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Effort to adjust compensation for elected county officials fails

LACONIA — The Executive Committee of the Belknap County Convention yesterday voted unanimously to recommend the convention maintain the compensation of elected county officials at their current rates, but only after attempts to raise the salary of the Registrar of Deeds and lower the salary of the County Attorney failed.

Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), proposed raising the salary of the registrar by $3,000 for two years, from $68,415 to $71,415, to compensate Barbara Luther, the incumbent, for legal costs she incurred in 2012 when the Belknap County Commission took her to court for declining to implement operational changes recommended by the independent auditors.

The issue has been a bone of contention between the convention and the commission for the past two years. After the commission settled its dispute with Luther in August 2012, she requested the county pay the cost of her defense, which amounted to $5,200. The commission refused. At Tilton's urging the convention added an appropriation to the 2013 county budget, but the commission, still declining to pay the fees, assigned the funds to another purpose.

Calling his motion "very simple," Tilton asked the Executive Committee to reduce the salary of each of three county commissioners by $1,000 a year to fund the increase for the registrar. He added that if he is still serving on the convention after two years, he would support curtailing the raise and returning the registrar's salary to $68,415.

Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), who chairs the convention, agreed that the registrar has not been treated properly, but noted that her salary is relatively high compared to registrars in other counties, who, with the exception of those in Merrimack and Rockingham counties, earn between $18,000 and $10,000 less. She said that she had intended to propose lowering the registrar's salary.

When the committee deadlocked on a 3-3 tie, Tilton's motion failed. Tilton, together with Reps. Herb Vadney and Bob Greemore, both Republicans of Meredith, voted in favor, while Worsman was joined by Reps. Guy Comtois (R-Barnstead) and Jane Cormnier (R-Alton) in opposition.

Worsman proposed trimming the salary of County Attorney Melissa C. Guldbrandsen from $89,164 to $85,000, explaining that only her counterpart in Merrimack County earned more. Tilton warned, "It's hard to get county attorneys" and reducing the salary would be "very much a disincentive."

Vadney said, "We shouldn't be playing with personalities" and "It's wrong to lower salaries." The question, he continued, is "how did they get this high in the first place?" Conceding that the convention could not reverse what occurred in the past, he said, "We can stop it."

With that Worsman withdrew her motion and the committee agreed not to change the salary schedule.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 April 2014 12:53

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Cincinatti, Ohio police recover vehicle stolen from Planet Fitness in Belmont

BELMONT — A vehicle reported stolen from the parking lot at Planet Fitness on April 19 has been recovered by police in Cincinnati.

Lt. Rich Mann said two people are in police custody in Ohio as part of the investigation that led them to the stolen 2013 Ford Explorer.

A female patron of Planet Fitness reported that her keys had been stolen from her pocketbook from her unlocked locker sometime between 9:40 a.m. and 11:20 a.m. on April 19. When the women went to the parking lot, she also noticed her SUV was gone. A second female patron also reported her keys were stolen. However, her car was not taken.

The victim had left her cell phone in her car and Belmont Police were able to "ping" it to Billerica, Mass.

Mann said the recovered car is in good condition and the victim is working with her insurance company to return the car to New Hampshire.

He said Belmont Police are working with Cincinnati Police and the case remains under investigation.

Mann said that at this time, there is no known connection between the car theft and the Felony Lane Gang — so called for their use of stolen and forged checks by cashing them in the outermost lane of banks drive-up windows — but they aren't ruling anything out.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 April 2014 12:48

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Laconia police chief lays out options to address drug abuse

LACONIA — Police Chief Chris Adams last evening offered the City Council a menu of measures his department would pursue to strengthen efforts to curb drug trafficking and reduce substance abuse, if the department gets more funding.

Adams reminded the councilors they had requested a plan to address what Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) called "the scourge of this community." Instead of a plan, he suggested a number of options, each bearing a different cost, while assuring the council that "we will do as many of these initiatives as we can on our own without additional funding."

With $72,000 Adams said that the department would hire an additional patrol officer as assign a member of the department with the requisite qualifications and experience as a "community outreach coordinator" with sole responsibility for the campaign against drugs. He said that in the first year much of the officer's time would be devoted to developing a "PET" (Prevention, Enforcement, Treatment) program in partnership with treatment agencies, emergency services and community groups. The officer would also serve as liaison to the Recovery Court and, in particular, would identify those among 150 to 200 individuals arrested on drug charges each year best suited to the program and monitor their progress.

The Community Outreach Coordinator, who would be a patrol officer in civilian clothes, would also oversee the department's participation in educational and preventative programs and initiatives undertaken by diverse organizations within the community, including the public schools, as well as "POP" (Problem Oriented Policing) conducted by the department itself.

Alternatively, Adams said, the department could hire a part-time officer or civilian to assume as many of the duties of the full-time position as time would allow. He expected a part-time person would concentrate on working with the Recovery Court and the POP projects. The cost of a part-time person would be $20,000.

