Health insurance, other costs, projected to exceed city tax cap

LACONIA — "OK, wonderful news," Mayor Ed Engler remarked wryly after City Manager Scott Myers told the City Council this week that the annual increase in the city's share of the cost health insurance for its employees is projected not to exceed 12 percent, a figure that would add more than $300,000 to the 2016-2017 municipal budget, which is already outrunning the limits of the tax cap.

The tax cap limits the annual increase in total expenditures funded by property taxes to the rate of inflation, measured by the Consumer Price Index — Urban (CPI-U), for the prior calendar year, plus an additional amount representing the value of new construction, which is calculated by multiplying the value of building permits less the value of demolition permits issued between April 1 and March 31 by the prior year's property tax rate.

This year, for the first time since the tax cap was first applied in 2006 the CPI-U is projected to be at or near zero. In other words, the only increase in the amount to be raised by property taxes will be that represented by the value of new construction. Between April 1 and Dec. 31, the first three quarters of the tax year, the net increase in the value of new construction was $28.5 million, $4 million ahead of the pace last year, which closed with $29 million worth of new construction.

Myers expects the value of new construction to end the year on March 31 to be about $31 million, which at the 2015 tax rate of $22.20 per $1,000 of assessed value would represent an increase of $688,200 in the amount to be raised by property taxes to be shared between the city, school district and county. That would amount to slightly more than half of the $1,289,636 increase of a year ago.

Moreover, on the initiative of Councilor Lipman (Ward 3), who chairs the Finance Committee, the council trimmed the 2015-2016 budget by approximately $200,000, sharing the cuts evenly between the city and the school district. Together with raising the assessed valuation by $5 million, the cuts were intended to reduce the projected 36-cent increase in the 2016 tax rate by about 17 cents. As it happened, because the assessed valuation rose by $34 million, from $1.849 billion to $1.883 billion, the tax rate did not increase at all, but instead decreased by 20 cents, from $22.40 to $22.20 per $1,000 of property value.

More importantly, the $200,000 reduction in the current budget will carry forward to the 2016-2017 budget. In other words, by choosing to spend less than the tax cap allowed this year, an equal amount will be foregone when budgeting for next year.

In October, Myers directed department heads not to increase operating expenses in anticipation that rising personnel costs will exhaust the increase in the amount to be raised by property taxes A cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) of 2.5 percent, awarded by the collective bargaining agreements negotiated with the four unions representing municipal employees, will add some $250,000 to the city payroll, which approaches $10 million. In addition, some employees will be eligible for step increases and rising wages will trigger increases Social Security payments and retirement contributions.

"This is significant," Myers told the council of the "not to exceed 12 percent" increase in health insurance costs. He anticipated that the increase would be closer to 10 percent when the New Hampshire Interlocal Trust sets the final rate in the spring, but added that would represent an increase of some $300,000. The health insurance stabilization account, which can be drawn on to offset unforeseen spikes in costs, has a balance of $170,581.

Myers said yesterday that departments have submitted their budget requests and the personnel department has begun projecting the increases in payroll. "This is going to be a challenge," he said.

