New commissioners to pass judgement on paying old county legal bills

LACONIA — Among the items which will come up for discussion at this evening's meeting of the Belknap County Board of Commissioners will be earlier requests for 2014 budget transfers which were presented to the Belknap County Executive Committee last week but deferred by the committee until commissioners had time to study them. The original requests were made by the board that left office on December 31.
Among the transfer requests which were presented last week was one $31,852.54 to pay the county's outstanding legal bills, all of which have been received between October 31 and the end of the year. There is not enough money left legal line-item accounts so transfers from accounts that are under budget are necessary.
The unpaid bills all relate to disputes between the former commissioners and the Belknap County Convention and its Personnel Committee. There are two bills for $6,856.98 and $1,080 from the Donahue, Tucker and Ciandella law firm, which represented the commission in it's challenge to the convention's successful attempt to win a temporary injunction prohibiting transfers between budget line items of greater than $300 without approval of the convention's Executive Committee.
There are also two bills from the Upton and Hatfield law firm, which represented the Personnel Committee in its handling of Mathew Logue 's appeal of his firing as Superintendent of the Belknap County Home by commissioners in September. Those bills are for $4,973.58 and $1,325,30.
There are two bills from the Drummond Woodsum law firm which represented the commission at a hearing on Logue's dismissal and on an appeal of the Executive Committee's reinstatement of Logue. Those bills are for $12,223,28 and $4,220.90.
There is also an unpaid bill from the Wescott Law firm for $1,172.50 relating to a personnel issue.
Legal bills which have been paid through the end of the year total $39,574.59 and many of those relate to the year-long struggle between the former commissioners and the convention over line item budget authority.
At last week's meeting of the Executive Committee County Commission Chairman Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) asked County Convention Chairman Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) what his policy was on whether budget transfers can be made once appropriations for the legal expenses line item have have been fully expended.
Tilton replied ''we'll have to sort these out'' and said that money that the Executive Committee agreed to transfer in November was intended to pay The Upton and Hatfield law firm for its $4,973.58 and $1,325,30 bills for its work on behalf of the Personnel Committee. But the funds were instead used by the commissioners to pay other legal bills.
Tilton in December asked by what authority the commissioners have been committing the county to legal expenses when the funds had not been appropriated and was told by former Commissioner Steve Nedeau, who resigned effective January 1, that the commissioners were relying on a state statute — later identified as 29-A:2.
The law describes the process which will be followed in the defense and indemnification of county officers and employees in the event of any claim or civil action against the county and provides that the county ''shall defray all costs of such representation or defense, to be paid from funds not otherwise appropriated.''
The law does not address a procedure which would be followed in the event of legal action taken by the convention against the commissioners, which was the case last year when the convention filed its suit against the commission over budget line item authority, which led to temporary injunction prohibiting commissioners from transferring more than $300 without approval of the convention's Executive Committee.
Tilton has said that he thinks the applicable statute is section 24:15 of state law on counties regarding exceeding appropriations which reads in part, "No county commissioner, or elected or appointed county officer, shall pay, or agree to pay, or incur any liability for the payment of, any sum of money for which the county convention has made no appropriation, or in excess of any appropriation so made except for the payment of judgments rendered against the county.''
A key question faced by the current commissioners will be whether or not they agree with the position taken by the former commissioners in citing 29A:2 in giving them authority to expend funds without county convention approval or with Tilton and other members of the convention, like Rep. Mike Sylvia (R-Belmont), who has called for an investigation of county government based on alleged violations of 24:15. Commissioners have yet to name a law firm as their legal counsel.
One of the transfer requests which was tabled last week was for $5,200 to pay legal fees incurred by former Belknap County Register of Deeds Barbara Luther in 2011 when she was sued by the commission in an effort to make her comply with recommendations made by an auditing firm hired by the county. In 2013 the county convention appropriated $5,200 to pay Luther's fees but the former commissioners refused to release a check to her.
Other transfer requests include one for $260 to pay for to legal expenses incurred by Burchell, another for a total of $71.84 to pay former representatives Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), and Robert Greemore (R-Meredith) to attend a Personnel Committee meeting.

Plymouth man charged with robbery of Laconia restaurant

LACONIA — Police have charged Brian Moore, 35, of Plymouth with robbing the D'Angelos restaurant at 1056 Union Avenue on December 23.

Moore is charged with one count of robbery (unarmed), two counts of witness tampering, and driving after his license was suspended.

Moore allegedly pushed his way into the restaurant after one of the employees opened the door to take out the trash. Employees said Moore was wearing a mask and that he forced the employee back into the restaurant. No weapons were shown or threatened during the robbery.

Police said two other employees managed to distract him while a third left the building to call the police.

Moore allegedly had a vehicle nearby and fled before police could arrive.

After an investigation, police determined that there was enough evidence to get a warrant for Moore's arrest.

He was arrested January 16 or Friday night in Plymouth and later transported to the Belknap County House of Corrections, where he was charged with the Laconia crimes.

Moore refused bail and is being held at the Belknap County House of Corrections. He is scheduled to appear this morning in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division.

Shaker board asking voters for universal pre-K

BELMONT — After a short presentation and at least an hour of discussion yesterday, the Shaker Regional School Board voted 4-to-2 to introduce with universal pre-school for all 4-year-olds and offer two classes of full-day kindergarten — one each at Canterbury Elementary School and Belmont Elementary School, with the attendees chosen by lottery.