The chief told the council that the department's overtime budget was level funded at $100,000, but an additional $30,000 would fund an increased presence of uniformed and undercover officers patrolling designated areas on Friday and Saturday nights. He said that the tactic was introduced this past weekend with two officers each working three hours. Adams said that this option would be strictly an enforcement effort aimed at making the city an inhospitable place for dealers.

Noting that the department is short on up-to-date audio and video surveillance equipment, Adams said that funds could be used to purchase a body wire for use by both police officers and confidential informants, which would cost about $10,000. Other necessary covert audio and video equipment, including a camera fitted with long and low light lenses and surveillance camera for public buildings, would cost another $5,000.

Adams said that the department is taking inventory of surveillance cameras operated by private businesses that are already in place and suggested that with support from the department some of these systems could be enhanced.

Charlie St. Clair, owner of the Laconia Antique Center, which was broken into and robbed last week, urged the council to invest in video surveillance. Echoing Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5), who suggested video surveillance could be financed with the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds, St. Clair said, "I can't think of a better use for the TIF money."

Finally, Adams proposed the mayor convene a task force, consisting of members drawn from the City Council, Police Department and Lakes Region General Hospital along with a senior from Laconia High School, a city resident and two from the field of prevention and treatment. He applauded the council for giving the drug dealing and substance abuse high priority and suggested a task force would keep the issue on "the front burner."

The council agreed to incorporate the proposals from the Police Department into its discussion of the budget, with a caution from Mayor Ed Engler that any additional funding must be offset by reductions elsewhere in order to budget within the tax cap.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 April 2014 01:48

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Delegation votes down contract

LACONIA — Emotions on both sides ran high last night, but the vote on the Belknap County Delegation funding the one-year contract for the nursing home went the predictable route with nine members voting against it and seven, including two Republicans, voting for it.

The funding would have appropriated an additional $336,170 for negotiated heath insurance costs, a 1.6 percent cost-of-living raise, and merit increases for eligible employees.

Most of the members of the delegation that voted against the contract were ambivalent about the raises, but dead set against the increased insurance costs. The general consensus was that the provision that allows for a 10 percent savings for health insurance cost should three HealthTrust criteria be met, meant that none of the 80 or so employees had "any skin in the game." By meeting the criteria the premium costs would stay at 5-percent for a single family and 6.5-percent for a two-person or family policy.

"They didn't give up anything," said Meredith Rep. Herb Vadney, noting that all an employee has to do is go on-line and participate in a health screening, a biometric screening, and some health awareness to stay at the same contribution levels as are in the existing "status quo" contract.

"These employees make about $12 per hour," retorted Laconia Democrat Beth Arsenault to yelps of support form the mostly union crowd. "I don't know how much more skin in the game they could have."

After Robert Joseph of New Hampton noted that the nursing home employees covered by the contract make less than those at other county homes and that voters and taxpayers should take care of the people who one day will take care of them, Barbara Howard of Alton said she agreed they work hard, but said it was like blackmail to remind people that they may end up in a nursing home themselves.

Howard thanked Rep. Jane Cormier for speaking about the people who were unemployed or partially employed.

The tone of the meeting was set long before last night's vote. For nearly 18 months, the majority members of the current county delegation and current board of County Commissions have been at each others throats, missing no opportunity on either side to get a dig in where possible.

That the delegation's Republican majority doesn't trust the the commissioners became evident last night when Belmont Rep. Mike Sylvia said that even if the delegation voted to support the $336,000 for the contract, he has no assurances the money would be spent that way.

His statement prompted Commissioner Ed Philpot to reminded the members of the delegation that this is a contract and despite the machinations of the county delegation with the budget, the commissioners are obligated by law to satisfy the terms of all its existing contracts — including this one if it passes.

Worsman, who spent most of the night reminding those in the audience and on the delegation that the commissioners didn't fund two positions established for the Department of Corrections, but spent the money elsewhere, screamed at Philpot to sit down.

"You're out of order," she yelled.

"No," he shouted. "This entire delegation is out of order."

When it finally came down to the vote, Laconia Representative Bob Luther said he had initially intended to vote against the contract because it would add about $50,000 to Laconia's already tax-cap stretched budget but after listening to those in the audience, he had changed his mind.

Ultimately, Luther was one of two Republicans who supported the contract and the only mind who was changed by any of the conversation.

Frank Tilton, also from Laconia, said he would not support funding the contract for the same reason — that Laconia's proposed budget was already near the cap amount and the school district has had to eliminate four positions, giving two employees a pink slip.

When Worsman called for the role-call vote, all the Democrats, plus Luther and Tilton-Sanbornton Rep. Republican Dennis Fields voted yes. The rest voted no.

Laconia representative Don Flanders and Alton Representative Stephen Holmes were not at last night's meeting.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 April 2014 01:31

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