Gilford school budget called into question

GILFORD — Budget Committee member Norman Silber has demanded that the School Board recalculate its default budget, saying School Board members knew one-time expenses were improperly included. He made the demand in a letter sent to the board yesterday. Silber wrote that he believes they had knowledge of the alleged "false and materially misleading" numbers in the default budget preparation and he "formally request(s) and demand(s)" that the school district remove the one time expenditures from it and represent a corrected default budget to be put on the ballot before the March 8 town election."

Budget Committee Chairman Kevin Leandro said the Budget Committee had identified nearly $300,000 in one-time expenditures that were in the default budget including $100,000 for the demolition of the old Imagination Station at the elementary school.

Leandro made his comments at the public hearing held Tuesday night to get opinions of the residents and taxpayers regarding the proposed school budget of $25,667,251. The proposed budget includes merit raises of 3 percent for union staff and 1.5 percent for nonunion staff, including administrators without a contract.

The default budget, or the budget that will be in place should voters reject the the Budget Committee's proposed budget, is $21,573 higher than the School Board's proposed budget at $25,688,824. Leandro said this is "strange logic" but it's too late for anyone to do anything about it this year. The default budget by law contains the same spending levels as last year, plus contractual agreements minus one-time expenditures. There are no raises for support staff and administrators in the default budget.

Leandro said that there is a provision in state law that provides for the default budget to be created by the Budget Committee.

"Based on what I'm hearing, do you predict there will be a warrant article? asked resident Christine Wood.

"Yes," said Silber.

During the public hearing, a woman in the audience said the salary line for nonunion staff could be raised at the deliberative session of School District Meeting. Leandro agreed, but said the Budget Committee gets a chance to vote again as to whether or not they will recommend an altered budget while reminding them the default budget has no raises for nonunion employees.

Many of those who attended the public hearing spoke against reducing the amount of raises given to support staff but had few if any comments on the default budget preparation.

Charlotte Landeau said that if the school district wants to see a new union, cutting support staff raises is one way to achieve it. Leandro replied that he ran an unionized company at one point in his life and is "not threatened by any union in the school district."
Norm Silber said the Budget Committee is only given a salary line and the superintendent and the School Board can distribute the money any way they want.

Leandro said that if it were up to him, the 11 administrators who are earning near the top of the salary scale would get nothing while the cafeteria staff and janitors would get paid 4 or 5 percent. But it isn't up to him, he added.

School Board member Sue Allen said the Budget Committee wasn't factoring in the amount of time many of the support staff had been with the school district by denying them 3 percent raises.

One paraprofessional said that she had worked for the school district for 27 years, is a certified worker with children with disabilities, has a bachelor's degree and has to continually update her education to continue being effective and certified for her job. She said she was insulted the committee reduced her pay increase and then likened her to an unskilled laborer.

The overall tone of the meeting was hostile. Many people who attended said they felt some board members, Leandro in particular, was not listening but was rebutting comments made by them and putting them on the defensive.

Many School Board members voiced their displeasure because Leandro was arguing with every comment that was made. He said as chairman, he was only trying to explain the reasoning behind the committee's reasons for making the cut.

Outgoing Superintendent Kent Hemingway made a final comment that during the past four years he's had a good collaboration with the Budget Committee.

"I appreciate the comments from the public. Any documents that come forward were my responsibility," he said. "We have been transparent and open with every part of our budget and have exceeded our responsibilities to be so."

Selectmen order Planning Board to act on Timber Hill Farm zoning request

GILFORD — Time is up for an answer from the Planning Board on Timber Hill Farm's site plan review, so selectmen ordered the Planning Board to act on the review within 30 days.

The order came after Andy and Martina Howe's lawyer, Patrick Wood, made a request at the board meeting Wednesday night.

A letter sent to Planning Board Chairman John Morgenstern on Jan. 13, and signed by all three selectmen, said that N.H. RSA 676:4,I(c)(1) "requires the Planning Board to approve, conditionally approve or disapprove an application for site plan review withing 65 days of accepting the application as complete.

The Planning Board is scheduled to act on the Timber Hill Farm site plan on Jan. 19 at its regularly scheduled meeting.

The board said in the letter that the Howes' application was accepted as complete on Oct. 19, and the 65 days to act ended on Dec. 23. Wood said the Planning Board's vote of Dec. 7 to stay action on the site plan review until Monique Twomey's appeal to the Zoning Board of Adjustments not to uphold a cease-and-desist order on the Howes' wedding activities could be heard, is not an action described in the law.

