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Belknap Convention will return to budget deliberations on Tuesday

LACONIA — The Belknap County Convention will resume its contentious discussion of the 2014 budget next Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the Belknap County Complex.
At the conclusion of Monday's meeting, convention members agreed to cancel a meeting scheduled for today (Thursday) in order to allow county Administrator Debra Shackett to prepare new spreadsheets reflecting the changes made to the budget at Monday's meeting.
Among the new numbers will be a reduction in the amount of the undesignated fund balance to be applied to reduce the amount of the taxes to be raised from $2 million to $1.5 million.
Monday night Rep. Jane Cormier (R-Alton) made a motion for that reduction, which was originally coupled with setting an amount to be raised by taxes of $13,885,116. But Rep,. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) said the amount to be raised by taxes was yet to be determined and should not be included in the motion.
Cormier agreed to drop that part of her motion and stick with the $1.5 million to be used from the fund balance and the motion passed 9-3.
Commission Chairman Colette Worsman (R-Meredith) said that, even though the reduction in the amount of the fund balance used raises the 2014 burden by $500,000, it is important to keep in mind that there is a county jail project down the road will which cost ''$10, 15, 20 million'' and for which the county will have to borrow and needs to protect its credit rating.
The latest convention working budget compiled by Shackett and distributed by e-mail to members of the convention yesterday shows a total budget of $25,636,339, down by $76,000 from that which had previously been under consideration, while the total county appropriations show an increase of $426,000, from $13,551,598 to $13,977,790.
The current working budget is $2 million less than was actually spent last year ($27,639,073), while the amount to be raised by taxes is $88,000 more than last year ($13,889,467).
Among the cuts the convention has already made in the commission's proposed $26,570,000 budget for 2014 is a reduction of $500,000 for health insurance benefits for county employees, from $3.1 million to the same level as last year, about $2.6 million.
Rep. Tilton supported the health insurance benefit reduction by saying that commissioners have not made any progress in increasing the share of health insurance paid by county workers and have an opportunity between now and July 1, when health insurance rates for county employees are scheduled to increase by 13.42 percent, to make whatever changes they will need to make.

Shackett said that commissioners will be faced with the difficult task of finding over $800,000 in the budget to offset cuts which she said the convention made to contractual obligations for county employees in order to avoid layoffs or benefit cuts, which would have to be negotiated with unions in order to avoid breaking contracts and facing legal action as a result.
Rep. Bob Luther (R-Laconia), who voted against several of the cuts that the Republican majority made, said that the convention members who think they have the power over how the money they appropriate is actually spent should pause to reflect on how much power they actually have.
''How the people at this table think they have authority over spending that money is beyond me. If you had any authority over spending how the Register of Deeds legal fees we appropriated money for haven't been paid? You can't tell them (the commissioners) how to spend that money'' said Luther.
He also described a motion made by fellow Republican Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) to reverse an earlier decision by the convention to support the upgrading of a position in the Restorative Justice Department to full-time as ''not worth making'' and criticized a motion made by Rep. Michael Sylvia (R-Belmont) to cut two cruisers from the Sheriff's Department budget as ''false economy'' which would cost the county more money than it would save.

Last Updated on Saturday, 01 March 2014 01:18

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2 men charged with growing pot in Barnstead

BARNSTEAD — Two people have been charged with the alleged marijuana growing operation discovered by the Belknap County Sheriff's Office who originally went to follow up on an eviction notice at the home.

David McNeil, 29, and Ashley Witham, 27, were arrested by the Northwood Police Department February 27 on an outstanding warrant issued by Belknap County.

Each has been charged with one count of manufacturing a controlled drug and possession of a controlled drug.

Both were released on $10,000 personal recognizance bail and are scheduled to appear in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division on April 3.

Sheriffs found seven marijuana pots plants in the 10 Barnstead Road apartment, along with equipment for growing marijuana and some drug paraphernalia. Working with the Barnstead Police, the sheriffs executed a search warrant and later and arrest warrant for McNeil and Witham.

Acting Barnstead Police Chief Joseph McDowell said his department has a proactive approach toward unlawful drug use within the community.

"If you're going to be involved in drug activity, you're going to get caught," said McDowell.

Last Updated on Saturday, 01 March 2014 01:13

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Gilford cruiser out for repair after snowstorm crash on Cherry Valley Road

GILFORD — Police estimate there was about $12,000 of damage done to a police cruiser during an two-car accident earlier this month during a snow storm.