With about 80 to 100 children expected to be kindergarten age in the next school year in Belmont and between 12 to 14 in Canterbury, the students for the 36 available all-day kindergarten spots — 18 maximum in each class — will be selected by a drawing. The remainder of the 5-year-old student population will continue to attend half-day kindergarten.

Board Chair Heidi Hutchinson of Canterbury said the final decision was a "great compromise" but it didn't come easily or without controversy.

The board was initially presented with five options but chose three for a vote regarding school year 2015-2016 — universal half-day preschool and half-day kindergarten; two sections of all day kindergarten and universal pre-k; or the elimination of universal pre-k and full-day kindergarten for all.

Until 2017-2018, Superintendent Maria Dreyer said there is not enough space to do all-day kindergarten and half-day universal pre-k without a modular unit in Belmont. She said yesterday she is very much against using modulars.

Option one — universal pre-kindergarten and half-day kindergarten — is already built in to the 2015-2016 budget and was the option favored by administrators, including the two elementary principals and Dreyer.

The option of eliminating universal pre-k entirely for 2015-2016 and adding full-day kindergarten would cost the district $253,292 — without modulars.

The option selected by the board — universal pre-kindergarten and two sections of full-day kindergarten — will add $93,666 to the budget.

Three board members — Robert Reed of Canterbury and Sean Embree and Gretta Olsen of Belmont — preferred eliminating universal pre-kindergarten and having all-day kindergarten.

Reed made a motion to that effect but it was supported by only Embree and Olsen. Three members voted against it — Donna Cilley and Richy Bryant of Belmont and Jill LaVallee of Canterbury. Forced to break the tie, Hutchinson voted against all-day kindergarten for all.

LaVallee made the motion to go with the winning plan and that move passed unanimously.

The last piece of the puzzle came when members decided how they would pay for two classes of kindergarten and how they would decide who would get to go.

Dreyer's initial option would have had each of the 36 students attending full-day kindergarten and paying a tuition of about $300 per student per month. Two sessions of all-day kindergarten would add $93,666 to the budget. The tuition would be in the form of a revenue offset and would lower the additional amount by about the same $93,666.

Most of the board members were uncomfortable with charging tuition, fearing that some parents wouldn't even try for a spot if they were unable to pay for it.

"I'm very concerned with equity issues," said Embry.

Earlier in the discussion, Reed said he wouldn't support only two sessions of all-day kindergarten if there was a tuition component and Cilley said she was also very uncomfortable with charging a tuition fee that could lead to the elimination of many of the children who come from less affluent homes.

Bryant and LaVallee voted for charging tuition while the other four board members voted against charging. As chair, Hutchinson only votes if there is a tie.

Olsen said she wants to see the school board make the decision open and public and wants the administration to make sure the information about the lottery and the program is made known to the community and the parents of interested children as soon as possible.

All agreed that by school year 2017-2018, every effort should be made toward the implementation of full-day kindergarten.

In other board action, members voted down a proposal by a five-to-one margin to give support staff and specialists a 1.5-percent pay increase for 201502016, as opposed to the 1-percent increase included in the proposed budget. Olsen voted for the higher number.

All agreed that next year, the district should look at equity issues in pay as compared to other school districts in the area but a vote to give more of a raise than 1 percent in 2015-2016 was premature.

The board also voted unanimously to put the demolition of the Gale School with the preservation of the bell and steeple on this years' warrant as a separate article at a cost of $65,000.

Buildings and Grounds Manager Doug Ellis said he had done the asbestos remediation assessment with an expert but didn't have an exact dollar figure to bring to the board yesterday.

Ellis said the $65,000 included $42,500 for the demolition and bell and steeple removal, $15,000 for asbestos remediation, and $7,500 for contingency.

He said the Heritage Commission is not interested in the bell and steeple and he has still not heard back from the Historical Society.

Ellis also estimated the bell and steeple could be restored and put on a cement slab for about $2,500 which is not included in the above $65,000 unless the project comes in way under budget.

The board also voted to dedicate all of the $282,000 left in last year's reserve account and carried forward to this year to lower the overall amount that will need to be collected in property taxes. All agreed there was no reason to save any of it because it will be replenished by money left over from this year's budget.

The final warrant article that asks for an appropriation is $250,404 to fund the new teachers' collective bargaining agreement for 2015-2016.

If all of the warrant articles pass, the proposed total budget that will be presented at the public hearing will be $21,235,694, which is up .21 percent from this year.


Because of a decrease in the overall value of taxable property in Belmont, the school budget effect on the property tax rate will be higher that it will be in Canterbury, which went through the property revaluation process last year.

The school district public hearings are in Canterbury on February 3 at the school and on February 4 at Belmont Middle School, in the cafeteria. The district meeting is March 6 at the Belmont High School.

Correction: Maheux connected to LPD for 33 years

 CORRECTION - Laconia Police Commissioner Armand Maheux has been affiliated with the Laconia Police Department for 33 years, serving five years as a part-time officer, eight-years as a full-time officer and 20 years as a commissioner. A caption below his picture that ran on Page 7 in last Friday's paper incorrectly reported the number.