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How much jail can Belknap County afford?

LACONIA — The new county jail contemplated by the Belknap County Commission would be the first major capital project undertaken by the county in a generation and while there is little question a new facility is needed, the cost of the project is a source of concern.

The Jail Planning Committee, convened by the commission, is contemplating a facility of some 94,000-square feet with 180 beds, which it seeks to build for not more than $30-million and preferably less. The committee notes that in 2005 Merrimack County constructed a 112,000-square foot jail with 237 beds for $24.3-million and in 2012 Grafton County completed a facility with 150 beds at cost of $30.5-million.

With one city and ten towns, about 60,000 residents and a total assessed valuation of approximately $10-billion, Belknap County is significantly smaller with less fiscal capacity than either Merrimack County or Grafton County. The population of Merrimack County exceeds 146,000 spread among two cities and 25 towns while Grafton County counts more than 89,000 residents in one city and 38 towns. The total assessed valuation of Merrimack County and Grafton County exceeds $15-billion and $13-billion respectively. Moreover, commercial and industrial property — land and buildings — represents 20-percent of the total assessed valuation in Merrimack County and 17-percent of the total assessed valuation in Grafton County compared to 12-percent in Belknap County, where households bear a relatively greater share of the property tax burden.

Consequently, the cost of county government, particularly a major capital project, in Belknap County is born by a smaller population and tax base and distributed among fewer municipalities than in larger counties like Merrimack and Grafton.

The average annual principal and interest payments for a facility costing $30-million to construct, financed by borrowing the cost at 4.25-percent for 20 years, would be about $2.2-million. In Belknap County, the cost of debt service would be born by the eleven municipalities in proportion to their share of the total assessed valuation of the county.

Together the five lakefront municipalities — Laconia, Alton, Center Harbor, Gilford and Meredith — represent 70-percent of the total assessed valuation of the county and would share about $1.5-million of the annual average debt service of $2.2-million. Laconia and Meredith, with assessed valuations of more than $1.8-billion, would contribute more than $400,000 while the shares of Alton and Gilford would top $300,000.

With its tax cap Laconia's situation is unique. Any increase in the city's county apportionment counts against the tax cap and must be offset by commensurate reductions in municipal expenditures in order to budget within the bounds of the cap.

By contrast, if the same amount of debt service were carried in Grafton County, Lebanon and Hanover, with the largest property tax bases comparable to those of Laconia and Meredith, which bear 36-percent of cost in Belknap County, would bear 28-percent of the cost, or about $300,000 apiece. The balance would be distributed among 36 towns, whose share of the county budget ranges from 0.1-percent in Ellsworth to 5.7-percent in Littleton. Similarly, in Merrimack County the cost of county government is born by tax base a third greater than in Belknap County as well as more than twice the number of municipalities and residents.

These numbers underpin the perception in some quarters that comparisons with jails built recently in other counties are misleading and that the taxpayers of Belknap County cannot afford a comparable facility.

Last Updated on Saturday, 19 April 2014 12:10

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Jenkins Faces VanTassel in Sanbornton selectman's race

SANBORNTON —  A long time member of the Budget Committee will be squaring off against the former head of the Public Works Department in this year's race for selectman.

On May 13, voters will chose between Jeff Jenkins and Johnny VanTassel for the three-year term. Incumbent Guy Giunta is not seeking reelection.

Jenkins is a member of the town's Budget Committee and has often been very vocal at selectman's meetings about how the town's highway crews should maintain the roads and bridges in town.

VanTassel was the head of the Department of Public Works until late last year when he resigned to take the job as the head of the Northfield Public Works Department.

Both are members of a committee established by selectmen to see if the town should subcontract the work currently being done by the highway department to a private subcontractor.

The will be a candidates night on May 2 at 7 p.m. at the Sanbornton Public Library. Tilton resident Pat Clark will moderate.

Last Updated on Saturday, 19 April 2014 12:25

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Laconia to lay off two teachers to stay within tax cap

LACONIA  — Superintendent of Schools Terri Forsten said yesterday that the Laconia School Board needs to reduce its proposed budget by about $300,000 to satisfy the terms of the city's tax cap of $36.3-million.

