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Taxpayers reminded that registering boats at City Hall offsets property taxes

LACONIA — City Clerk Mary Reynolds is reminding boat owners that by registering their vessels at City Hall they can ensure that the city receives a share of the proceeds, which adds to the revenues that offset property taxes.

"It's easy and convenient," Reynolds said, explaining that all that is required to complete the paperwork is a photo identification and prior year's registration. a share of the proceeds they can register their vessels at City Hall.

The City Clerk became a boat agent in 2011, joining the five marinas in the city — Irwin Marine, Paugus Bay Marina, Lakeport Landing, Thurston's Marina and Channel Marine — in a bid to recoup revenues foregone when owners register with the state. Since 2006, when the city collected $117,000, revenue from boat fees have shrunk by 45-percent to $65,000.

The City Clerk's office at City Hall is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. In accordance with state law, an additional $5 is charged for each registration processed by an authorized agent.

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 January 2014 02:17

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Fire alarm empties LHS Tuesday night, rumors fly

LACONIA — School Business Administrator Ed Emond said yesterday that a glitch in the fire alarm system at the Laconia High School caused the alarms to sound Tuesday night at 8:15 p.m.

He said there were adult education classes and other functions at the building at the time, causing it to be evacuated. The Laconia Fire Department responded and checked out the building.

Emond said the ensuing electronic communications from people who were evacuated from the building led to a rash of e-mails and text messages leading many in town to think there had been a fire.

"I've been fielding phone calls all morning," Emond said yesterday, adding that many of the calls were from parents of students who wanted to know what was happening.

Emond said the fire alarm company was at the high school yesterday morning to determine what caused the alarm to sound.

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 January 2014 02:14

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County budget debate appears muddled by difference between 'status quo' & 'evergreen'

LACONIA — Several members of the Belknap County Convention have challenged the insistence of the Belknap County Commission that despite the expiration of collective bargaining agreements, the county is bound to fund benefits employees enjoyed prior to the expiration of the contracts.

Last year, the convention stripped funding for bonuses for unused sick days and longevity of service as well as the employer's share of the increased cost of health insurance premiums from the county budget. The commission shuffled funds within the departmental budgets approved by the convention to restore the funding for both bonuses and health insurance premiums. Last week, the convention resolved to withhold any appropriation to increase compensation or benefits from the 2014 county budget until the employees' share of health insurance premiums is substantially raised and compensation and benefits are thoroughly reviewed.

The disagreement between between the convention and commission seems to come from confusion on the part of members of the convention about the difference between "the doctrine of status quo" and "automatic renewal," better known as "evergreen," clauses.

The statute governing relations between public employers and public employees (RSA 273-A) anticipated that the two parties might fail to reach agreement on a new contract before the existing agreement expires. It prohibits strikes by employees and lockouts by employers and provides for a mediation process to overcome the impasse. But, the statute fails to address the rights of employees and obligations of the employers in the interim.

Instead, through a series of decisions, the Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB) and New Hampshire Supreme Court have ruled that the employer is required to maintain the "status quo" until a new agreement is ratified and funded. Taken together these decisions have defined "status quo" as requiring employers to fund existing wages and benefits, but not so-called "step" and cost-of-living increases.

Collective bargaining agreements, negotiated by public employers like the county commission remain unenforceable until the legislative body — the county convention — ratifies the cost items or those benefits requiring an appropriation by the legislative body.

Some, but not many, collective bargaining agreements contain so-called evergreen clauses, which specifically continue the terms of the contract, including pay raises, indefinitely until a new contract is negotiated. These are cost items that must be ratified by the legislative body.

Without an evergreen clause, once a contract expires, relations between the employer and employees are governed by the doctrine of status quo, which prescribes that all the terms and conditions of employment remain in place while negotiations continue.

In 1993, the Supreme Court ruled that the doctrine of status quo did not require the district to pay step increases, which absent an "evergreen" clause are considered cost items. The court stressed that maintaining the status quo is essential to ensuring "a balance of power" between employers and employees that ensures both have equal incentives to negotiate a new contract. Moreover, the justices noted that the PELRB had consistently defined status quo to refer to the compensation level of the past year.

