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Chief reneges on deal with selectmen & firefighters prevail in Gilmanton

GILMANTON — Voters at Saturday's deliberative session of annual Town Meeting added the money to the town budget that would keep the fire chief's schedule as it is — seemingly negating the selectman's desire to cut costs by having him fill two, 12-hour shifts a week as a first responding firefighter.

The vote, which was overwhelmingly supported by the estimated 100 people who attended, added $10,400 back into the Fire Department's budget.

As it stands now, two FF/EMTs staff the station for 12-hours a day, seven days a week. Hempel works 40 hours a week and does not have to be one of the first two people to respond to a call. Twenty-four of the 48 hours required for weekend coverage are filled by part-time FF/EMT for a total of 208 hours per week.

Chief Joe Hempel had objected to taking two shifts weekly but in an executive action in early January, selectmen voted unanimously to make him do it. The executive action is still in place and is scheduled to take effect on March 1.

In addition, voters amended a petitioned warrant article (Article 30) that, if it passes at the ballot session on March 11, would require that of the 208 hours of coverage required to have two firefighter/EMTs available for 12 hours a day, seven days a week, 184 of them be filled by full-time firefighters — 48 hours weekly for each of three firefighters/EMT plus 40 hours for the chief.

While simple on its face, the circumstances surrounding Article 30 has at least two selectmen crying foul — saying the board and the chief struck an agreement about hours and staffing on January 29 in a non-public meeting held in the town offices.

Part of that agreement, according to the draft minutes, was that Hempel would agree to fill one shift as a first-responding firefighter — not two — in exchange for using part-time firefighter/EMTs to fill a vacancy created when one of Gilmanton's firefighters took a full-time job with a neighboring fire department about two months ago.

This would mean that the department would go from four to three full-time employees — including the chief. The measure, said Selectman Brett Currier, would have saved the town about $33,000 and kept the staffing and service levels the same. The savings would have come health insurance and other benefits afforded to full-time employees.

Currier said yesterday that part of the agreement was that Hempel would go to the floor at deliberative session and encourage voters to vote against Article 30, which cannot be removed from the warrant by state law because it was petitioned on to the ballot.

"We haggled it out," said Currier, who yesterday described Hempel's change of heart as a "slap in the face."

"He's trying to make sure we can't hire part-time people to fill the full-time position," Currier said.

Currier said that every department in Gilmanton has faced some kind of reduction in the past few years and the voters want the selectmen to save the town money. He said the call volume for the Gilmanton Fire Department has remained about the same for the past 10 years and that Hempel told them that he has seven or eight qualified FF/EMTs who would be willing and able to fill the hours created by the recent vacancy.

Currier also said there is nothing personal between him and Hempel and that the selectmen are not trying to "micro-manage" the Fire Department or any other department for that matter.

"I was elected to watch the dollars," said Currier.

He added that he was personally disappointed that Hempel went back on their arrangement. "We shook hands," he said. "A deal's a deal."

Hempel admitted yesterday that he reneged on his deal with the selectmen. He said when he was called to the office for the January 29 meeting he had no warning and felt he was cornered and somewhat blind-sided.

He said he probably shouldn't have made the deal but the more he thought about it he felt it wasn't in the bast interests of the Fire Department and of public safety.

"I thought about it and I realized it the position should be a full-time position," he said. He also said he called Town Administrator Arthur Capello on January 30 and told him he was backing out.

Hempel's reasons for wanting the position to be full-time is that while at this moment in time he has enough trained part-time FF/EMTs to fill the 48 hours created by the vacancy plus the hours he already fills with part-timers, that may not be true in the future.

He said he foresees potential problems with part-time staffing in the summer and that 48 hours a week in addition to the 24 he already has to cover with qualified part-time people is too much for a small department.

Hempel said he realizes the selectmen are the governing body and are his bosses. He knows selectmen have the final say on who, if anybody, gets hired as his third firefighter.

What he is hoping is that when voters go to the polls, they support operating the department as it has been operated since he became chief and the selectmen don't make the proposed changes to the way it's staffed.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 February 2014 01:31

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Belknap County reps split on House keno games vote

CONCORD — When the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted this week to allow the holders of liquor licenses to operate keno games under the regulation and supervision of the Lottery Commission, representatives of both parties found themselves divided on the issue.

Of the 18 members of the county delegation 17 voted, 12 of the 13 Republicans and all five Democrats. The Republicans split evenly with six voting in favor — Representatives Richard Burchell of Gilmanton, Guy Comtois of Barnstead, Dennis Fields of Sanbornton, Bob Greemore of Meredith, Bob Luther of Laconia and Michael Sylvia of Belmont — and six voting against — Representatives Jane Cormier and Stephen Holmes of Alton, Don Flanders and Frank Tilton of Laconia, and Herb Vadney and Colette Worsman of Meredith. Charles Fink of Belmont did not vote.