Laconia Police investigated the crash and said a person trying to exit Mountain Drive on to Cherry Valley Road couldn't see the cruiser that was headed west on a routine patrol.

The driver entered Cherry Valley Road, and police said the officer tried to swerve to avoid the crash but was unable to do so.

The cruiser hit the driver's side door of the other car.

Laconia Police concluded high snow banks and falling snow contributed to the crash. They said no one was injured and no one was cited.

Gilford Police said the cruiser is at a local body shop and is expected to be out of service for two to three weeks with primarily front-end damage.

CUTLINE (Gilford Police Cruiser) The front of a Gilford Police cruiser was damaged after a two-car crash on February 21. Laconia Police said high snow banks and snow covered roads were key factors in the crash. No one was injured and no one was cited. (Courtesy photo)

Last Updated on Saturday, 01 March 2014 01:08

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With dreams of SNL in his head, Prospect Mountain student launches stand-up comedy career on Sunday

ALTON — Andrew Long was born for the spotlight. Completely at home as the center of attention, he's performed in seemingly every dramatic production possible in his time at Prospect Mountain High School. Lately, though, his interest has veered from the dramatic to the comedic. He performed his first stand-up comedy show last year and knew immediately afterward that it wouldn't be his last.

Long's first foray into stand-up was a set for a group of familiar faces, the members of the Alton Senior Center, where he frequently volunteers. In December he roasted his bosses at Hannaford supermarket at a corporate event.

On Sunday, Long will perform a comedy act for his first general audience. "The Long Comedy Show" will take place from 3 to 4 p.m. at the Gilman Meeting Room, accessed from the rear parking lot of the Gilman Library. Admission is by donation and proceeds will benefit Easter Seals of New Hampshire.

Long, a 20 year-old with blaze-orange hair, was born in Montreal but has lived in Alton since he was a toddler. He's long been a fan of comedy — his favorites include Mel Brooks, Steve Martin, Leslie Nielsen, Seth MacFarlane, Trey Parker and Matt – but it wasn't until he connected with Bryan Stewart, an aide at Prospect Mountain High School, that he got the idea to start writing down some of his prodigious jokes.

Long, especially in his earlier years in high school, was a punster, so much so that he seemed at times to communicate exclusively in puns, said his father Peter. Stewart did some comedy writing in a previous career and encouraged Long to string enough jokes together for a short set. What resulted was a  15-minute routine he performed at the senior center. By the time the set was over, Long had a new favorite past time.

As soon as he finished his first set, he remembered thinking, "I really enjoyed that, it was kind of a rush. I have to do that again." With Stewart as a mentor, Long has compiled enough material to fill an hour with a short intermission.

The show on Sunday, said Long, will be PG-rated, though younger children may not get some of the punch lines. Much of the material will be based on Disney movies and culture. For example, Long said, "I was really confused the first time I saw Disney on Ice. There were all these ice dancers in costumes skating around — I wanted to see Walt Disney's head on ice!" he said, poking fun at the urban legend that the famed animator had himself cryonically frozen.

Asked if his goal is to become a professional comic, Long answered, "Definitely, absolutely definitely." His goal is to build his repertoire and reputation to the point where he can charge for admission to his shows. He also has a dream, to appear on Saturday Night Live. It's a lofty dream and one he admits is unlikely to come true. Long has spent his educational career under the auspices of special education. Stewart is not only his comedy mentor, he's also Long's one-on-one classroom aide becuase Long has a developmental disability diagnosed as a "Right Hemisphere Dysfunction" which is considered part of the autism spectrum.

His diagnosis hasn't slowed him down, though. Long is a seasoned Special Olympian, trampoline enthusiast, downhill skier and doting brother to younger sister Amanda. And, if he succeeds in appearing on Saturday Night Live, he'd be in good company. Famous SNLer, Blues Brother and Ghostbuster Dan Akroyd revealed in a 2004 interview with WHYY's Terry Gross that he has Asperger Syndrome, also on the Autism spectrum, as well as a mild form of Tourette Syndrome.

Whether he's performing in New York City or at Alton's Gilman Library, Long said he doesn't want to be known because of a dysfunction or syndrome; he wants to be known because of his jokes. "I like the attention, making people laugh and enjoy themselves."

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Andrew Long is launching his comedy career with a set on Sunday at the Gilman Library in Alton. (Courtesy photo)

Last Updated on Saturday, 01 March 2014 01:05

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