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A tempest in Gilmanton as selectmen propose that chief take 2 firefighter shifts per week himself

GILMANTON — Selectmen are looking to reduce the Fire Department's 2014 budget by $29,000 by eliminating Sunday hours available for part-time firefighters.

The way to accomplish this, reflect draft minutes of the December 16 selectman's meeting, is to have Chief Paul Hempel III cover two 12-hour shifts himself as opposed to scheduling two firefighter/EMTs.

"He can pick his shifts, it doesn't matter us. He can run his department and there is plenty of time to do the administrative work..." said Selectman Brett Currier.

As it stands now, there are four full-time employees in the Gilmanton Fire Department — Hempel, who is scheduled to work 40 hours per week and three firefighter/EMTs who each work 48 hours a week. Each of the tree full-time firefighters works four, 12-hour shifts, Monday through Saturday.

In addition, there are two part-time employees who work on Sunday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Currier said this means 208 personnel hours are being used by the town to cover 168 hours of services and he would like to see that number reduced back to 184 — saving the $29,000 in part-time personnel costs. He said the remaining time plus the time the chief is not on calls is ample to do the administrative work of the department.

The Fire Department's requested budget for 2014 as far a personnel is concerned is the same as 2013. Hempel said yesterday that he has not asked for any additional personnel in the three years that he has been chief and has made every attempt to reduce the personnel costs of the department.

"I am a taxpayer too," he said.

As it stands now, Hempel works 40 hours a week as a fire chief and during his 40 hours a week responds to calls as a supervisor or stays behind to respond to second calls — depending on the nature of the call. He primarily works Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. but responds to calls at all hours of the day and night as do other call firefighters.

His duties involve managing the student firefighter program, whereby six Lakes Region Community College students live at the station, all administrative tasks and the budget. When there is an incident he is also the command supervisor.

According to the 2004 annual Gilmanton Town report, the third full-time firefighter was added that year to provide day-time coverage for seven days as week.

"This additional staff would allow me to have full-time staff seven days a week up from the current six day a week," wrote then Fire Chief Timothy Robbins.

At some point since 2004 but before 2012, when Hempel became chief, the department added two part-time shifts for Sunday coverage at a cost of about $29,000 annually.

Using this reasoning, Currier said the four full-time firefighters were intended to cover the station seven days a week and since he hasn't seen any significant increase in call volume in the last 10 years, he thinks the four full-timers should still be able to cover the station seven days a week.

Currier also said his research shows that the call volume of the department has stayed around 400 calls annually — much the same as it was in 2004.

At the December 16 meeting, Selectman Don Guarino was in agreement with Currier reduction recommendation but board Chair Ralph Lavin was not.

Lavin said yesterday that because there was no unanimity on the board, selectmen decided to bring the matter to the people in the form of a warrant article at annual town meeting. The proposed article, which has been drafted with the assistance of the town attorney, would require the chief to "regularly fill shifts weekly" along with one other full-time firefighter/EMT.

Fighting against the reduction of the part-time hours, or $29,000, are Hempel and the Gilmanton Firefighters Association — led at the December meeting by call firefighter Vinnie Baiocchetti.

Baiocchetti, who was accompanied by many members of the association, cited N.H. RSA 154:4 that states a fire chief has operational authority over his or her department by law.

He also objected to the words "working chief" proposed in the warrant article, wanting to know exactly what that means. Baiocchetti said Hemple "works" from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and has the second highest volume of call responses in the department, as well as the other administrative duties he preforms.

Baiocchetti said the words of the chief from 10 years ago should not be held against a chief today because the nature of firefighting and emergency response has changed.

Town Administrator Arthur Capello said in the selectman's opinion, RSA 154:1 gives the board as the governing body the power to exercise operational authority over the department.

But, he said and Currier agreed, that is not what they want.

He said the goal of at least two of the three selectmen is to cut taxes by reducing $29,000 from the Fire Department's operation budget.

Capello also said words "working chief" were probably ill-chosen. "The final warrant article if there is one won't have those words in it," he said.

He said selectmen also don't want residents to get the impression that their desire to reduce the budget has anything to do with how they feel about Hempel or the job is he doing.

"We like the way he runs the department and we like him," Capella said, adding that the board were prefer to sit down with Hempel and work out some kind of solution and not have a warrant article at this year's annual town meeting.

Last Updated on Saturday, 21 December 2013 01:39

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7 picked to serve on new Gilford police chief search committee

GILFORD — Twenty-five residents are willing to serve on the citizen-based police chief search committee and selectmen chose seven of them at their meeting Wednesday night.

The seven are Paul Ardissoni, Thomas Drouin, Stephen Hodges, Kimberly Lacasse, Kathleen Mirriam, Robert Pelland, and Larry Routhier.

According to Selectboard Chair Kevin Hayes, the committee is tasked with narrowing the pool of applicants down to a minimum of three and a maximum of five.

He said he expects the Board of Selectmen to have one brief public meeting with the new committee sometime after the first of the year to give them a time line for choosing the top candidates. After that, he said the committee's work, being personnel related, will be in non-public sessions and without the influence of the board.

Hayes said selectmen tried to make the committee are diverse as possible, choosing some people with legal or law enforcement experience and some without it. He also said selectmen balanced the committee by age and gender to reflect an accurate representation of Gilford's populace.

Hayes said the application filing date closes on December 31 and so far he thinks there are about 20 applicants. "From what I understand, applicants are coming from all over the country," he said.

The town is seeking a new police chief after the reasonably sudden resignation of former Police Chief Kevin Keenan that followed a period of administrative leave.

