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La. man drowns in Squam Lake

CENTER HARBOR — A Louisiana man drowned while swimming in Squam Lake over the weekend. The body of Khang Vu, 37, was recovered approximately 50 yards from the shore of the lake.

According to the New Hampshire Marine Patrol officers received a report of a person struggling around 5 p.m. Saturday in waters near Dog Cove at the southeast end of the lake in Center Harbor. Friends of the swimmer on shore tried to help him when they realized he was in distress, but their efforts were unsuccessful.

In addition to Marine Patrol, Center Harbor Police and Fire-Rescue responded, along with officers of the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department and Holderness Police Department. The cause of the drowning remains under investigation.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 September 2014 01:12

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Burchell v. Thomas primary election to weigh heavily on Belknap County Commission balance of power

BELMONT — The outcome of today's Republican primary for the Belknap County Commission in District 2 (Barnstead, Belmont, Gilmanton and Tilton) between the incumbent John Thomas of Belmont and his challenger Richard Burchell of Gilmanton promises to weigh heavily on the balance of power among the three county commissioners.

Thomas, who has chaired the commission for the past year, has consistently sparred with the Belknap County Convention in defending the commission's management of the annual budget and planning for the county jail. Burchell has been one of his principal antagonists, charging that the commission overreached its authority over the budget, mishandled negotiations with the union, and bungled the jail planning process.

Less than two weeks before the primary election Justice James D. O'Neill III of Belknap County Superior Court ruled in in favor of the Convention, which had filed suit claiming that the commission had no authority to transfer more than $300 among line items within the budget adopted by the Convention without the approval of the Executive Committee of the Convention. His order, granting the injunction prohibiting such transfers, effectively affirmed the position held by the Convention in its dispute with the commission, which has roiled county government for the past two years.

After serving in the Marine Corps, where he held the rank of sergeant, Thomas worked as a design engineer for General Electric in Hooksett. He served seven terms in the New Hampshire House of Representatives and, as chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, was a member of the House Republican leadership team until the Democrats gained the majority in 2006. First as a member of the convention and recently as a commissioner, Thomas has been engaged in county government for the past 18 years.

Thomas described the judges decision as "wrong," and said that he failed to consider its ramifications for the county, especially its impact on employees. He charges that for the last two years the Convention has sought to limit or reduce the compensation, which has not risen since 2012, and benefits of county employees. This year, by withholding money to fund the employer's contribution to the increase in health insurance premiums, Thomas said that the convention put the county at risk of failing to honor its contractual obligations and the commission had no alternative other than transferring sufficient funds to fulfill them. He noted that the Convention's threats to wages and benefits led to the formation of a fourth collective bargaining by the last employees eligible to do so.

Thomas insists that "the county has never operated more efficiently, noting that operating expenditures are less than in 2008. Burchell, he said, mistakenly claims that federal funds awarded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act were used to inflate the budget by hiring additional employees. In fact, he said the so-called stimulus funds were applied only to capital projects as required and by restructuring county administration and operations the commission trimmed 39 positions.

Defending the jail planning process, Thomas said that the commission has drawn on the best consultants available. The process of refining the conceptual plan and reducing the project's cost, he said, has continued with the goal of reaching "the best possible solution for the county and its taxpayers."

Burchell is a veteran of the VISTA program, begun by President John F. Kennedy to overcome poverty, who worked with migrant farm workers in Florida after leaving Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. Afterward he turned to Fortune 500 companies, first Norton Abrasives then Avery Dennison before striking out as a manufacturer's representative with a stable of a half-dozen firms and then to real estate in Dunbarton, where he still owns property.

Vindicated by the court on the question of the budget, Burchell said that his two major priorities are labor relations and jail planning. He believes that the county should hire a professional negotiator to deal with the State Employees Association (SEA), the union representing county employees. He said that the human resource director and other county officials engaged in the negotiating process enjoy the same or comparable benefits awarded to union members, which he characterized as a conflict of interest.

"The contracts should be fair to both the employees and and the taxpayers," Burchell said, adding,"We haven't seen that." He also called for putting all contracts, particularly the health insurance contract, out to competitive bidding, describing the current arrangement as "insane."

Burchell said that although two structural studies have been completed on the county jail, members of the Convention have not had an opportunity to review them. He said that a third report by an independent third party may be required to determine whether any or all of the existing facility can be renovated at a reasonable cost.

"We want to make an investment that will serve for quite a while," he noted.

Burchell referred to Hunter Taylor of Alton, who has spent considerable time and energy exploring the issue and believes an adequate facility can be constructed for between $11-million and $13-million. He indicated that he was not yet in a position to determine "if that's what we need," but he criticized the commissioners for "sticking with the proposal by Ricci Greene Associates," which he called "too large, too luxurious." Without offering a specific alternative, Burchell acknowledged that "something must be done" and said "we should be proactive and the sooner the better."

The Democrats have not fielded a candidate for County Commissioner in District 2, leaving the winner in the GOP primary unopposed in the general election on Nov. 4.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 September 2014 01:19

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Caged chickens lead to Belmont charge of animal cruelty

BELMONT — A former Laconia Road woman has been charged with one count of cruelty to animals for allegedly leaving 13 chickens and two turkeys locked in an outside dog crate for three days.

Police said Sherry Nelson, 53, of 149 Laconia Road, who was in the process of moving, had allegedly packed the poultry into the dog crate with the intentions of taking most of them to be slaughtered.

She allegedly tied the outside with a zip-tie and told the neighbors she would be back that day to get them.

Police said one of her neighbors became concerned because of the sun and heat and covered the crate, gave the birds some water and called the police.

When police arrived they freed the birds and made arrangements for them to go to the Upper Valley Humane Society.

The arresting officer said the birds were in pretty rough shape when police arrived but they are expected to survive.

"It didn't look very pretty," said the officer. "Now they are in a better home."

Police said that if a person is forced to leave their home or is moving to some place where animals aren't allowed, they should notify the authorities because there is some help for them.

It is a class B misdemeanor to abandon or mistreat any animals or livestock.

Last Updated on Saturday, 06 September 2014 12:56

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Taco Bell restaurant to be built on upper Union Ave.

LACONIA — Diners accustomed to "finger lickin' good" will soon be asked to "think outside the bun" when the Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) restaurant on Union Avenue is replaced with a Taco Bell franchise.

Good Eats Hospitality, LLC of New Gloucester, Maine, which owns the property and the business through its subsidiary L & D Properties, LLC, plans to demolish the building that has housed KFC since 1992 and construct the new home of Taco Bell on the same footprint.

The same company owns a KFC restaurant on Rte. 140 in Tilton, near exit 20.

The existing building is 2,190-square-feet while the new building will be slightly smaller at 2,020-square-feet and provide seating for 40. The drive-thru lane, along with the parking lots either side of the building, will remain. Water and sewer will be connected to the existing infrastructure on the site.

Planning Director Shanna Saunders said that the project raises no significant issues. However, L & D Properties, LLC will require three variances, which the Zoning Board of Adjustment will consider on September 15. One variance would to reduce setback from Union Avenue from 50 feet to 41 feet to accommodate a wetland at the rear of the property and the other two would allow five signs instead of the required three and increase the permitted square footage of signage 92 square feet to 99.82-square-feet.

Both the Taco Bell and KFC brands are owned by Yum!Brands, Inc., a Fortune 500 corporation with more than 40,000 restaurants in 125 countries around the world.

Last Updated on Saturday, 06 September 2014 12:53

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