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3 bills drafted to address county budget spat

CONCORD — Three members of the Belknap County Convention — Representatives Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), and David Huot (D-Laconia) — have introduced legislation to address the county budget process, which has put the convention and commission at daggers drawn for the past year.

Throughout the year the Republican majority of the convention has insisted that the convention can rewrite the budget proposed by the commission by adding or deleting, raising or lowering appropriations for particular line items. And, in the course of managing the budget, the commission may only reallocate funds from one line to another with the approval of the Executive Committee of the convention.

With equal resolve, the commissioners claim that the authority of the convention is limited to itemizing appropriations in the categories prescribed the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration (DRA). Within these categories, the commission contends it can distribute funds among different lines without the approval of the convention as long as expenditures do not exceed the total appropriations of the particular categories.

The issue came to a head when, earlier this year, after the convention stripped appropriations to fund employee benefits, the commissioners shuffled money within departments budgets to fund them. Altogether the commission drew from 91 lines to fund 27 accounts the convention left empty.

The convention retained an attorney in anticipation of bringing suit against the commission, but has yet to initiate litigation. Although the convention must approve appropriations, the commission alone is authorized to approve expenditures. Moreover, the commission has claimed the exclusive authority to retain and compensate legal counsel to represent the county and its officials, including the convention, and consequently has refused to authorize payment of legal fees incurred by the convention.

Of the three bills, House Bill 1373, sponsored by Worsman, who chairs the convention, is the most aggressive and expansive. The bill would apply solely to Belknap County. It would affirm the authority of the convention to itemize appropriations "in detail, including specific lines within each department," and require the commissioners to seek the approval of the executive committee to transfer funds in any amount either between specific lines within a single department or from one department to another.

To overcome the dispute arising from the retention and payment of legal counsel, Worsman includes an enforcement provision in her bill. The bill provides that if any of its provisions "is reasonably believed to have been violated and it becomes necessary for the county convention to seek court enforcement, the commissioners shall timely pay the convention's incurred legal fees. Furthermore, if the court finds the commissioners in violation, her bill stipulates that "they shall be forthwith removed from office for official misconduct."

The bill is co-sponsored by Representatives Guy Comtois (R-Barnstead), Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton), Bob Greemore (R-Meredith), Michael Sylvia (R-Belmont) and Charles Fink (R-Belmont).

House Bill 1120, sponsored by Tilton and co-sponsored by Representative Herb Vadney (R-Meredith), simply mirrors the first section of Worsman's bill pertaining to the authority of the convention to itemize all appropriations and, through its executive committee, to approve all transfers within or between departments. Unlike Worsman, Tilton provides no mechanism for enforcement nor does he address the authority of the convention to retain legal counsel or the obligation of the commission to pay fees it may incur.

Huot, a Democrat, the prime sponsor of House Bill 1370 takes a different approach that's more in keeping with the position of the commission. His bill requires the convention to itemize appropriations according to the "uniform chart of functions and account numbers" prescribed by DRA and report them on the form specified by the agency, together with the "master budget showing the itemized appropriations approved by the county convention." Huot provides that the convention may require authority from the executive committee to transfer all or part of any appropriation, except for transfers within an account.

Huot's bill also requires that the executive committee of the convention include at least one member of the minority party represented in the convention, unless, of course, all the members of the convention belong to the same party.

Representatives Lisa DiMartino (D-Gilfoird) and Ruth Gulick (D-New Hampton) are co-sponsors of Huot's bill.

