New era in county government starts today with commissioners staking out ambitious agenda

LACONIA — New Belknap County Commissioners Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) and Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) were sworn in yesterday morning at the Belknap County Courthouse and have released an ambitious agenda for their first meeting at 9 a.m. today at the Belknap County Complex.

The third seat on the commission is vacant following the resignation of Steve Nedeau (R-Meredith), who had two years remaining on his term but said he could not work with the new commissioners.
The agenda reflects the new commissioners' expressed intentions to overturn many of the policies and actions taken by the outgoing commissioners and to bring an end to the legal battles over line item budget authority between the commission and the state lawmakers who comprise the county convention.
The agenda calls for the reinstatement of Mathew Logue as administrator of the Belknap County Nursing Home and the withdrawal of a legal appeal filed by the outgoing commissioners with the New Hampshire Supreme Court of the county convention's Personnel Committee earlier decision to reinstate Logue after he was fired in late August.
It also calls for the law firm of Donahue, Tucker and Ciandella, which represented the commission in its legal battle with the county convention over line item budget authority, to file a consent decree with Belknap County Superior Court which concurs with the decision by Judge James O'Neil III to issue a temporary injunction which prevented commissioners from transferring more than $300 between budget line items without approval of the convention's Executive Committee.

The former commissioners had been preparing to have the firm argue the case on its merits in February in Belknap County Superior Court.
The new commissioners have also asked that budget transfer requests which will be presented to the county's Executive Committee next Monday include $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 authorize payment.
Other transfer requests listed on the agenda include $260 for filing Superior Court cases on behalf of the convention as well as requests from former convention chairperson Colette Worsman and former vice chairman Bob Greemore, both of Meredith, to be paid for two Personnel Committee meetings and from Lakes Region Public Access TV to be paid for recording a Personnel Committee meeting.
The agenda makes no mention of other transfer requests but there is one major item still pending, a request for the transfer of $33,000 to pay the county's unpaid legal bills, which as of December 17 totaled $31,673. The Executive Committee has twice refused to approve transfers to pay the bills, which include bills from the Upton and Hatfield law firm which was hired by the Personnel Committee, as well as the law firms representing the commissioners.
Another agenda item calls for a strategy for jail improvements and hiring a consultant to assist the commissioners and the creation of full-time position within the Department of Corrections which would be responsible for the development and implementation of programs and for making program rooms in the so-called executive wing of the county complex available to the Department of Corrections, an approach favored by Commissioner DeVoy, who has called for converting that wing into housing for female prisoners.
The new commissioners also plan to issue a series of statements on the role of the county commissioners, the structure of county government and on public relations on county matters, the county bidding process and on copying fees charged by the county as well as budgetary philosophy and on the policy of spreading the cost of executive functions across county departments.
Commissioners plan to appoint a temporary legal counsel and have scheduled a non-public meeting to discuss a personnel matter.
DeVoy defeated Dave Pollack (D-Laconia) for the commission seat held by Ed Philpot (D-Laconia), who did not seek re-election, while Burchell won election without a contest after defeating incumbent Commission Chairman John Thomas (R-Belmont) in the September Republican primary.
The convention is expected to name a new commissioner to replace Nedeau, who must be from one of the towns of Meredith, Center Harbor, Gilford or Alton, sometime later this month.
Convention Chairman Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) has said that the convention will advertise for applicants for the position and hold public interviews with potential candidates before making a decision.

State's new Smarter Balanced test may give way to SAT for 11th graders after just a year

LACONIA — The state's new Smarter Balanced Assessment tests that Laconia High School students will be taking for the first time this spring may be replaced next year by redesigned SAT tests according to Laconia Superintendent of Schools Terry Forsten.
She told members of the School Board last night that many educators across the state are looking at making the change next year and reverting to the SAT, which is coming out with a redesigned format which will stress college and career ready skills, real world problem solving and evidence based reading, writing and math.
''We may be able to use the SAT if the state gets a waiver (from federal requirements),'' said Forsten, who added that she will be watching closely the SAT results from the Londonderry and Alton school districts, which will, be pioneers in taking those tests this year.
She said that there are significant challenges faced in engaging high school students in standardized state tests that ''don't hold any weight with them.'' She said that the SATs, which for decades have been used to assess a student's readiness for college, provide more of a built-in incentive for students and may be a better way of engaging their interest,
''A lot of schools are saying let's go with the SAT,'' said Forsten.
School board members, many of whom expressed concern over how well students would adapt to the new Smarter Balanced Assessment tests when presented with a preview of a fourth grade Math test last year, appeared generally supportive of the proposed switch.
Those tests will be taken this spring by students in grades 3-8 and grade 11 in Laconia.
Forsten said that the science testing will still be conducted using the old NECAP exam for at least the next two years.
Switching subjects, Forsten said that new opportunities may soon be available for Laconia High School students to earn associate degrees at Lakes Region Community College while still in high school.
She said that she has had preliminary discussions with LRCC President Scott Kalicki about such a program which would help make college more attainable for many students who would be able to take college courses at reduced rates and would be especially helpful for prospective nursing students, who could earn credits which would apply to nursing programs offered at LRCC and the University of New Hampshire.
The school board voted to adopt a 2015-16 school calendar which will see schools in the Laconia hold their first day of classes on August 31, several days later than the opening day of school in the current school year.