New Hampton cops save man from heart attack in courtroom

LACONIA — When New Hampton Police Sgt. Michael Grier went to the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division last Friday, it was for a brief testimony regarding a civil case. Instead, he ended up saving a man's life who suffered a heart attack while testifying in a different case.
Grier said he was sitting in the middle of the courtroom in his business suit because it was his day off and listening to the cases that were preceding his.
He said he saw the man begin to slump in the witness chair and said Judge Jim Carroll reached out and stopped the man from falling.
Grier jumped from his seat, ran to the witness stand, grabbed the man from behind and laid him on the floor. The man was not breathing and had no pulse. He began performing CPR and hollered for Court Security Officer Carl "Buddy" Bauer to grab the AED, or automated external defibrillator.
Bauer ran into the second floor lobby, grabbed the defibrillator and within seconds gave it to Grier, who was able to successfully zap the man and get a pulse.
"He was not conscious but did take a breath," said Grier, who said during his training and multiple deployments with the U.S. Army he had successfully used AEDs. He had just completed his mandatory CPR re-certification in November of 2015.
Grier continued CPR, and within minutes the Laconia Fire and Rescue team arrived. By the time the man was taken from the courtroom he was conscious and breathing.
As a police officer, he said he's used CPR on many people but "this was the first time I've ever seen a person go into cardiac arrest." He said as a police officer he usually arrives after the attack and in response to a medical call.
According to Jason Jordanhazy, the head of court security for New Hampshire, the man who literally died and was brought back to life was the beneficiary of a brand new effort on the part of the state judiciary to "protect the safety and security of all those who enter our court rooms."
In December of 2014 he said the decision was made that AEDs would be installed in all 40 total sites throughout New Hampshire's courts. In Laconia, he said there is one in the lobby of each of three floors.
The program was to put 62 AEDs in strategic places within three years. Jordanhazy said the program is ahead of schedule and so far 40 AED have been installed in 28 different places. He hopes the initial placements will be completed by July of this year.
He said the decision to install them came about from general knowledge that things like medical emergencies happen in courthouses and this incident is a prime example.
He said this is the second time an AED has been taken to an incident in a courthouse but the first time the victim needed it.
For Grier, it was easy. He said the machine does all of the work.
"It's pretty simple," he said. "Just look at the pictures and follow the directions. The machine determines whether or not someone needs to be zapped."
Fire Chief Ken Erickson said Grier's description of the level of difficulty involved in their use is pretty accurate but that it was "a phenomenal case of trained CPR," referring to Grier's and Bauer's quick response.
Erickson said the ambulance crew was returning from a call and were at the Main and Court Street intersection when they got what was initially a medical call. He added that they heard the dispatcher say she had overheard Grier calling for the AED and with this information, he said the responders had a very good idea of what they would find.
"It was the perfect storm of good work by Grier, the location of the ambulance crew, and the heads up listening by the dispatcher to pass on what was happening in the court room," he said.
Grier agrees. He said he's really happy the man survived and is now meeting with his chief to see if there is a grant the department can secure to add AEDs to all of its cruisers.
When asked if he stayed to testify in his own case, Grier laughed and said "he did an adrenaline dump" and prepared himself for his own testimony.
He said he had told his wife he would only be a short time in court that day.
"I ended up being there all afternoon," he said, adding he is just glad he was there to help.
Erickson said the man was taken to Concord Hospital and was responding positively that day to some of the treatment he was getting. As of yesterday he said he didn't know his medical status.

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Controversial movie spurs protest in Plymouth

PLYMOUTH — A century-old movie that has been reviled for its racism but lauded for its cinematic innovations has prompted protests of its showing in Plymouth.
"The Birth of a Nation" is the story of two families during the Civil War and Reconstruction, an adaptation of the novel "The Clansmen," by Thomas Dixon Jr. It portrays the Ku Klux Klan as a heroic force, and black men as stupid and sexually aggressive to white women. According to IMDb, it was banned in many cities over the years and is one of the most controversial movies ever made.
The silent movie is set to be shown at The Flying Monkey in Plymouth on Thursday, complete with live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis. Rapsis chose the movie to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day, saying "It's a chance for today's audiences to consider first-hand evidence of the obstacles to race equality that existed a century ago, to think about what progress has been made, and to also ponder how many of the prejudices on display in this film that we may still harbor, even unconsciously."
The president of the Black Student Union at Plymouth State University said he was '"shocked" to hear the film would be shown, and other members of the university community have expressed their opposition to the movie, prompting Rapsis and Alex Ray of The Flying Monkey to send a response.
"On 'The Birth of a Nation,' we understand and share your concerns," they said in an email to PSU. "All along, our goal has been to screen the film in a way that acknowledges these concerns up front and as an integral part of the presentation through our press materials, in remarks at the screening, and by engaging community members such as yourselves. We feel the screening should go on as scheduled due to the film's unique and undeniable impact on cinema and culture. We hope you understand our perspective. While there's no question the film contains objectionable material, it remains a significant and influential work and an integral part of the silent film canon."
Neither Rapsis nor Ray felt removing the movie from the schedule was the best way to address concerns.
"Rather, screening the film will give those who wish to experience it as intended – in a theater, with live music, and with an audience – a chance to understand how pervasive racism was at the time the film was produced, and also to contemplate what role racism still plays in our society today," they wrote. "Regarding the connection to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, you have helped us understand how this link is something of a "stretch" in terms of programming, and have challenged us to address this more effectively and sensitively in the time left prior to the screening."
Because the movie is nearly three hours long, there isn't time for a panel discussion, but Rapsis does plan opening remarks about what he calls a "though-provoking" movie.