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Gilford schools get $476k from Local Government Center settlement

GILFORD — The Gilford School District has received a refund if almost a half-million dollars from the Local Government Center, representing excess premiums the district and its employees paid for health insurance from 2009 to 2011, the School Board was told last night.
Assistant Superintendent Scott Isabelle told the board that the district received a check for $476,524 last week.
The refund was issued under the terms of a state Bureau of Securities Regulations' order that the LGC repay $53.4 million to towns and school districts overcharged by the municipal organization which operates self-funded risk pools for liability claims and health care coverage.
Isabelle said a portion of the refund — $23,819 — would be rebated to those current and retired school staff members who were paying into the LGC health insurance program during the 2009-11 timeframe. He said $452,708 of the refund would go into the district's general fund.
Eligible district employees and retirees will receive their refunds in mid-October. Individual refunds would amount to between $30 and $100, Isabelle said. He said the figure represented between 4 percent and 12 percent of the amount the employees paid toward their health insurance.
Retirees will get their refunds in a special check. Current employees will have their refund included in their regular pay check. Isabelle told the board that the district decided to disburse the refund in this way after conferring with its auditors. Isabelle was not immediately able to say exactly how many current and former district employees would be getting refunds.
The Bureau of Securities Regulation found the LGC violated state law by improperly collecting money and retaining unnecessary surplus funds. The organization also improperly transferred assets, subsidizing one insurance pool (worker's compensation) at the expense of the others, the bureau said.
The organization believes the large reserves kept rates stable for members and reduced long-term costs. Critics, however, said the surplus should have been returned to its members rather that used for other purposes, such as subsidizing a new workers' compensation insurance program.
In other business, Superintendent Kent Hemingway reported that student enrollment at the start of the school year was 1,200. He said the number represented a drop of 11 students from last year. But the drop was smaller than expected. Hemingway said school officials had earlier thought the decline would be between 15 to 20 students.
"Overall our enrollment is slowly decreasing," he said.
NOTES: The School Board approved a three-day trip to Quebec City for high school students. French teacher Louise Jagusch said the February trip would give the students both linguistic and cultural experience. The trip will take place Feb. 7-9, during Quebec City's annual Winter Carnival, and would involve the students missing one day of class. .  . . . . High School Principal Peter Sawyer told the board he wants to mandate community service for students. He said that he plans to bring a proposal to the board for their approval. At present Sawyer is envisioning requiring students to perform six hours of community service each year. He said the service could be performed through existing activities such as scouting, church groups, or civic groups. But he said that the school would need to connect students not currently involved in such activities with other community service opportunities. . . . . . Hemingway said the district received very high marks during a recent audit of its special education programs. "We really had a perfect score," he said. . . . . . The board accepted the resignation of long-time School District treasurer Paul Simoneau and appointed Susan Jenson to serve as interim treasurer. Simoneau, who has been treasurer for 16 years, recently moved from Gilford. Jenson will serve as interim treasurer until town elections next March.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 September 2013 03:13

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Kiwanians irate about LHS football concessions switch

LACONIA — After 60 years of operating the concession stand for Friday night home games, the Laconia High School Key Club has apparently been replaced by the Laconia Youth Football Association — possibly because of a donation made to the Huot Technical Center renovation/expansion and new football stadium project.

A contingent of Laconia Kiwanians forcefully protested the decision at last night's School Board meeting.

The decision was apparently made administratively by former Superintendent Bob Champlin.

"Are you telling me they gave a donation? Is that what you're saying?" asked Kiwanis Club President Scott Laurent after listening to School Board Chair Joe Cormier explain the reasoning behind the decision by saying that when the district started fund raising for the Huot/stadium project, Laconia Youth Football said they wanted more time in the concession stand.

The community service oriented Key Club is sponsored by the Kiwanis Club and, according to Laurent, the home football game concession stand revenue is the largest source of money — about 80 percent or $3,000 — generated by the club that typically has 20 to 25 high school students as members, as well as teachers as advisers.

Laconia Youth Football is a not-for-profit football league that focuses on younger players and is not exclusive to Laconia students. It has no formal affiliation with the School District.

Laurent said the Kiwanis Club reached out to the School District on April 1 and was told that no decisions had been made regarding the concession stand. He said he spoke with Champlin and Cormier.

"At that time, we were assured no decisions has been made and we would be included in the discussion going forward," said a letter Laurent sent to the School Board.

Laurent also mentioned a communication he got from Champlin in March saying "he feared he may have given something away that was not his to give".

After the meeting, Laurent told The Daily Sun that Cormier was copied on that e-mail from Champlin and Kiwanians made sure current Superintendent Terri Forsten had a copy as well.

After Champlin's retirement, Laurent said publicly that he contacted Cormier two more times by e-mail and each time he was told, "No decision has been made and we will keep you informed."

Apparently, the rest of the School Board was also kept in the dark place about the decision.

