Warren's Budget Guidelines

MEREDITH — After eight years of relative austerity aimed at limiting increases in the amount raised by property taxes, Town Manager Phil Warren told the Board of Selectmen last evening that in preparing the 2016 budget consideration must be given to changing course.

Warren noted that along with controlling expenditures, budgets have drawn from the town's undesignated fund balance, or accumulated surplus, to supplement revenue from sources other than taxation and minimize increases in the tax commitment. In a memorandum to the board Warren declared "it is clear that the continued use of available fund balance is not a sustainable practice. Therefore," he continued, "consideration must be given to increasing the amount to be raised by taxation" to fund capital projects, road maintenance and equipment purchases to "ensure the long term sustainability of our capital assets."

Fiscal conditions beyond the control of the town, Warren said, "have not improved significantly in the last year." Repeating what has been a refrain for several years he said "the bad news is that revenue are flat and the good news is that revenues are flat."

Warren recommended maintaining levels of service, which he said represented a reduction of services from prior years. Once again he proposed reviewing all vacancies occurring from retirement or resignation before filling positions. However, he also suggested that consideration be given to restoring part-time positions in Town Hall to full-time positions. As in prior years, he found no reason to reclassify any full-time positions.

At the same time, Warren recommended there be no further reduction in municipal services, continuing to fund the capital improvement program and considering replacing equipment at the end its useful life.

While declining to propose new programs or services, Warren advised the selectmen that the feasibility study for a new Public Works facility should be completed and a decision made where to put it. Deferred capital projects, both replacement of equipment and improvements to roads and streets, should be considered for inclusion in the budget.

Warren will present his recommended 2016 budget to the Selectboard on November 2.

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Decreasing traffic fine revene means police departments will have to start picking up cost of more training sessions

LACONIA — The Police Commission learned last week that the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Academy in Concord will be reducing the number of classes it offers for free to the state's police departments.

According to Capt. Bill Clary, classes no longer being offered for free are some of the advanced training classes that some of his senior officers are inclined to take.

Clary told the commission any class offered by local staff will still be free to all departments but when the academy has to bring instructors from vendor agencies, those classes must be paid for by the individual departments who send officers to them.

He said Laconia's annual training budget is $20,000 annually and, along with training, the fund is used for ammunition, for firearms certification for 41 sworn officers, twice a year ,and for Taser lances, and less-than-lethal ammunition.

According to a memorandum sent by the commander of the academy to the chief of each law enforcement agency in the state, the funding for the police training academy comes from the penalty assessment assigned to a guilty finding in most criminal and traffic cases.

"Unfortunately, continued declines in revenues combined with the transfers from the training fund over the last decade or more by the Legislature have put the balance of the fund at a critically low level," wrote NHPST Commander Anthony F. Colarusso, Jr..

One of the cuts that will affect many local department is accident reconstruction classes, beyond that which is taught during every officers' time at the basic police academy, will cost participating departments.

Belmont Police Chief Mark Lewandoski is the commander of the Belknap Regional Accident Investigation Team and said the effects of the costs of these training classes on the existing teams members may initially be minimal but as some of them retire or decide they no longer want to participate for one reason or another, it will cost individual departments a lot of money to replace them.

To become a certified accident reconstructionist, said Belknap County Sheriff Sgt. Bill Wright, a member must complete three separate classes which amount to six weeks of training. The accident reconstruction team consists of a number of "specialists" who are called to the scene of a deadly or extreme personal injury crash to determine, among, other things, whether or not criminal charges could or should be brought. For example, much of the evidence that was used to get secure a guilty plea from the woman who killed a Laconia Middle School student and seriously injured another with her vehicle was gathered by BRAIT.

Other classes that will not be provided according to the N.H. Police Standards and Training website include field training for internal training officers, the deadliness of stress and police work, "dust and bust" (advanced forensic training for detectives), conflict resolution, anger management, advanced interview and interrogation, basic police photography and advanced gang training.

New Hampton Police Chief George Hawkins said smaller departments like his will be negatively affected more so than the larger departments because of the relative size of the training budgets and the limited number of employees who can be trained.

This year, he said the department has $1,000 for training. He said he was ready to send one of his sergeants to field training officer class — this is the officer who trains new employees in a department and every department has one — and the cost of the class — $575 — will put a big dent in his training budget.

Hawkins said he is asking his Selectboard to increase his training line from $1,000 to $2,500 to allow him to get some of his officers some advanced training.

Lewandoski said he won't ask for more than the $10,000 for 18 sworn officers he is already allocated — at least for 2016. He also said that like Laconia Police, his training line is used for firearms qualifications as well. Hawkins said New Hampton has a separate line item for that.

"I'll just have to be more selective in what classes I send my officers to," Lewandoski said, adding he is talking with other area chiefs about how to maybe combine some resources and have some staff train other staff in some of the advanced disciplines.

He said he likes to train his people but there is also a chance he'll loose them to another agency or to retirement.