Wood went on to say that he has heard allegations that his clients have receives some favorable treatment on the part of the town. Yesterday he said "there have been assertions that there have been some illegal activities that should be investigated..."

"That offends me," he continued, saying he wanted the selectmen to know that wasn't the case.

"[My client] does not intend to violate any ordinance or regulation nor, to the best of my knowledge, have they done so."

During the brief discussion by board members, Selectman Chan Eddy, who is the selectboard's representative to the Planning Board, said he normally recuses himself from discussions involving Timber Hill Farm because of a family connection but said "I don't think recusal can be appropriate [for this specific issue."]

He made the motion to direct the Planning Board to act and it was seconded by Selectman Richard "Rags" Grenier, who noted that it appears the selectmen by law have been included in the process, seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.

Plymouth chef finds hot market for ice

PLYMOUTH — How did Jeff Day come to spend so much of his time carving ice? It all started by cracking a few eggs.

Day's professional training is as a chef. He still spends many hours cooking, as he owns the Plain Jane Diner in Rumney. When he's not in the kitchen, though, he can typically be found in a small commercial building on Fairgrounds Road in Plymouth, carving sculptures out of ice. He traces his ice carving business back to his first culinary job, working at a high-end hotel in San Diego, California, which had a restaurant that served up to 900 people each Sunday brunch.

"Because I was the new guy, I was the omelet guy," said Day. The omelet station was right next to the ice sculpture, so he passed the time by chatting with the sculptor. "I hung around them and got very much interested – the bug was bit in San Diego," he said, though he never did any ice carving in California.

When he moved back to New Hampshire – he had received his degree at the culinary school in Berlin – he got a job at the Center of New Hampshire hotel in Manchester. There, with some youthful bluster, was where he first converted a block of ice into art.

"The chef asked me if I could carve. I said, 'Absolutely.' I had no idea what I was doing," he said. After struggling through a few homely sculptures, he started to get the hang of it, and wanted to take his skills to a new level. He did so by working with Boston-area ice sculptors Steve Rose and Bill Covitz, carving alongside them for free, just to see how they created their masterpieces.

When he became the chef at the Center of New Hampshire, in 1995, Day gained the latitude to follow his creativity. As the largest convention venue in New Hampshire at the time, the facility hosted the governor's balls. For a ball when Jeanne Shaheen was governor, Day carved a life-size horse and carriage. For Gov. John Lynch, he created a full-size moose.

The Plain Jane Diner is a much smaller scale than the Center of New Hampshire, which has allowed Day to expand his ice carving business. He started with a couple of ice-block machines in the basement of the diner, and would transport the blocks to a walk-in freezer in his back yard. Last winter, he purchased the building on Fairgrounds Road, which has opened a new level of ice carving to him.

He now has nine machines making ice blocks. Each one can freeze a pair of 300-pound blocks of ice in three-and-a-half days, giving him the capacity to produce 36 blocks each week. In addition to making ice for himself, he's also selling blocks to the two other ice carvers working in New Hampshire. He's sold 250 blocks to other carvers this year, something that has taken him by surprise.

"It's been something I didn't expect," he said.

He has also found a hot market for his scrap ice, left over after the sculpture is finished. He cuts it into large cubes, up to 3 inches in each dimension, and sells it to high-end whiskey bars.

"The business had always been my side business, but it has grown and grown and grown. It's incredible how busy I am," Day said. His creations are seen at First Night celebrations, corporate functions, and he has become the go-to guy for ice bars.

"Something we've really nailed is the ice bar events," he said, referring to events, typically outdoors and in the winter, where everything is made of ice, including the bars themselves.  He is currently working on creating everything necessary for the ice bar at the Portland Harbor Hotel, in Portland, Maine, which will be held Jan. 21-23 this year and will feature two martini bars and one bar for Shipyard beer. This will be the 12th time that Day has carved all the ice for the event, and is proud to report that Forbes Travel Guide included it on its list of "5 Ice Bars Too Cool to Miss This Season." The other ice bars included two in Utah, one in Alaska and one in Sweden.

Day said he "absolutely" prefers ice carving to work in his kitchen. Aside from occasional help from his friend Jeff Landry, who helps assemble the large carvings, Day likes working by himself in his walk-in freezer, with just the radio, the ice and his artistic vision. He has even come to love the smell of ice.

"At the beginning, I was just interested in the artistic end of it, the creativity. It was a good outlet for me. Now, I'm still interested in the creativity, but it's very much a business – It just keeps getting busier."