Two years later the Supreme Court again addressed the doctrine of status quo in cases from Alton, Rochester and Conway. In Conway, four collective bargaining agreements included health insurance plans, which the employer agreed to fund. When the cost of the plans increased and the legislative body had not appropriated the necessary funds, the employers contended they had no authority to pay the higher premiums. The PELRB ruled that the doctrine of status quo required the employers to maintain the contracted benefits, regardless of cost.

The court upheld the decision of PELRB, finding that the employer's obligation to maintain the status quo rests on its duty to negotiate the terms and conditions of employment in good faith and explaining that "a unilateral change in conditions of employment is, in effect, a refusal to negotiate those terms. We hold," the justices continued, "that the health insurance benefits received by the bargaining unit members ... are conditions of employment" and the employer "must continue to provide these benefits during the status quo period regardless of the cost." In effect, the doctrine of status quo requires both parties to negotiate in good faith while ensuring that neither has an incentive not to do so.

In 2008, the Legislature codified and expanded the scope of status quo by providing that "the terms of the collective bargaining agreement shall continue in force and effect, including but not limited to the continuation of any pay plan included in the agreement, until a new agreement shall be executed." In other words, with the inclusion of the words "pay plan", evergreen clauses became part of all collective bargaining agreements, assuring public employees step increases instead of freezing their compensation until a subsequent contract was approved.

The effect of the law was to ensure the payment step increases, which employers charged tipped the balance of power between employers and employees by eliminating a significant incentive for unions to make concessions at the bargaining table. Both the New Hampshire Municipal Association and New Hampshire Association of Counties opposed the bill and joined other public employers in calling for its repeal.

In 2011 the law was repealed. However, the doctrine of status quo, together with the legal underpinnings it rests on remained intact. While spokesmen for the public employee unions were disappointed by the repeal, their reaction was mild compared to how they would have reacted to an attempt to do away with the doctrine of status quo, which would effectively reduce public employees to employees at will.

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 January 2014 02:08

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4-0 Executive Council vote confirms Lorentz as state economic development director

CONCORD — The Executive Council yesterday unanimously confirmed Governor Maggie Hassan's nomination of Carmen Lorentz, the executive director of the Belknap Economic Development Council (BEDC), as the director of the Division of Economic Development at the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED).

"We're very excited to add Carmen to the team," said Jeff Rose, the commissioner of DRED. "She understands 'the New Hampshire Advantage" and possesses the creative skills to attract new businesses to the state and assist our businesses to grow and prosper."

Noting that while at BEDC, Lorentz developed several initiatives aimed at fostering the skilled workforce advanced manufactured require, he said that workforce development has been a consistent theme among manufacturers throughout the state. He anticipated that the division will be expanding partnerships with the University System of New Hampshire, the Community College System and vocational and technical centers, like those Lorentz fostered in Belknap County, across the state.

Last year Governor Hassan restored funding in her budget for the position of director of the Division of Economic Development, which has been filled internally by interim directors for the past five years. Lorentz, a resident of Gilmanton, has been appointed to a four-term.

"I'm very pleased to have been confirmed by a unanimous vote," said Lorentz, who added that "I very much look forward to working with Commissioner Rose and the staff of the division in contributing to the growth and prosperity of the state."

A native of Gilmanton, Lorentz graduated from Gilford High School in 1995 then earned her bachelor's degree in international affairs from George Washington University, graduating summa cum laude, and master's degree in public policy from the University of Maryland. Between 1999 and 2005 she advocated on human rights issues in Latin America for Amnesty International and managed grant programs for non-profit organizations in Latin America for the Open Society Institute.

After a spell as an analyst with the New York State Division of the Budget in Albany, Lorentz joined Camoin Associates, Inc., a consulting firm headquartered in Saratoga Springs, New York which provides community and economic development services to small and mid-sized municipalities throughout the Northeast.

Lorentz joined the BEDC in March 2011. During her two-and-a-half years at the helm the organization developed a strategic plan and assembled a team of staff, partners and contractors to pursue it. She created a internship program, matching teens with opportunities, in partnership with a local information technology company and initiated Lakes Region Manufacturing Week, which drew some 550 visitors to firms in the area. At her initiative the New Hampshire Small Business Development Center reestablished its presence in the Lakes Region and the BEDC was awarded more than $1-million in grants for a variety of projects.

BEDC has begun a search for a new executive director.

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 January 2014 01:54

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