Gilford selectmen to hear synthetic drug ban tonight

GILFORD — Selectmen are expected to hear at a meeting tonight the police department's plan to make synthetic drugs illegal in Gilford.

The proposed ordinance, if passed by selectmen, will bring Gilford in line with existing federal law and with proposed legislation that is before the N.H. Legislature but has yet to be passed.

"This ordinance will serve to educate the public that these forms of dangerous synthetic drugs are not allowed in the town of Gilford, whether they are already considered scheduled controlled drugs or they are analogs, which can be considered just as illegal," said Detective Sergeant Christopher Jacques last week while he was explaining his recommendations.

For the purposes of the ordinance, Jacques said using the word "analog" is to continue the illegality of synthetic drugs that are chemically altered to avoid being mentioned in the Federal Drug Act. He said the state law, if it passes, will do the same thing.

Jacques identified two types of synthetic drugs that are growing in popularity within the state and in the town of Gilford – cathinones, commonly referred to as bath salts, and phenethylamines, a term which includes synthetic compounds like LSD and MDMA (ecstasy).

Synthetic cathinones are Schedule 1 drugs according to the Federal Drug Act as are mescaline, cannabis and their synthetic copycats.

One tool to identify and fight the use of these drugs is with a NarcoTest that can be purchased by police department for use as a preliminary identifiers. Jacques said the NarcoPouchs or NarcoTests are expensive but can give immediate results as opposed to waiting up to ten months for the state lab to produce an official analysis.

Jacques said the department is seeing use of synthetic drugs, often sold over the counter and labeled as not for human consumption, in children as young as 14.

"These were never intended for human consumption," he said.

"There's no control for these," he said. "(People) don't know what they're really getting."

He said police and other emergency responders have seen upwards of a dozen bad reactions to these drugs including paranoia, violent behavior, rapid heart rate and a death in one case.

The Gilford Selectmen meet at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall and Jacques encouraged anyone – especially parents of young people – to attend the presentation to learn more about the proposed ordinance and the danger these drugs present to consumers.

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City council hears proposal to continue funding ‘ninth’ firefighter

LACONIA – Taxpayers got some good news from the city manager and the fire chief Monday night when they announced the extension of a grant that pays for four of the newest firefighters and allows the department to have nine firefighters per shift.

Called a SAFER grant, the two-year award was for $642,028 and the portion that went unspent can be used until Oct. 1 rather than until the end of this fiscal year in July.

Chief Ken Erickson said the savings came from some savings in the health insurance lines because many of the firefighters were single and didn't have family plans.

The grant pays for the four newest firefighters in Laconia and, most importantly to Erickson, allows the department to have three firefighter 24-7 at the Weirs and six firefighters 24-7 in Laconia.

The dilemma now faced by the City Council is with the expiration of the SAFER grant, will it be possible to continue carrying an extra four firefighters on the department's roster.

Erickson gave the City Council the reasons why he thinks it makes financial and safety sense for the city to do it.

He said with the ninth firefighter per shift they increased the number of customers they reached within four minutes by 39 percent -- from 1,275 in 2009, to 1,773 in 2014. During this same period, the number of calls increased in the Weirs by 29 percent, in the central area by 33 percent, and in Lakeport by 58 percent.

Erickson said by having a full crew in the Weirs, the number of times the Central Station fire trucks and ambulance have had to go to the Weirs has dropped significantly which saves wear and tear on the vehicles.

Since the ninth firefighters joined the department, Erickson said routine inspections – not those performed by Deputy Chief Charlie Roffo – have increased two-fold and been performed on commercial businesses like marinas.

The number of shifts lost to injuries has fallen since the additional firefighters have been added has gone from 102 in 2012 to 45 in 2014.

He said he's also increased the average number of firefighters that can respond to a building fire without going to emergency call-backs that have dropped from a high of 222 in 2010 to 62 in 2014.

Emergency call-backs are used to bring off-duty firefighters to either the station or to the scene in the event of a major fire or multiple calls at the same time. He said if called back, a firefighter is guaranteed a minimum of two hours of overtime pay.

Addressing the issue of cost, City Manager Scott Myers estimated that each firefighter costs $63,500 annually and that four of them will cost the city $254,000 annually.

Myers said that as part of the as-yet unsigned emergency-services contract with LRGHealthcare, the hospital has agreed to assume half of the costs of the four least expensive firefighters (those previously covered by the SAFER grant) -- or $127,000 annually. Myers said this will pay for 26 weeks of coverage for the ninth firefighter in fiscal year 2016.

Added to the four months of the leftover money from the SAFER grant, which Myers said will pay for 13 additional weeks, is $70,000 from the firefighter stabilization fund, leaving eight weeks of the ninth firefighter to be covered by "new" taxes -- or $50,000 for fiscal year 2016.

Each year, LRGH pays for the four highest paid firefighter-paramedics for the department. The city and LRGHealthcare are renegotiating a new contract for fiscal years 2016 through at least 2018. As part of the existing contract, LRGH allows the fire department to bill them annually for up to $127,000 of emergency-related expenses in the existing contract.

Myers has indicated that instead of the existing billing relationship, LRGH will give the department the $127,000 as well as continuing to pay for the four top earning paramedics.

