the council agreed that his salary of $100,000 was “well below the market rate for city managers.” The council agreed to increase his salary to $120,000 by Jan. 1, 2015, which was done by granting three raises over the next 11 months.
Myers is not a member of the New Hampshire Retirement System, but instead is enrolled in a deferred compensation plan for his retirement. The council agreed to raise the city’s contribution to the plan from 11 percent of salary in 2015 to 12 percent in 2016. The comparable rate in the retirement system is currently 11.17 percent
Myers contributes 20 percent to the cost of his health insurance premiums, twice the current share borne by city employees. And unlike other employees, he does he monetize unused personal, sick and vacation days that would entitle him to a lump sum payment when his employment with the city comes to an end.

Motorcycle ‘ape-hangers’ to make comeback?

CONCORD — Sen. Andrew Hosmer, a Democrat from Laconia, has introduced legislation to repeal the statute restricting the height of handlebars on motorcycles and return so-called “ape-hangers” to the roads of the Granite State.
New Hampshire is now among more than 30 states that limit the height of handlebars. The statute prohibits motorcycles fitted with grips “higher than than the shoulder level of the driver when in the seat or saddle.” It also prohibits riding a motorcycle with “improvised, defective, or repaired handlebars.”
Hosmer could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
“I applaud Sen. Hosmer for sponsoring this bill,” said Charlie St. Clair, executive director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association.
He noted that New Hampshire began regulating handlebars in 1967, a time when many state legislatures associated motorcycling with the counter-culture captured by films like “The Wild Ones” and “Easy Rider.”
“I have never heard the height of handlebars presented as a safety issue,” he said. “There is no history of accidents caused by high bars.”
“Law enforcement pulled people over for high bars as a tool for probable cause,” St. Clair said. “An excuse to stop motorcyclists.”
Without a federal standard, the regulation of handlebars on motorcycles rests with the states. Initially New Hampshire restricted the height of handlebars to 15 inches above the saddle, a limit that applies in about a dozen states. New Hampshire later chose to set a limit bearing some relationship to the size of the rider and is one of 10 states that peg the height of handlebars to the height of the shoulder while another five require the handlebars to be below the height of the shoulder.
St. Clair said that states, prodded by motorcycle enthusiasts, have begun to repeal restrictions and currently 18 states impose no limits. In July, South Dakota, which hosts the famed annual rally in Sturgis, became the most recent state to repeal its shoulder level statute.
“I definitely want New Hampshire to be on that list,” St. Clair said of the states without restrictions. “We are home to the oldest motorcycle rally in the world and only South Dakota has more registered motorcycles (per capita) than New Hampshire. Repealing an unnecessary law that is no benefit to anybody would make the state of New Hampshire more welcoming to motorcyclists not just during Laconia Motorcycle Week but throughout the year,” he said.
Senate Bill 360 has been referred to the Senate Transportation Committee. A hearing has yet to be scheduled.