All of the chiefs interviewed said an additional expense for out-of house training includes shift coverage and that could include overtime. In Laconia and Belmont, the top administrators who are salaried employees often cover training shifts so as to keep overtime down.

Academy Capt. Benjamin Jean said the revenue going into the fund has never come from a legislative appropriation but only from the penalty assessment. He said one of the reasons the fund balance is dropping is because of fewer citations and because in many negotiated dispositions the penalty assessment is waived. In addition, many people don't pay their fines much less the penalty assessment and more and more judges are waiving the penalty assessment because of an inability of some to pay.

"We've been saying we have problems for years," he said, adding reductions to staff have been made over the past four years that the only things left to do is to charge independent departments for certain specialized training.

Jean said a second source of revenue is a penalty paid by those on probation or parole of $5 per month that comes to the academy but noted it is only $63,000 annually and represents a small fraction of what it costs to operate.

Jean agreed with Lewandoski that it is the classes for officer with five or more years for which they are charging. "Certification will still be performed at no cost to the department," he said.

Jean also said that he and the rest of the NHPST Council have decided that its time to find a more effective way of funding the academy and have begun some plans that he hopes will be presented to the N.H. Legislature at some point before the next budget cycle in two years.

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Holy Trinity determined to compete for students in a dwindling pool

LACONIA — With the number of school-age children dwindling, Holy Trinity School,  the northernmost parochial school remaining in New Hampshire, is openly competing for pupils by highlighting the unique educational experience it offers.

Mary Jane Cooney, a veteran of private-school administrator who became principal a year ago, said that currently 87 pupils are enrolled in the pre-kindergarten program through eighth grade. Among the current pupils, 46 are from Laconia and 11 from Gilford, with most of the rest drawn from seven towns in Belknap County.

Cooney hastened to add that  that there is a waiting list for the pre-kindergarten class and the number in eighth grade has nearly doubled, from just four in 2015 to seven in 2016.  The school, she said, has capacity for 216 pupils, but has been teaching approximately 100 a year for the past decade.

As a Catholic school, designated as a regional school by the Diocese of Manchester, the mission of Holy Trinity is to provide "a total Christian educational experience which engages students intellectually, promotes social and personal responsibility, and inspires spiritual growth," which includes the teaching of Catholic doctrine. However, Cooney was quick to note that the school is open to children of all faiths and estimated that about a third of those enrolled are not from Catholic families.

"We are first and foremost a Catholic school," Cooney said. At the same time, she said that the ethical values and personal morals that infuse the education at Holy Trinity appeal to parents and children of other denominations.

High academic standards are uppermost on the school's list of ten reasons to enroll at Holy Trinity. In addition to instruction in the conventional subjects of reading, writing, mathematics, science and social studies, all students, beginning in pre-kindergarten, study Spanish.

Cooney underlined the role of art and music, vowing "we would never cut them". She said that the curriculum, which emphasizes the "basics with lots of reading and writing", is designed to teach children "to learn how to study and to think critically". And, she continued, "we have one of the best libraries in the state — the Laconia Public Library — right next door."

The school also provides a sports program, competing with other private and parochial schools in soccer, basketball, track and cheer. Stephen Greenwood, a graduate of Holy Trinity, Moultonborough Academy and Plymouth State University, who coached as a volunteer joined the staff this year.

With 13 teachers, pupils at Holy Trinity enjoy considerable individual attention. "We have tailored much of the curriculum to the abilities and interests of individual students," Cooney said.

While Laconia has renovated its three elementary schools and built a new middle school, Holy Trinity remains in its original home, with polished wooden floors and rich wood work, erected in 1924. This year Lorien Garden, director of development, pointed to several improvements, including a colorful face-lift to the cafeteria. The school also added a fresh fleet of computers.

Holy Trinity relies on its tuition, the parish, an endowment and fundraising to meet its operating budget and fund special projects. Frank Tilton said the the endowment began in the early 1990s with Father Griffin's "million dollar dream", which began with benefactors contributing their loose change and eventually fulfilled his dream. Cooney said that parents play a leading role in the fundraising effort, which reflects the familial character of the school. "Everyone is an advocate for the school," she said.

Nevertheless, enrollment is the key factor, or as Cooney put it "we want more bodies in the building." She emphasized that the school offers financial assistance to defray the cost of tuition to qualified families and noted that parishioners may also be eligible for assistance from the parish. To increase numbers, the school has advertised on radio and television as well as in print. It has also designed a new website.

Cooney acknowledged the challenge of the demographic trend that has sapped enrollment in all schools, but suggested that with its tradition of providing an exemplary education in a nurturing environment and with a spiritual dimension, Holy Trinity is well-placed to compete for its share of the shrinking market. But, she still said "we need more four year olds!"  

CAPTION: Principal Mary Jane Cooney (left) and Development Director Lorien Garden are girding Holy Trinity School to capture a larger share of a shrinking school age population. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch) 

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