Two Democrats — Representatives Lisa DiMartino of Gilford and Ruth Gulick of New Hampton — voted in favor while three voted against — Beth Arsenault and David Huot of Laconia and Ian Raymond of Sanbornton.

The Lottery Commission projects that licensing fees and gaming revenue, net of operating costs and prize payouts, will generate $3,875,000 in the current fiscal year and $8,875,000 in the following and subsequent years, all of which will be applied to the education trust fund to finance public schools.

Last Updated on Saturday, 01 February 2014 02:24

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Rep. Tilton insists federal grant to Sheriff's Dept. needs to be appropriated before it can be spent

LACONIA — It may be seen as just a formality, but Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), says that he believes a $297,300 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security which the Belknap County Sheriff's Department is using for upgrading its communications network still must be appropriated by the Belknap County Convention.
''I never heard of one (a grant) not being in a budget,'' said Tilton at Friday afternoon's deliberations of the Belknap County Convention's Public Safety Subcommittee.
Belknap County Finance Director Glen Waring said that the grant was received by the Sheriff's Department last summer, long after this year's budget had already been approved, and that work on the communications project is still ongoing although approaching its final phases.
He said that the administration will provide an accounting to the convention for how the funds were spent.
Belknap County Sheriff Craig Wiggin said that in his experience he's ''never seen a pass-through grant which needs to be appropriated.''
He said that the department has been making regular expenditure reports to the state N.H. Safety Department in order to receive reimbursements.
But Tilton persisted in insisting that the county must vote on the grant even though it was applied for and accepted by the Belknap County Commissioners on behalf of the Sheriff's Department. He said that the appropriation was necessary in order to track all funds which go through the county.
He said that he couldn't understand ''how it is never seen as a requirement.''
Rep. Ian Raymond (D-Sanbornton) suggested that the commissioners submit a request to the convention at its next meeting for appropriating the funds and Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) said that even though there might not be a requirement for a vote that it might be a good idea to take one.

Last Updated on Saturday, 01 February 2014 02:21

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Gilford man advances mission of Boys & Girls Club by doing what he loves: teaching art

LACONIA — Whether it's an artwork or a good person, a thing of beauty is a joy forever, and for many years as a Boys and Girls Club volunteer, Ed Rushbrook has helped to produce both.

A semi-retired civil engineer who calls Gilford home, Rushbrook grew up in Pittsfield, Mass. where he attended what was then known as the Pittsfield Boys Club.

"The club did a lot for me," said Rushbrook, who was the youngest of three siblings raised in a single-parent household and who began attending the Pittsfield club at age 10.

At the club, Rushbrook climbed the ladder of responsibility, first handing out pool cues to fellow members and then serving in various positions — counselor, cook and lifeguard — at its summer camp. In 1961, Rushbrook was "Boy of the Year" at the Pittsfield club.

A graduate of Pittsfield High School, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and the University of Maine, Orono, where he earned his master's degree, Rushbrook took his first art class at the Pittsfield Boys Club and was immediately smitten.

Now working and teaching others to master pastels, charcoal and pencil, Rushbrook also realized that at the club he was learning a lot more than just how to draw a pretty picture.

"The Boys and Girls Club taught me honesty, hard work and respect for your fellow man," Rushbrook said recently, "and because the club did so much for me, that's why I'm so happy to donate anything I can."

Since moving to New Hampshire in 1978, the "anything" that Rushbrook has donated has been his time, experience and insight, volunteering first as an art instructor at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Concord and later doing the same in Laconia in 2007 when the Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region — which began in 1999 as the Belknap County Teen Center — became part of the Boys and Girls Club of America.

When the Lakes Region club last fall announced a $2.4 million capital campaign to acquire and transform the former St. James Episcopal Church into its first "forever home," Rushbrook promptly stepped up. To promote greater awareness of the effort, he offered personal testimonials for a publicity initiative and also donated a painting which will be auctioned at the club's upcoming Spring Fling gala.

A member of the Lakes Region Art Association, Rushbrook has also advanced the mission of the Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region by simply doing what he loves: teaching art.

Every Monday afternoon, Rushbrook directs some two dozen youths in the finer points of fine art, explaining "You can do it your entire life. Art's not expensive and you'll always advance as an artist. As I tell the kids, nothing pleases a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle more than receiving a hand-made gift created by them."

While thrilled by helping his charges improve their artistic skills, Rushbrook is especially happy that he can do so under the auspices of the Boys and Girls Club.

"Without question, the Boys and Girls Club has really shaped my life and given me direction," Rushbrook summed up, "and that's why I'm so willing to help the club achieve success with kids. People need to realize how valuable the club can be in shaping kids today."

To make a tax-deductible donation to the Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region's capital campaign, contact the club at 528-0197 or go to www.lakeskids.org.

 

Cutline for courtesy photo: With her teacher Ed Rushbrook looking on proudly, Arianna, a student at Elm Street School in Laconia and also in Rushbrook's art class at the Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region, poses with one of her recent creations. (Courtesy photo)

Last Updated on Saturday, 01 February 2014 02:12

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