The firefighter stabilization fund was created at the end of fiscal year 2014 and is money not expended by the Fire Department. Traditionally, the money would go into the surplus which goes into the undesignated fund balance. However, now the money goes into this account that was started as a way to pay for the four rookie firefighters once the two year grant expired.

Myers hopes that the Fire Department will continue to be able to add between $50,000 and $70,000 annually to continue to fund the ninth firefighter in future fiscal years. However, a surplus is something no department manager can guarantee.

The City Council took no action Monday night. Ward 3 Councilor Henry Lipman and Ward 5 Councilor Bob Hamel asked for some time to digest all the information presented by Myers and Erickson and to revisit the proposal in late March as part of the ongoing 2016 budget preparation.

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Commissioners agree to pay county's unpaid legal bills (328)

LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners voted Tuesday morning to submit requests for budget transfers to the Belknap County Convention next week in order to pay $60,000 in unpaid legal bills from 2014, after declining to do so last month.

The commissioners voted 2-0, with Chairman Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) abstaining, to pay the bills, most of which were incurred in a dispute between former commissioners and the convention over line-item budget authority and the proceedings in which Belknap County Nursing Home Administrator Mathew Logue appealed his dismissal by the former commissioners.

Commissioner Hunter Taylor, who only recently was sworn in to fill a vacancy on the commission, said that he saw no basis for challenging the bills, even though they were incurred after the $40,000 budget for legal expenses had been exhausted.

He sad that the decision to incur some of the legal costs reflected poorly on the prior commission's judgment, but that putting the legal bills issue behind the county is important.

''If we challenge, we are back in the field of legal drama,'' said Taylor.

The county rang up nearly $100,000 in legal bills in 2014, and the county's Executive Committee has several times turned down requests from the outgoing commissioners to pay the bills, which last month saw nearly $30,000 in three new bills submitted to the county.

The new commissioners had declined last month to endorse a 2014 budget transfer request to the convention's Executive Committee for $31,852.54 to pay the county's legal bills which had been received between October 31 and the end of the year. That request had been made by the board that left office on Dec. 31.

Among the law firms with unpaid legal bills are the Horan firm from Manchester, which represented the convention in its lawsuit against the county, the Drummond Woodsum law firm which represented the commission at a hearing on the dismissal of Belknap County Nursing Home Administrator Mathew Logue and Upton and Hatfield law firm of Concord, which represented the convention's Personnel Committee, which heard Logue's appeal and reinstated him as nursing home administrator.

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Convention Chairman Eyes $1.1 Million Reduction in County Tax Bite

LACONIA — Belknap County Convention Chairman Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) told members of the convention last night that he wants to reduce the amount of money to be raised by taxes in the proposed 2015 budget by $1.1 million.
''My goal is a two percent increase in taxes,'' said Tilton, who said that the city of Laconia's tax cap has a major influence on the way he looks at the county budget.
Currently the proposed $27.3 million county budget would require a 10 percent increase in the amount of money raised, about $1.4 million, from $13.6 million last year to $15 million this year.
Members of the convention tentatively agreed to level fund salaries, hold off on cost of living increases and other associated costs for a potential savings of $205,000.
The convention also agreed to fund health insurance benefits at last year's level, $2,624,925 for a reduction of $428,000 from the amount sought in this year's budget.
Representative Peter Spans (R-Laconia) said he thought that Tilton's number was a little too low and suggested that health insurance costs are likely to come in at around $2.8 million.
Tilton said that while there are not as yet any new contracts with any of the unions representing county employees that some insurance savings might be realized.
County Commissioner Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) said that he viewed the negotiations as most likely a zero sum game, that is one in which health insurance savings would be offset by wage increases.
Burchell also said that the commissioners are working on a plan for programs at a community corrections facility which would be built next to the current jail, as well as a renovations to the existing facility.
Commissioners have approved a $40,000 contract with Kevin Warwick, president of Alternative Solutions Associates, Inc., for development of a plan of programs for a community corrections facility.
Warwick serves as a consultant to Sullivan County's Department of Corrections and is a recognized national leader in establishing community-based programs and was recommended to the commission as a consultant by Belknap County Corrections Superintendent Dan Ward.
Burchell said that the commissioners were looking at having the study completed in 90 to 120 days and that the next step would be be contacting architectural firms for bids on a jail design, which he estimated would cost about 7 percent of the total project cost.
He had suggested last month that the project might cost $8 million, which would translate into $560,000 in architectural fees, which coupled with program plan cost would add $600,000 to this year's budget.
Tilton said that the county budget would have to be finalized before Alternative Solutions had completed its study but over the entire budget process as much as $500,00 might be available to move ahead with a jail plan.
Convention Vice Chairman Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) said that because of the local economy it was necessary to set a ceiling on spending increases and when it comes to the jail project ''we'll have to pay for it but take it (the money to pay for it) out of our hide.''
''We don't have to solve all all of our problems now just because we have a budget deadline,'' said Tilton.
He said that the potential savings the convention had agreed to consider when finalizing the budget were abut $700,000 but there was still $400,000 to go. He asked the county commissioners to come up with suggestions for additional savings which could be presented to the convention when it meets again next Tuesday night.

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