"We've taken 60 years of tradition and thrown it out the window," said School Board member Scott Vachon.

"Why is this the first I've heard of this?" he asked.

"I don't have an answer for that," Cormier replied.

Cormier said the Kiwanis members could have the concessions for all of the other events that will be played on the new field, including soccer, field hockey and lacrosse.

He said he recalls the conversation with Laurent about the concession stand in March and said somebody later made the decision to give the home football concessions to Laconia Youth Football but he didn't know who. Cormier also said the superintendent has the power to do that.

He said he asked the school administration for a policy regarding high school concessions before Champlin retired but to date he hasn't gotten one. He noted there have been a lot of changes in the district this year and fears the decision on the concession stand may have been "put on the back burner."

Aside from Champlin's sudden retirement for health reasons in April, the district also has a new director for the Huot Technical Center and a new athletic director, Craig Kozens, who is technically in charge of the concession stand.

Cormier said the Key Club can run the concession stand for the other events that will be held at the field including a soccer tournament, field hockey and lacrosse.

"Let's be serious," said Vachon. "The football games are the biggest draw."

"Are you looking for time or are you looking to bump Youth Football?" Cormier asked Laurent.

Kiwanian Kathy Calvin said the two agencies had tried to work together about five years ago and there were some problems. She said the high school principal at the time had to mediate a solution and gave the Key Club the right to operate the home football game concessions.

The School Board made no changes to the concession stand policy but did say it would create a written policy for adoption by the board about future use of the concession stand.

Outside the meeting, the five Kiwanians remained unhappy, with both the outcome and the explanation.

"There's some funny business going on," said Laurent.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 September 2013 03:06

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Race for Mayor: Luther wants to follow in 'fantastic' Seymour's footsteps

LACONIA — "I lost to a guy who became a fantastic mayor," said Bob Luther, who was defeated in the mayoral election in 2009 by Mike Seymour, "and I'm running again because he's not running."

Luther, along with Khaleif Mitchell and Ed Engler, are vying to succeed Seymour, who retired after serving two terms. One of three will be eliminated in the primary election on Tuesday, Sept. 10, and the two highest vote getters will proceed to general election in November.

Raised on the South Shore of Massachusetts, Luther has lived in Laconia for the past 40 years, where he was employed as a mechanic with United Parcel Service before achieving a childhood dream by joining the Police Department as a full-time officer. After leaving the force he served as a security officer at Lakes Region General Hospital before retiring in in 2009.

No stranger to politics, Luther was elected to the City Council seven times by the voters of Ward 2, who he represented for 13 years before resigning when he moved to another ward. A Republican, in 2010 and again in 2012 he was elected to the N.H. House of Representatives, where he serves on the Judiciary Committee.

Luther, who changed his position to cast the deciding vote to place a property tax cap on the ballot in 2005, said he could foresee circumstances that would lead him to recommend overriding the tax cap. He acknowledged that a steep increase in the county tax, which counts toward the cap, would be a concern, but insisted that "no way, no how are we voting for a $45-million jail. The county delegation oversees the county budget and will keep costs down," he continued. "But, say they vote a 9 percent budget increase, I would not vote to override the tax cap to accommodate the county budget."

Troubled by the stagnant, if not shrinking, population of the city, Luther said it was a "trend that needs to be reversed," noting that "the people we're losing are not on fixed incomes." He pointed to the partnerships between local employers and the Huot Technical Center at Laconia High School as a means of providing businesses with the skilled workforce they need and creating opportunities for young people.

While Luther confessed he had no specific proposals for reviving commerce downtown, he stressed that "the downtown business owners are the people to go to. They know better than anyone else what downtown needs. They're there everyday." He added that he did not believe the city should either purchase or operate the Colonial Theater.

As mayor, Luther said that he would seek to bring what he called the three neighborhoods — downtown, Lakeport and The Weirs — closer together. "They are parts of one city," he said. He suggested the tax increment financing (TIF) districts in each of the three could contribute to this process. "Lakeport needs parking," he said. "What would help The Weirs is a common consensus from the players involved." He said that the extension of the WOW Trail downtown and the restoration of Weirs Beach would be suitable projects for tax increment financing.

Luther said that the city should not pursue the purchase of the former Laconia State School property on North Main Street. "We can't afford it, even with federal help," he said, referring to the cost of addressing the environmental conditions and repairing the buildings. "I don't think the city wants that property," he said.

Luther welcomed the effort by Genesis Behavioral Health to establish a residential treatment center for the mentally ill at its Church Street property. Emphasizing the need for such a facility in the community, he said "it would be located where most of their clients can reach it on foot and it's not at all too close to downtown."

Whether to retain the four firefighters added to the department with a federal grant, Luther said "is not an question of need. We need them. The question is can we afford them." He said that if the choice was between continuing to spend $1-million a year on roads or retaining the additional firefighters, "I will continue to advocate for roads. You have to set your priorities," he said.