The other people who asked to serve on the committee were John Adamo, Bill Akerley, Mark Barton, Greg Bavis, Jeff Bonan, Dee Chitty, Mark Corry, Russ Dumais, Chan Eddy, Richard Grenier, Stephen Hankard, George Hurt, Kevin Leandro, William Morley, James Mull, Skip Murphy, David Osman, and Timothy Sullivan.

Last Updated on Friday, 20 December 2013 01:57

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Downtown TIF board ads another leg to now $1.53 million bond proposal

LACONIA — The Downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Advisory Board yesterday agreed to ask the City Council to authorize a borrowing of $1,530,000 to fund construction of stretches of the WOW Trail and downtown riverwalk.

Earlier the TIF Advisory Board proposed a package of seven projects with a price tag of $1,350,000 that included $400,000 to extend the WOW Trail between Main Street and Fair Street, $25,000 to add signage and kiosks to the riverwalk and WOW Trail, $181,000 to connect the Main Street Bridge to the riverwalk behind the Landmark Inn, $121,800 to extend the riverwalk through the adjacent Walgreen's property, and $300,000 to carry the riverwalk from behind the old police station, now studios of the Binnie Media Group, up to the Church Street bridge. Moreover, the council agreed in August to spend $275,000 improving the "Gateway Plaza" at the foot of Main Street and in October to spending $35,000 to extend a 10 inch water main from Main Street to Veteran's Square to service the former Evangelical Baptist Church, which is being converted to a restaurant.
This week the TIF Advisory Board agreed to add to its package by including the last segment of the riverwalk at Beacon Street West, the former Allen-Rogers property, where it joins the Main Street Bridge. The board estimated the cost of the project at $164,000.
When the TIF Advisory Board presented its proposal to the council last week some were surprised to find that the route of the riverwalk through Beacon Street West was not included and that the original route had been altered. Both the Main Street Initiative and several councilors openly favored completing the riverwalk along the north bank of the river before investing in segments along the south bank.
Originally Chinburg Builders, the developer of Beacon Street West, intended to reconstruct a building over the mouth of the Perley Canal that collapsed under a snowload and incorporate the riverwalk in the project as a cantilevered walkway over the water. However, the firm abandoned it plan to rebuild and instead chose to convert the large commercial building on the property to apartments. As part of its site plan, Chinburg proposed an alternate route for the riverwalk, which the Planning Board approved in 2008. Instead of following the riverbank, the pathway would pass through the residential complex to join Beacon Street West significantly north of the bridge.
In a memorandum to the council the, Main Street Initiative urged the TIF Advisory Board to complete the section of the riverwalk connecting Beacon Street West to its original design.
When the board met this week, attorney Pat Wood reminded members that the easement for the riverwalk granted by Chinburg Builders is 15 feet along the bank of the river. At the same time, City Manager Scott Myers recalled that when the council considered the project a week ago Jack Terrill, speaking as a condominium owner at Beacon Street West, said that the riverwalk should be fenced on the north side to prevent trespassing. Noting that the alternative route proposed by Chinburg Builders and approved by the Planning Board would take the riverwalk through the midst of the complex, he expected residents would prefer that the route follow the riverbank as originally intended.
Planning Director Shanna Saunders agreed to approach Chinburg about returning to the original route and applying funds allocated to the alternative route to its construction.
Altogether the estimated cost of the projects is $1,530,000, which includes the fees for preparing and selling a general obligation bond and and a small amount for contingencies. The funds would be borrowed against the annual revenue to the TIF account at an estimated interest rate of four-percent over 20 years. The TIF account has a current balance of $311,353 and projected revenue of $173,687 in 2014 and an additional amount each year thereafter for a total of $4,250,212 during the next 20 years. City Manager Scott Myers has assured the council that the revenue accruing to the TIF fund is sufficient to service the proposed debt and, within a reasonable time, support another borrowing.
The City Council will consider the board's proposal at a special meeting beginning at 6 p.m., prior to its regularly scheduled meeting, on Monday, December 23.

Last Updated on Friday, 20 December 2013 01:52

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Sting allegedly catches Belmont man selling pot inside village store

BELMONT — Police arrested a local man who allegedly walked into the Belmont Village Store Tuesday and told the employees he had a lot of marijuana and was willing to sell it to any employees who wanted some.

William Fort, Jr., 30, of 41 Depot St. had also been ordered on November 8 by Judge Jim Carroll not to enter the Village Store, however the reason for the order is not known.

Fort is charged with one count of sales of a controlled drug and one count of breach of bail. After his video appearance, Carroll released Fort Jr. on $5,000 personal recognizance bail with the condition that he remain on house arrest and follow other bail conditions including no alcohol consumption, firearms or other dangerous weapons.

Police affidavits said that someone from the store reported Fort's attempt to sell marijuana to the police, who told the person to call again if he returned to the store and he would be nearby.

Ultimately, the officer waited for Fort, Jr. in the back room of the store and positioned himself where he could remain out of site but still see one of the back room storage areas.

When Fort returned, the person entered the back room and the officer witnessed the transaction, saying he saw Fort, Jr. take a small baggie from his pocket and take $20 from the person.

Fort, Jr. allegedly left the store immediately and when the officer caught up to him in the parking lot, he was getting into a light blue car and was taken into custody without incident.

While being searched at the Belknap County Jail, correction officers allegedly found a baggie identical to the one Fort allegedly previously sold. Fort, Jr. told police he forgot it was there.

Last Updated on Friday, 20 December 2013 01:46

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