All three bills have been referred to the House Municipal and County Government Committee chaired by Representative Marjorie Porter (D-Hillsborough). None of the 18 representatives from Belknap County, who compose the convention, serve on the committee.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 10:41

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Newfound superintendent asked to keep an eye on class size at Bridgewater-Hebron Village School

By Thomas P. Caldwell

BRISTOL — The Newfound Area School District, which leases the Bridgewater-Hebron Village School from an independently created political entity, will be keeping closer tabs on the student population to avoid crowding at the facility.
The Bridgewater-Hebron Village District, which built and outfitted the school which is physically located in Bridgewater, had become concerned that the Newfound district's open-enrollment policy was allowing too many students from outlying towns to choose attendance in Bridgewater, resulting in larger-than-intended class sizes.
Village District Commissioners Terry Murphy and William White attended the Dec. 9 meeting of the Newfound Area School Board to see that the Newfound district adhered as closely as possible to the covenant between the entities. "We're not asking — and would not want — to force students currently attending the Bridgwater-Hebron School to leave," said Murphy. "We just want to address this issue at the preschool level, before students start attending the school."
The agreement, in which the Bridgewater-Hebron district leases the school for $1 per year to the Newfound district, specifies that classroom enrollment should not exceed "the average number of students per classroom in the relevant grade at all schools in the sending town(s)".
The 10-year agreement, renewed for another 10 years in 2009, provides for a mandatory service area comprising the towns of Bridgewater, Hebron, and Groton. Students from those towns are guaranteed placement at the school, unless they choose to attend another school. The Newfound district has the option of allowing attendance by students from the other towns — Alexandria, Danbury, Bristol, and New Hampton — if space remains to accommodate them without exceeding the limits established in the agreement.
To arrive at that number, the district divides "the total number of students in the relevant grade in all schools in the sending town(s) by the total number of classrooms used for the relevant grade in all schools in the sending town".
The concern, Murphy said, is that, in the past, previous superintendents have filled the classroom with students from other towns without sufficient thought as to what would happen if more students moved into the mandatory service area. Currently, the enrollment exceeds that average number in two classrooms at BHVS.
School Board Chair Vincent Paul Migliore of Bridgewater said he wanted to put the issue on the agenda in order to ensure that, in the future, the superintendent keeps the agreement in mind when approving attendance by students outside the mandatory service area. He successfully offered a motion that would direct the superintendent to annually review the contract in April or May to ensure compliance with the required averages.
The towns of Bridgewater and Hebron had formed the village district in 1999 when the Newfound district was experiencing crowding at the elementary level, recognizing that school district voters were unlikely to approve a new building project while still paying for the high school, built a decade earlier. The two towns agreed to build and equip the school and then to lease it to the school district, maintaining it on a landlord-tenant basis. The school district became responsible for staffing and curriculum decisions.
Murphy noted that, after the Newtown, Conn., tragedy, the Bridgewater-Hebron Village District has spent $47,000 to install security cameras and to make other security improvements, and it faces the replacement of the roof next year. "The 25-year roof lasted 15 years," Murphy said, noting that the district is looking into litigation against the supplier.

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 December 2013 01:33

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Wetlands disturbance issue puts Laconia Airport safety fence project on hold

