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Commissioners place priority on funding health insurance obligations

LACONIA — Belknap County commissioners met briefly Wednesday evening to discuss ways of dealing with a $974,000 cut in their proposed $26,570,000 budget for 2014 and have placed as a priority on paying the health insurance costs which are a continuing part of the employee benefits for county workers who are now in their third year without a contract.
Tuesday night the Belknap County Convention approved a $25,596, 863 budget, some $200,000 less than last year, and cut the amount allocated for health insurance from $3.1 million to $2.6 million.
Commissioners said they will meet with County Administrator Debra Shackett and other members of the administration, along with department heads, in the near future to discuss ways to deal with the cuts, which will most likely include layoffs.
Commissioners Steve Nedeau (R-Meredith) and Ed Philpot (D-Laconia) said they will wait until Commission Chairman John Thomas (R-Belmont) returns from vacation before holding that meeting.

They also plan to schedule a meeting with an attorney on what they should do about a lawsuit filed against county convention Chairman Colette Worsman (R-Meredith) and County Convention Clerk Jane Cormier (R-Alton) by the five Democrats on the convention alleging a Right to Know law violation at the Feb. 18 meeting which seeks to overturn a 7-7 tie vote on a motion to pass the commission's budget.
Shackett said that the commission will seek a legal opinion, as they did last year, on their authority to move money from one account to another within departments, and plan on doing the same thing as they did last year by moving money around to meet the county's contractual obligations to employees.
The county convention, which maintains that it has authority over line items in the budget, passed a motion Tuesday night which would require county Executive Committee approval for all line item budget transfers.
Shackett expressed confidence that department heads will be able to come up with a plan which will keep county services from being greatly impacted but said that was dependent on some factors which were beyond their control, such as a spike in the number off inmates at the county jail.
She said that the funds which the county convention added to the budget for two new positions at the county jail won't be expended until the $80,000 in health insurance benefits which were cut from the department have been allocated to existing employees.
''If inmate population doesn't spike we may be able to move to add a community corrections officer by the end of the year.'' said Shackett.
Nedeau said that the commission has received a copy of the lawsuit filed against the convention's leaders by the Democratic minority and wondered what the county would do about defense costs.
''We already don't have enough money in our budget for legal costs yet there is an expectation that we will pay. Why is this something we should pay? It's not a suit against the county,'' said Nedeau.
Philpot said that the suit was something outside the norm and were the county to pay the bill it should probably be done through a supplemental appropriation.
He also praised Shackett and other members of the administration and department heads for their professionalism throughout the entire budget process.
''You and all the folks here were extremely professional in an extremely difficult situation. It's an honor to work with you and I couldn't be prouder of all of you for going above and beyond in a situation which can only be described as horrible.'' said Philpot.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 09:47

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Gilmanton police want theft charge reinstated against firefighter

GILMANTON — The Police Department prosecutor here has asked Judge Jim Carroll of the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division to reconsider his ruling to dismiss a charge of attempted theft against a former town firefighter.

The motion says that Carroll's decision to dismiss the charge against Bryon McSharry was in response to an oral motion made by his attorney that the prosecution responded to in writing.

"The issue before the court, as the state understood it, was whether the McSharry could legally be charged with attempted theft, not whether there was sufficient evidence to prove attempt," wrote Prosecutor Dave Estes.

The state argues that it was prepared to go to trail and can prove that McSharry was, at the time of the alleged attempted theft, a call firefighter with Gilmanton, but that he had not been at the fire department for a number of months.

On October 18, 2013 at 4 a.m., said the prosecution, McSharry was seen at the Gilmanton Fire Station by a "credible witness" who said he removed a gas key from the Gilmanton Fire Department's forestry vehicle, drove his personal vehicle to the gas pumps, and then returned the key to the original location.

When confronted, police argue that McSharry didn't provide a credible explanation.

Estes said the state should have an opportunity to present its evidence to Carroll at a bench trial so he assess the totality of the circumstances and credibility of the witnesses.

On February 19, Carroll ruled that the Court was not persuaded with the additional review of the state's pleadings and the particulars of this case "fail to satisfy the statute's required purposeful substantial step toward the commission of a crime."

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 March 2014 01:31

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Laconia students said to be performing better than national averages on new tests

LACONIA — Students in the city's public schools are becoming increasingly proficient in mathematics and reading, according to standardized test results.