To do that she said two teachers have been laid off and the district is potentially looking at not replacing some retiring employees.

The School Board had been slated to present their 2014-2015 budget to the City Council on April 28. City Manager Scott Myers said yesterday the School District's new presentation date is May 27.

Members had scheduled a vote on the entire $36.6-million budget at their meeting last Tuesday. However, they delayed the vote without discussion. When asked why, Budget and Personnel Committee Chair Scott Vachon said the committee hadn't had the opportunity to review the final details of the proposed budget. After a non-public session, the board apparently agreed to lay off two employees.

Forsten said in years past the district has been able to save some money by not replacing some elementary school teachers as they retire because of dwindling school enrollments. However, she said in the past two years, the district has seen an increase in enrollment at the kindergarten and first grade levels and can no longer eliminate elementary school teacher positions through retirement and attrition.

Forsten also said at this point in time, the district doesn't know how many new kindergarten students there will be in August.

She said the administrators will also eye moving around some programs to get better use out of their existing resources and that could involve asking some teachers to teach different classes than they now teach.

She said it's only fair to the teachers to discuss this as soon as decisions are made in order to give them time to prepare.

Forsten said they are also seeing some other shifts and, despite two resignations, will maintain the current level of guidance counselors. She said the district is also hoping to add a world languages teacher at the Laconia Middle School.

Last Updated on Friday, 18 April 2014 11:30

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Accused pot grower: no cause for search of Gov. Island home

GILFORD – A local man who is charged with multiple counts of manufacturing drugs in a three-car garage he rented on Governor's Island has asked for all evidence to be suppressed because the warrant supporting the search omitted key information.

Corey LaPlante, 28, formerly of 47 Blueberry Hill Lane, has argued that of the two people who allegedly told members of the N.H. Drug Task Force that he was allegedly manufacturing marijuana, the observations of one of the them were not included in the affidavit supporting the search warrant.

"Had Mr. (name omitted)'s observations been included in the affidavit, a reasonable person would conclude there was no contraband in the home," wrote Attorney Mark Sisti.

"As a result," he continued, "any evidence taken as a result of the search warrant based upon the defective affidavit must be suppressed as a matter of law."

LaPlante and a woman who was also living in the house, Janelle Noftle, 24, are charged with manufacturing marijuana and hashish in the home. Police said they found about 100 marijuana plants, three to five pounds of hashish, about $30,000 in cash, and multiple fire arms in the house in a raid conducted there in October of 2013.

They also said there was a water filtration system, commercial grade fans, and a separate electrical box.

According to the motion filed last week in Belknap County Superior Court, the owner of the home visited the couple to assess repairs needed in order to sell the home.

The owner told police she saw six black fluorescent lights in the attic, an electrical panel with an unfamiliar device attached to it, and a lock on the attic door that had not been present during her previous visits.

Sisti said there is no allegation she actually observed any plants growing. She said the air had a "most pungent" smell.

The property owner was accompanied by (name omitted) but when he was interviewed by the police he said he smelled a chemical odor on the second story near the front bedroom. He told police his sense of smell wasn't that good.
Sisti said the when the man was given an "implicit invitation" to allege wrongdoing he didn't accept it. He also didn't report seeing any marijuana plants and that his only other recollection was that the house was very clean.

The argument posed by Sisti is that had the police included (name omitted)'s information in the affidavit, a judge wouldn't have had enough probable cause to grant the search warrant.

N.H. Assistant Attorney General James Vara countered by saying that the owner of the property was intimately familiar with it and said she knows what marijuana smells like. He also noted that she had procured electric bills for the house that varied from $700 to $1,100.

Vara said her knowledge of the house was far greater than the man who accompanied her.

He said the man who accompanied her admitted his sense of smell is bad. Vara said the man's recollection of a strong chemical spell could be the result of LaPlante and Noftle cleaning the house in anticipation of the owner's arrival.

LaPlante and Noftle are free after posting cash bail.

Oral arguments are scheduled for April 28.

Last Updated on Friday, 18 April 2014 11:42

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