"I'm not a fan of Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT)", Luther said flatly. He said that if the mandatory recycling program failed to reach its target of removing 4,000 tons from the waste stream, he would not recommend introducing PAYT.

"The most important job of mayor," Luther said "is ceremonial, and Seymour set the bar very high." He said that he would do his best to reach that bar, beginning by spending one day each week, usually Mondays, in City Hall where he would be available to the general public and close to the City Manager.

(Editor's Note: All three mayoral candidates are being asked the same set of a dozen questions at interviews providing the information for profiles of each to be published before Tuesday's primary.)

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 September 2013 02:25

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New exhibit focuses on origins of Laconia hospital

LACONIA — When Brenda Polidoro began researching the early history of Lakes Region General Hospital, she knew that she had already discovered a forgotten detail of the health care institution's founding. Jeremiah S. Jewett, whose exhaustive daily journal Polidoro had already transcribed, offered his family's farm land, located on a hill overlooking the city, for the creation of the hospital; not only did he sell the land for a friendly price, Jewett immediately donated half of the purchase price to the building fund.

What Polidoro would soon find out in her research was that there were many other stories of civic pride and personal generosity that wove together to make possible the creation of what has become Belknap County's health care network.
Polidoro, executive director of the Laconia Historical and Museum Society, performed the research with help from Patricia Rice, manager of Communications & Program Development for LRGHealthcare. The results of their work for the exhibit "Shall We Have a Hospital," on display at the Laconia Public Library. An opening reception for the exhibit will be held this evening, beginning at 6 p.m.
As Polidoro learned, Jewett's generous act, made at Old Home Day in 1905, was hardly the spark that set off the chain of events that resulted in the creation of a hospital for Laconia. In fact, that spark had occurred 14 years prior, in the form of an editorial printed in the Laconia Democrat.

The column, printed in 1891, noted that Concord had a hospital and that there were campaigns in Claremont and Exeter to build similar facilities. The editorial stated, "We want, in short, a place where sick people can go to recover their health and be sure of getting careful nursing and good, wholesome sanitary surroundings. We want beds for those able to pay and we want free beds for those who cannot pay and are deserving of charity."
The editorial is thought to have found accord with many Laconians, not the least of which was Rhoda C. Ladd, who died of cancer the following year. In her will, she gave her estate, including her Court Street home, to the city, on condition that her assets be held in trust until the municipality could raise $10,000 to create a hospital.
Though her gift was accepted by the city, it was held in trust for several years while the fund raising efforts struggled to reach goal.

Polidoro believes that a spectacular tragedy helped to underscore the need for a local hospital.
As reported in a September 3, 1897 news article, a young couple was out for an evening ride in a horse-drawn carriage. When the pair, Frank W. Clay and Minnie B. Johnson, both Laconia residents, were on Messer Street, their carriage was struck by the 7:45 Lake Shore train where it crossed the road. The victims were reported to be thrown a hundred feet by the impact, where they lay for a half-hour before being transported to a hotel in Lakeport to wait for doctors that had been sent for.
Clay died, according to the report, while Johnson was gravely injured. The following year, the town had raised enough to honor Ladd's request, and opened what is known as the "Cottage Hospital" in her home on Court Street. The Cottage Hospital, which had room for up to eight beds, was in operation until 1905, the year of Jewett's donation.

The opening of a hospital created a new problem in the form of staffing. Where would Laconia find skilled nurses to assist the patients? To address the question, a nursing school was immediately formed. From 1898 to 1968, the nursing school offered a three-year, 12-class program that graduated more than 500 nurses. Most of the graduates were from Laconia or nearby towns, and as far as Polidoro can tell, they were exclusively female. Her exhibit features many artifacts from the nursing school, including uniforms and photographs of graduating classes.
These are just a few of the stories Polidoro and Rice have uncovered. The exhibit includes many others, including the story of Mrs. John F. "Nellie" Zebley, a Weirs native who grew up to become a world-traveling, wealthy New York City resident, whose affection for her hometown was evident in the inventive ways she found to help the hospital become functional.
Polidoro said, of the project, "It's been exciting. There's so much information that wasn't known before."
Rice added, "Working on this project has been extremely rewarding for me, because of the sense of pride I feel about our community hospital. Not just as an employee, but also as a community member. We are so fortunate to have a hospital with roots so firmly planted in the community. And learning the details about the level of support and commitment community members had to open a hospital in Laconia is really inspiring to me. As we continue to build upon their legacy, I am so very proud to be a part of it.
"I also want to acknowledge how fortunate our community is," continued Rice, "to have the Laconia Historical and Museum Society, and dedicated Executive Director Brenda Polidoro. Her level of enthusiasm to this project was nothing short of amazing. I have enjoyed working with Brenda and getting to know her better. I can't thank her enough for helping LRGHealthcare and the community celebrate our legacy of caring."

Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 September 2013 12:45

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