Belmont BudCom unanimous in support of renovating mill building

BELMONT — The Budget Committee last night unanimously blessed a warrant article that would authorized the town to borrow up to $3,357,250 to repair and renovate the historic Belmont Mill for use as town offices.

The vote came after construction manager Keith McBey of Bonnette, Page and Stone Co. of Laconia explained the scope of the project and Selectmen Ruth Mooney and Jon Pike explained their reasoning for supporting it.

The cost of the project dropped by about $275,000 from Monday night to Tuesday when McBey went to some local contractors and asked for target bidding.

Members of the Budget Committee wanted to know what the big picture for Belmont was in the minds of selectmen before they cast their votes.

Tonyel Mitchell-Berry specifically asked if the selectmen would recommend tearing down the old town hall on Main Street and Mooney said she would because the center of town needs parking. Mitchell-Berry agreed a park or something else would be preferable.

The current town offices, said Pike, were condemned in 1963 and the basement is not usable because of dampness.

Budget Committee Chair Ron Mitchell said that this is not the first time the town has talked about new town offices. He had documentation that in 2003 a new building, whose location was unknown, would have cost $2.3 million. He said the voters said no.

The need for a renovation of the Belmont Mill came as a surprise about two years ago when the selectmen learned that the fourth floor was not able to carry the weight load for the Lakes Region Community College Culinary Arts Program.

In order to fix the fourth floor, the third floor which is occupied by a doctor's offices, would have to be vacated, meaning the town would loose two floors of revenue. In addition, the day care on the first floor is relocating to a larger space because it cannot accommodate the number of children in the mill location.

With the Budget Committee's support, the next steps are a public bond hearing on January 20, a public hearing on the project itself on January 13 — both at 6:30 p.m. at the Corner Meeting House — and the SB-2 deliberative session on January 31.
Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin said the Board of Selectmen is considering a second public hearing or information session in February.


Lucky Charms under attack at Gilford School Board meeting

GILFORD — A couple of parents of Elementary School students feel that food served in the school's cafeteria is not as healthy as it could be, prompting the School Board to invite them to meet with the committee which is considering revisions to the School District's policy about food service.

Bethany Cote, the mother of a kindergarten student, gave the board a letter Monday evening signed by her and another parent outlining various concerns.

Following the meeting Cote said that she was particularly troubled that many of the foods offered at breakfast contain a high amount of sugar and artificial food coloring. By way of example she said the only cereal offered was Lucky Charms, the main ingredients of which are oat pieces and multi-colored marshmallow shapes.

"At breakfast the kids are getting a lot of sugar," Cote said. "The kids need high protein and less sugar."

Cote added that the schools should be offering more in the way of healthier foods so children will learn how to make healthy food choices on their own.

Cote said she and others would accept School Board Chairman Sue Allen's invitation to participate in forthcoming discussions by a School Board committee which will be reviewing proposed changes to the School District policy dealing with health considerations in food served in school cafeterias.

In other business, the board approved a reduction of about $8,000 in the 2015-2016 default budget, which is being presented this week to the Gilford Budget Committee, along with the School Board's recommended budget for the coming fiscal year. The new default budget figure is $25,386,367, Assistant Superintendent for Business Scott Isabelle told the board.

The board is recommending a budget of $25.4 million — a 2.9 percent increase over the current plan. While the amount being recommended by the board includes staff reductions which account for drop of $227,409 in pay and benefits, and a $287,305 reduction in the amount to be spent on maintenance and special projects, those savings are more that offset by $226,247 more the district has to pay in to the State Retirement Fund, and an increase of $288,047 in health insurance premiums. Other increases in the proposed budget total $422,322.

The Budget Committee is scheduled to meet Thursday at 6:30 p.m. to take up the proposed school budget. The School Board has scheduled a special meeting after the Budget Committee votes on what figure for school spending the committee will recommend to voters.

NOTES: The board approved accepting $6,399 in grants from the Gilford Education Endowment Fund to pay costs associated with innovative education programs, such as robotics, and a program sponsored by the state Fish and Game Department which teaches students about the raising of stocks of brook trout. . . . . . The board also accepted a $3,000 grant from Meredith Village Savings Bank which will go toward arts programs at Gilford High School. Gilford High School tied with Belmont High School in a Facebook contest to determine the grant winners. . . .  . . Members of the Gilford High School Student Council reported to the board about an event in December when residents of the New Hampshire Veterans Home spoke to groups of students about their military experience.