Loaded gun recovered from vehicle involved in bypass crash; driver charged


LACONIA — Although both drivers escaped without serious injury when their cars collided near the Rte. 107 interchange on the Laconia Bypass shortly before 9:30 p.m. on Friday, one of the men was arrested on charges of driving while intoxicated, and carrying a firearm without license, as well as being issued a summons for straying into into the left-hand lane.

According to witnesses at the scene, Christopher Burns, 32, of Belmont, driving a 2013 Ford Focus, veered across the double yellow line into the path of a 2007 Hyundai Sonata driven southbound by Thomas Dube, 51, also of Belmont. The two cars collided in the southbound lane then came to rest off the roadway.

Burns, who was found with a loaded .45 caliber handgun in his vehicle, was arrested and subsequently released on personal recognizance bail. He is scheduled to be arraigned in the Fourth Circuit Court, Laconia Division on Feb. 23.

Capt. Matt Canfield explained that it is a misdemeanor to carry a loaded handgun either in a vehicle or concealed on one's person without a license. However, Senate Bill 12, which would repeal the licensing requirement, has carried the New Hampshire Senate by a vote of 13 to 10 and the New Hampshire House of Representatives by a vote of 200 to 97. Gov. Maggie Hassan twice vetoed similar bills, but Gov. Chris Sununu has indicated he will oppose repealing the licensing requirement and sign this year's bill. Senate Bill 12 would take effect upon its passage.

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Could hike in city's motor vehicle registration fee provide budget relief?


LACONIA — As the city manager and City Council wrestle with building another challenging budget, a little known fee, which municipalities are authorized but not required to tack onto most motor vehicle registrations, could offer some relief.

Since 1997, state law has authorized municipalities to add up to a maximum of $5 to motor vehicle registration fees to support a transportation improvement fund. The proceeds of the fund must be applied solely to the cost of engineering and undertaking a wide variety of projects to enhance public transportation, including the repair and construction of roads, bridges, and parking facilities as well as investments in public transportation
The city currently levies a fee of $1.50 per vehicle. City Clerk Mary Reynolds said that in 2016 the city collected $30,077 from 20,718 transactions. If the city had charged the maximum of $5, it would have collected $103,590.

Last week the Municipal and County Government Committee of the New Hampshire House of Representatives endorsed House Bill 121, which would double the maximum fee municipalities could collect from $5 to $10. Supporters of the bill, which included local officials, regional planning commissions and transit organizations, told the committee that raising the maximum would restore the original purchasing power of the fee, which has been eroded by inflation during the past 20 years. A representative of the New Hampshire Municipal Association, which counts the bill among its priorities, stressed that it offered municipalities the option of funding improvements to their transportation networks with a user fee rather than property taxes. After the committee voted 19 to 1 to recommend the bill ought to pass it was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

No one spoke against the bill. However, despite widespread support and a favorable recommendation from the committee, the House roundly rejected a similar bill by a voice vote a year ago.

If the Legislature enacts and the governor endorses the bill, it would take effect on July 1, the beginning of the city's next fiscal year.

City Manager Scott Myers said that he has not raised the issue in the past, but may suggest increasing the fee when the council tackles the 2017-2018 budget in March. He said on Monday that he anticipates revenues from sources other than property taxes, including transfers of funds from the state, to be flat while expenses, particularly the contribution to the New Hampshire Retirement System and share of the cost of health insurance premiums, to increase sharply. "I'll give the council some options," Myers said.

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Wrestling with cost of health insurance a focus of Inter-Lakes board


MEREDITH — Inter-Lakes School Board members forwarded a $24,317,116 general fund operating budget for the 2017-2018 school year to voters Tuesday, including a health insurance increase of $405,762 tied to rising health-care plan costs.
At 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 8, voters can review the budget and warrant articles at the school district meeting, to be held at Inter-Lakes High School.
The health insurance guaranteed maximum rate increase is 12.6 percent, more than triple last year's 5.3 percent hike, district officials reported. Cost of this increase is $405,762 in the operating budget, which is up overall $377,928 or 1.58 percent from the previous year's budget of $23,939,188.
"There are certain things we cannot control. One is the rate of increase for the cost of health care," said school board member Mark Billings.
"We're a lot farther along than our peer communities. We're already down to 87 percent that the district pays," he said.
Throughout this budget season, school districts across Belknap County have tried to absorb what are often double-digit increases in the cost of health insurance. In Meredith, the district's share of the cost is declining in the proposed collective bargaining agreements with support staff and teachers.
"We'll always fight the health care battle," Billings said, noting the district formed a health care committee and hired a consultant.
Inter-Lakes School District Superintendent Mary Moriarty said, "We have looked at some different options in terms of choices for people."
Moriarty agreed that the school district faced "limitations" in the availability of health insurance plans and ways to curb their costs.
"We did have a health insurance committee to look at various options, so within both contracts there are some changes to the options being provided to help address what we're finding to be ever-increasing costs," she said.
"It's exploring what options are available within the state. The committee tried to do that," Moriarty said.
Based on the proposed collective bargaining agreement with teachers, the district's 112 teachers increased their cost share of health insurance by 1 percent in the first year, 1.5 percent in the second year and 1.5 percent in the third year of the proposed contract. These health changes will save the district $76,095 in the first year, $30,846 in the second year and $30,846 in the third year, according to district officials. Total cost savings from changes in the health insurance coverage for teachers is $137,787, district officials reported.
For the teachers' contract, the district projects an increase in cost of $1,023,737 over three years of the contract, and $320,073 for next year, 2017-2018.
Full-time support staff increased their cost share of premiums and will have four health plan options provided through HealthTrust, district officials reported. Plan changes will save the district $3,707 in the first year, $542 in the second year, $542 in the third year and $1,085 in the fourth year of the support staff agreement, the district reported. Total cost savings from changes in the health insurance coverage for support staff is $5,876, the district reported.
For the support staff contract, the district projects a $534,757 increase over four years of the contract and $189,513 for next year, 2017-2018.
The school board tried to tackle cost-sharing with teachers, Billings said. He said the teachers' contract will bring down the district's share of health insurance costs to 83 percent at the end of the contract.

"That does not end the discussion," he added.
Uncertainty over the fate of the federal Affordable Care Act and volatility in the marketplace, as insurers bow out of the ACA, could leave school boards struggling with a new set of challenges, he said.
In the last go-around of negotiations, the school board and teachers settled on a two-year contract to avoid what was then a 2018 "Cadillac Tax" assessment under the ACA, Billings said.
"There was no way that we could allow that 40 percent tax, and most if not all health plans out there were Cadillac plans," he said.
The federal government subsequently pushed out the "Cadillac Tax" assessment to 2020, so school districts have a few more years to avoid that tax. Billings noted that by then, the ACA or at least the tax may be gone.

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