County OK’s health insurance shift

LACONIA — Belknap County commissioners say a recent switch of medical insurance providers will save the county $150,000 a year in health insurance costs next year and that they are hoping negotiations currently underway with three county unions will produce even more health insurance savings.
Commission Chairman David DeVoy told members of the Belknap County Convention during Monday night's public hearing on the county's proposed 2016 budget that, starting Jan. 1, county employees will switch from the current provider, Health Trust, to the New Hampshire Interlocal Trust, which partners with the nonprofit Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare to provide group health insurance plans for local governments.
The three State Employee Association-affiliated unions at the Belknap County Home, Corrections Department and Sheriff's Department, agreed last month to make the switch as they agreed that the new plan was comparable to the health trust plan.
The county in September received a $250,000 refund from the Health Trust and waited to receive that refund before considering switching insurers, as it would not have been eligible for the refund had it switched earlier.
DeVoy said the county is now hoping to convince the three unions to switch to a site-of-service plan that will lower rates and keep a so-called "Cadillac tax" from taking effect in 2018, which would force the county to pay a 40 percent tax on plans which exceed the cost limit.
One county union, Teamsters Local 633, which represents 23 mid-level managers, has already agreed to switch to the less expensive site-of-service health care plan. Members received a 1.4 percent pay raise as well as step increases of up to 3 percent in a collective bargaining agreement approved by the Convention by a 10-5 vote in August.
"We're very hopeful we can get employees off of the Cadillac plan and on to a site-of-service plan," DeVoy told the convention.

Black ice causes woman to lose control, roll car on Gilmanton road

GILMANTON — Police responded to a two-car accident at 8 a.m. Sunday along Route 140 and found a woman had lost control of her car on some black ice and slammed into a pickup parked next to the road whose owner was hunting.
Police said the owner of the truck heard the crash but didn't see the accident. Both cars were seriously damaged.
The woman driver was taken by ambulance to Lakes Region General Hospital for observation and was released the next day. Police said she had a number of bumps and bruises and it was fortunate she wasn't more seriously injured.
Police said this section of Route 140 near Sawtooth Road is noted for being a very dangerous area for black ice, which they believed caused the woman to loose control of her car.
They ask that anyone traveling along Route 140 use extra caution through that area, especially in the early morning, and said they have been working with the state Department of Transportation to improve sanding along that section of the road.

Sanborn’s gas pumps to go dry - Unintended consequence of legislation results in loss of work for man

During the past 33 years, John Dearborn, 55, an alumnus of the Laconia State School and graduate of Laconia High School, has pumped gas at Sanborn’s Auto Repairs, Inc. of Court Street. He has become a face of the business, a favorite of customers and one of the most familiar and beloved members of the community.
But, later this month Sanborn’s will shut off its pumps, one of some 250 stations in New Hampshire faced with the choice of investing to bring its fueling system into compliance with regulatory standards or no longer pumping gas. What for the garage boils down to a business decision, for Dearborn poses a personal challenge, for he is not paid for what he does. His work is his reward.
Matthew Jones of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services explained that in 1985 the agency began requiring new underground storage tanks to be of double-walled construction and in 1997 required all underground storage tanks to be of double-walled construction as well as fitted with double-walled piping by Dec. 22, 2015.
Ginny Sanborn said the station installed double-walled underground storage tanks in 1989, but has not connected its tanks to its pumps with double-walled piping. Several contractors have quoted costs of between $140,000 and $160,000 to complete the required work, she said. Gasoline sales represent a shrinking share of the business, she said, and would not generate a reasonable return on the investment.
In the past, Sanborn said, the station sold 500,000 gallons of gasoline a year, but with the opening of Cumberland Farms, annual sales have slipped to about 150,000 gallons. Sanborn’s sells ExxonMobil and is hard pressed to price competitively. Sanborn estimated that gasoline sales add between $5,000 and $6,000 to the bottom line, while service and repairs represent the lion’s share of the business.
However, unlike most gas stations, Sanborn’s has no self service, but, with Dearborn, provides full service for all its customers.
“We have a lot of older and handicapped customers,” Sanborn said. “Some who come all the way from Franklin.”
Jones said the impact of the regulations has fallen most heavily on what he called “mom and pop” operators, particularly those with convenience stores. He explained that “while it’s tough for small businesses to make money selling gasoline, without it they have a harder time drawing customers.”
Moreover, Jones said that with the imminent deadline to bring stations into compliance, contractors have increased the cost of installing the required tanks and piping, sometimes as much as by multiples of three or four. In addition, he said that banks are reluctant to provide financing for the work to small businesses. Meanwhile, the larger companies, like Irving and Cumberland Farms, have sufficient resources to ensure their stations are in compliance.
While Sanborn is confident that service and repair work will sustain the business, she expressed concern for the patrons accustomed to receiving full service and especially for Dearborn, who, except in winter, rides his bicycle to the station day in and day out, to provide it.