With federal money, Riverwalk plans start to come together

LACONIA — With a federal grant of more than $500,000 matched by the Downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) fund, city officials expect to complete five stretches of the downtown riverwalk during the next two years.

The pieces are coming together," said Kevin Dunleavy, director of Parks and Recreation, who, with Planning Director Shanna Saunders, has shepherded the project.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded the city a grant through its Transportation Alternative Program, which finances projects other than highways, including those to expand pedestrian access and enhance pedestrian safety. The grant will be matched virtually dollar for dollar by a share of the proceeds of a $6.4-million borrowing serviced by the annual revenue accruing to the Downtown TIF.

On the south bank of the Winnipesaukee River, the riverwalk will be extended westward from the Main Street Bridge along the rear of the Walgreen's property for about 500 feet. When the Main Street Bridge was built, a staircase was constructed to carry the riverwalk to Beacon Street West at the northwest corner of the bridge. Ultimately, this leg of the riverwalk will extend to Fair Street, where it will connect to WOW Trail. The estimated cost of the staircase and first leg of this stretch of the riverwalk is $302,800.

On the opposite bank of the river, where the riverwalk currently ends at the outlet of the Perley Canal, the the span over the canal and joining Beacon Street West will be completed. Originally Chinburg Builders, the firm that developed the Beacon Street West complex, intended to construct a building with seven condominium units over the canal, which would have required diverting the riverwalk around the building or running it across the front of the building. However, that plan appears to have been abandoned, leaving a clear path for the riverwalk over the canal. The estimated cost of this section is $164,000.

The remaining three legs of the riverwalk to be constructed lie east of the Main Street Bridge. The section from the north end of the City Hall parking lot to the Church Street Bridge, which will require spanning the inlet to the Perley Canal, has an estimated cost of $300,000.

Both the other legs to be built are on the opposite bank of the river. One would extend the riverwalk from the Church Street Bridge along River Street to its junction with Arch Street at an estimated cost of $166,000. The second, undertaken in conjunction with the construction of River's Edge, the apartment building developed by the Laconia Area Community Land Trust, would reach from Arch Street to the pedestrian bridge at the Avery Dam. This stage has an estimated cost of $150,000.

When these projects are complete, the riverwalk will run uninterrupted between the Fair Street Bridge and Church Street Bridge on the north bank of the river. On the south bank, a gap will remain between the Avery Dam and Stewart Park to the east of the Main Street Bridge and from Walgreen's to the Fair Street Bridge to the west.

Altogether the projects are estimated cost slightly more than $1-million, with the cost shared almost evenly between the TAP grant and TIF funds.

Unions asked to OK new health care plan

LACONIA – Several unions are being asked to approve a switch to a less expensive health care plan. In order to pay for health insurance, Belknap County commissioners got approval from the Executive Committee to move about $83,000 between lines in the county budget. As much as $35,000 in contingency funds may be used to ensure none of the budget lines is overexpended.
Commission Chairman David DeVoy said the transfer request was virtually inevitable given that the convention had earlier this year had flatlined the county's health insurance line at the same level as last year.
At Wednesday's meeting of the commissioners, DeVoy said health insurance costs continue to be a major concern for next year's budget which commissioners are preparing and must be submitted to the county convention by Dec. 1.
Noting that it appears that the city of Laconia's tax cap will be at or near zero for next year, which will put pressure on state representatives from the city to hold the line on next year's county budget to stay within the tax cap, DeVoy said it is important to obtain approval from three unions representing county employees to approve switching health insurance coverage to a new firm.
Commissioners plan to switch health insurance plans starting Jan. 1, 2016, for county employees 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.
Under terms of the current contracts with three State Employee Association-affiliated unions at the Belknap County Home, Corrections Department and Sheriff's Department, the county has the right to substitute a comparable health care plan for an existing plan provided the unions agree that the new plan is comparable.
A 60-day notice to the unions of the proposed change of insurers is required, and on Wednesday Belknap County Administrator Debra Shackett said she has notified the unions and that a deadline of Nov. 14 has been set for their response.
In September, Albert Jones, president of the Interlocal Trust, presented numbers which he said would produce $156,000 in annual savings on county health insurance costs.
Shackett presented her own cost comparison between the plans, which showed a $136,919.92 annual savings.
Her figures showed the monthly savings for the 42 one-person HMO plans currently provided by the county to be $2,005.08 per month. Savings on the 29 two-person plans currently provided would amount to $2,738.76 per month and monthly savings on 43 family plans provided would be $5,551.73.
Smaller savings would be realized through the site-of-service plan, which has only 10 people enrolled, two in one-person plans, four in two-person plans and four in family plans. The total savings amount to a little over $1,100 a month.
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.
In August, the Belknap County Convention approved a collective bargaining agreement between Teamsters Local 633 and the county by a 10-5 vote.
The vote provides a 1.4 percent pay raise as well as step increases for the 23 mid-level managers represented by the union, which are based on individual performance reviews, and would increase total compensation by 4.4 percent by those who qualify.
In return, the union members agreed to switch to a less expensive site of service health care plan which will lower health care costs for the county.
A cost summary of the contract shows health insurance costs for the covered employees dropping from $336,433 this year to $322,543, a $13,890 decline, and from $356,881 next year to $300,400, a $56,481 decline.
Commissioners have sought to get the other three county unions to agree to switch to a site of service plan and are currently negotiating with them.

Veterans Day Motorcycle run to honor female Marine

TILTON — Haircuts for Men will host its sixth annual Virginia B. Hutton Veterans Day Motorcycle Run on Wednesday, Nov. 11.
The ride is named in honor of Hutton, a former Sanbornton resident who served in the Marine Corps during World War II and is believed to have been the first female Marine commissioned officer to run a Post Exchange. Hutton and her husband lived on Hermit Lake in Sanbornton for many years, and she served on the town's Conservation Commission. A hiking trail in Sanbornton is named for Hutton, who died in 2012 and was a resident of the Taylor Home in Laconia at that time.
Shari Lebreche, owner of Haircuts for Men, said that the day will get under way with coffee and doughnuts, donated by the Dunkin Donuts at 65 Laconia Road, from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. at Haircuts for Men, located at 281 Main St. All are welcome, including motorcycle clubs and veterans' organizations, who will be escorted by local and state police. Those who cannot ride a motorcycle are still welcome to participate, said Lebreche, adding that she expects a large turnout for the event.
At 9:45 a.m. the police-escorted group will start its ride to the New Hampshire Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen. State and local police will lead the procession. There will be traffic control at major intersections along the route.
The procession will arrive at the cemetery at 10:30 a.m. in time to take part in the 11 a.m. Veterans Day ceremony.
Following the ceremony, the police escorted motorcycle run will proceed to Whiteman-Davidson American Legion Post 49 in Northfield, where participants can eat pizza donated by Uno's Chicago Grill at 120 Laconia Road.
For additional information, call 286-3595 or 774-274-2083.