GILFORD — A $700,000 perimeter fence project at Laconia Municipal Airport is in a holding pattern following the denial of the airport's application for a wetlands disturbance permit issued by the state Wetlands Bureau of the Department of Environmental Services.
The project calls for installation of a 15,800-foot-long, eight-foot high chain link fence around the airport and was the primary recommendation of the study performed last year by the USDA Wildlife Service, according to airport manager Diane Terrill.
She said that the fence would have barbed wire outriggers and four-foot chain link fabric which would be buried at a 45 degree angle below ground to prevent undermining of the fence by burrowing mammals such as beavers and woodchucks.
She said that the major objections from the wetlands bureau appear to relate to the 3,080 feet of the fence that impact wetlands around the airport.
''It's a highly technical document and I'm no wetlands scientist. But we didn't expect this outcome and were looking to react appropriately. From our standpoint it's an issue of human safety and we think that should be the priority,'' said Terrill.
She said that the Laconia Airport Authority is working with Steven Smith and Associates to amend its permit application and address the objections raised by the Wetlands Bureau and hasn't yet settled on what it will propose for a solution.
Terrill said that one suggested path forward is just building whatever portion of the fence is allowed.
''But to not enclose the airfield completely would be negligent. This is more than a permitting issue, it's also about public safety,'' she said.
The fence will impact wetlands along the south side of the property next to Route 11, around the east end of the property adjacent to Gunstock River and along the north side if the property adjacent to Meadowbrook Lane. The total length of fence that impacts wetland is 3,080 linear feet of conventional wetland and 2,096 linear feet of prime wetland. Seven different areas of wetland impact would be necessary to complete the fence installation.
Cooper-Terrill said the fence is designed to keep wildlife from straying on to the runway and potentially causing a collision with the aircraft that are landing or taking off. She said burrowing animals like rabbits, moles and mice are often preyed upon by larger animals like bobcats and coyotes, which also can stray on to the airport's runways to chase their prey.
She also said Canadian geese, turkey and ducks are a significant problem but not one that can be addressed by a fence.
A report completed last year indicated "aggressive harassment" like pyrotechnics, propane cannons, and electronic scarecrows can be utilized to reduce birds in the area.
It is not the first time that the airport and the Wetlands Bureau have been at odds over issues regarding wetlands around the airport.
In April of 2006, when wetlands issues imperiled an $8.1 million federally-funded runway extension and repaving program at the airport, the N.H. Wetlands Council issued a declaratory ruling sought by the Wetlands Bureau and the airport that in the case under consideration issues of public safety superseded the need for preservation of prime wetlands.
The project affected 13 acres of wetland and as a result an agreement reached between the Wetlands Bureau and the airport some 143 acres of non-runway access property on airport authority land was placed under permanent conservation easement.

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 December 2013 01:22

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LHS junior's essay wins N.H. Constitution Day contest

LACONIA — High School junior, Andrew Emanuel, has been recognized statewide for his literary and musical achievements. As the award winner for New Hampshire's Constitution Day Essay Contest, he met Associate Supreme Court Justice Carol Ann Conboy during a recent recognition event.

For an AP American Studies assignment, Emanuel was asked to write a short essay regarding whether or not the government reserves the right to invade people's privacy by reading personal e-mails, text messages, and tapping into phone calls.

Emanuel took the stand in his essay the right to one's privacy is protected by both the Constitution and ethically, therefore there is very limited right for the government to take these freedoms away. To make the argument as sound as possible, he provided evidence from both sides of the spectrum, as it gave him an opportunity to refute the opposing argument. Through his opposition paragraph, Emanuel provided the viewpoint that the government invading our privacy can be done at a steep cost, and should not be taken advantage of.

In reaction to winning the award Emanuel stated, "I was incredibly surprised because I'm not usually one to win these types of things. It was a great confidence booster for my writing."

Emanuel traveled to the Supreme Court of New Hampshire on November 11 to read his essay to a small group of people. Some of those in attendance included the five runners up for the high school contest and six individuals who participated in the middle school contest. During the event Emanuel was congratulated by various individuals, including Justice Conboy. Emanuel also received congratulatory letters from U.S. House Members Carol Shea-Porter, District 1 and Ann McLane Kuster, District 2 and from U.S. Senators Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen.

In addition to his literary achievement, Emanuel was selected for N.H. All State for Symphonic Band for the clarinet. This event will be held in the April of 2014. Musical achievements are held in highest esteem by Emanuel, and during his career as a musician with the Laconia High School Band, under the instruction of Debbie Gibson, he has been selected for All New England Band Ensemble during both his sophomore and junior years, for the Lakes Region Music Festival as both a freshmen and sophomore (concert band) and for the jazz band (1st tenor saxophone) this school year. He attended Drum Major Academy in the summer of 2013, and played at the Shrine Bowl in 2012 and 2013.

“Winning the essay and the musical achievements have given me a better idea of what I want to do in the future,” said Emanuel. “I am now definitely aiming to pick a career that is more humanities focused."

 

CAPTION — Statewide Constitution Day Essay winner Andrew Emanuel is congratulated by Associate Justice Carol Ann Conboy of the New Hampshire Supreme Court. (Courtesy photo)

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 December 2013 01:19

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