Assistant Superintendent Kirk Bleiter gave the School Board an overview of the latest results from the Northwest Evaluation Assessment tests to the School Board Tuesday evening.
Bleiter and other district curriculum specialists told the board that overall Laconia students are performing better than the national average in the reading and mathematical skills.
NWEA tests are being administered three times a year to Laconia students in the third through 10th grades, Bleiter said.
The assessment tests, which are built on Common Core State Standards, are designed to allow teachers and administrators to assess students' learning levels on the new standards and monitor students' development on a continuing and ongoing basis.
The results show that Laconia students are more proficient in math when compared to results of the New England Common Assessment Program — or NECAP — tests which were administered under the federal No Child Left Behind education program. Proficiency in reading also increased significantly, the board was told.
The data collected from the assessment tests also reveal that students are doing better in retaining what they learn from a prior year. One area of concern, however, is that sixth-graders score below the national average in reading. Bleiter said part of that may be that students often experience difficulty in making the transition from the smaller elementary schools with one teacher for all subjects to the larger middle school with different teachers for differing courses.
Bleiter said that giving the NWEA test three times a year allows teachers and administrators to make changes or corrections to their instructions in order to better ensure that students will be able to master the material of a particular course.
School Board member Scott Vachon said that the NWEA tests are a valuable tool because "students are getting real intervention (from teachers) in real time. This will make them more successful in school and more successful after they leave school."
Referring to those Common Core critics who have alleged that collecting data on students is an invasion of privacy, Vachon said, "People who are afraid of data collection should look at what we're getting out of it."

NOTE: Superintendent Teri Forsten told the board that she is looking at the possibility of filling the Elm Street School principal vacancy with someone already working in the school system. She said she has identified some internal candidates and recommended delay starting a full-fledged search process until the middle of the month by which time she would have the opportunity to talk with the internal candidates. Jim Chase is serving as interim principal.

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 March 2014 01:15

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McLelland, Condodemetraky & Cormier made their cases for selectboard seat

BELMONT — The three candidates for the one available seat on the Board of Selectmen made their final pitch for Belmont voters at a sparsely attended candidates' forum at the High School Tuesday night.

Candidate Dan McLelland, Sr. said his familiarity with Belmont's town government makes him the best qualified candidate. He served as a selectman before resigning his seat to become town administrator, a position he held from 2000 to 2005. Before that he had served on the Budget Committee.

Completely retired now, he said he has the time to devote to the town and said he would address issues that had been before the town since 2000 — the town hall building, the preservation of the Gale School and the completion of one Belmont section of the WOW Trail.

He said he inherited the Belmont Mill (as town administrator) when it was about three-quarters finished and he said there were a lot of problems then and he's not surprised there are problems today.

Incumbent Ron Cormier said he is running for a fourth term because he wants to see the Belmont Village Revitalization project through to its completion.

Born in Belmont, Cormier is raising his family and said he got interested in town government when he took over his family home in 2005 and got his first tax bill.

Since then, he said he's learned that "it's not as easy to lower a tax bill" as he thought it would be.

He said his goal shifted to finding ways to make the town better and that the Belmont Village Revitalization project is part of that goal.

The work Cormier said he wants to see through completion is the work on the Belmont Mill, the use of the former Northway Bank Building, the installation of a footbridge in the village center, and some landscaping and paving that must be done this spring to complete the water and sewer portion of the project.

George Condodemetraky has been a selectman twice before.

He said the town needs more long-term planning and that Belmont should have a growth plan in place. "Instead of reacting to problems we should be planning for them."

He said he is concerned with protecting Belmont's agricultural land because someday, residents will have to think about where they're going to grow their food.

Condodemetraky supports recycling and noted that Belmont is one of the only towns left in the area that doesn't have some kind of mandatory recycling program.

He also wants to protect the aquifer that run beneath the town and said it is unfortunate that the land above it was zoned for industrial uses before the town knew it was an aquifer.

"Industry and aquifer don't mix," he said. "We can't afford to loose the quality of our water."

Condodemetraky also said he has a plan to bring money into Belmont but he won't tell anyone what it is unless he is elected.

In response to a question about bringing business and industry to town, Both Cormier and McLelland agreed that Belmont is primarily a residential community and that its lack of infrastructure makes it difficult to attract commercial business and industry to town.

Cormier said studies have been done on the Route 106 corridor relative to water and sewer but adding those services is very expensive.

Referring to a planning charrette, he thinks Belmont's future lies in making it a destination center using the village as an anchor. He said the design is such that the area can be used for concerts and fairs and, coupled with the Riverwalk, he said the goal is for the village merchants to gain some revenue from that.

"The industrial piece just isn't there," he said.

Condometraky said the town is sitting on a gold mine but nobody knows about it except him.

"My plan that I'm not going to tell you about will attract plenty of money," he said.

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 March 2014 01:07

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