Fire chief says Belmont now needs to replace 'Engine 2' before 'Tower 1'

BELMONT — Fire Chief David Parenti told selectmen last night that the department needs to replace "Engine 2" before it replaces the ladder truck that is on the 2016 capital improvement plan.

Parenti said the frame rails are rusted to the point where a local company was reluctant to perform pump repairs on it because they couldn't be sure the truck itself would last as long as the repairs.

A few years ago, said Parenti, the department  tried to get it refurbished but the company balked for fear the refurbishment costs would last longer than the engine and the rest of the drive train. He said it was $75,000 just to repair the frame rails and that didn't factor in the rust beneath the battery and the storage compartments.

All Parenti is really recommending is swapping the replacement schedule of "Tower 1" — the ladder truck — with "Engine 2." Last year, he had recommended "Tower 1" for a 2016 replacement and "Engine 2" for 2017 but that was before an independent examination revealed the rust problem on the engine. He said he will continue to recommend replacing the ladder truck in 2017 — likely with a used one.

"Engine 2" is a 1997 Pierce that was purchased new 18-years ago and ran as the primary or first-run engine for 13-years. Now it is a second-run engine in Belmont and the first engine to respond to mutual aid calls.

Parenti explained that typically a fire truck is a first-run engine for 10 years, a second-run engine for five years and a third or emergency engine used when the others are getting serviced or otherwise busy at a fire or multiple multiple incidents. The average life span of a fire engine is 20 to 25 years.

Selectman Jon Pike said he had recommended undercoating for the fire trucks but said that if the rust on "Engine 2" was this far gone, it may not of mattered in this case.

When asked, Parenti said he had been examining a lease-purchase arrangement for a new fire engine and will present the selectmen with more information at an upcoming meeting. Personally, he said he thought it was a good idea and many fire departments are using lease-purchases for their large equipment replacements.

The Belmont Police and the Department of Public Works are also using lease-purchases for some of their automotive equipment.

The problem for the Fire Department is that it holds ambulance revenues in a separate account that is used for large equipment replacement. Each year there is a warrant article at Town Meeting for use of the so-called "Comstar" account. If the voters choose to defeat one year of the lease-purchase, the town faces the distinct possibility that the truck goes back to the leasing company for lack of payment.

Conversely, if the general appropriations account is used, the annual cost of the lease is factored into the default budget, should the voters chose not to pass the requested budget. This means the annual lease payment will be included in general appropriations and not as a separate warrant article.

In other Belmont news, Town Clerk Tax Collector Cynthia DeRoy said the town will soon be able to register boats as do other towns and cities in the state. She said a transaction fee of $5 will come to the town as revenue and will add slightly to the $22,000 average annual revenue for boat registrations either done at marinas or through the state.

DeRoy said she is also looking into the benefits of allowing town residents to pay their taxes and vehicle registrations with a credit card. She said most other communities allow this already but there are some legal aspects that her and Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin must review with town counsel before making a final recommendation to the selectmen.

Sen. Shaheen & Gov. Hassan join Laconia Judge Jim Carroll in calling for increased funding for programs aimed at people with addictions to heroin

LACONIA — Presiding 4th Circuit, Laconia Division Judge Jim Carroll welcomed U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Governor Maggie Hassan, N.H. Superior Court Chief Justice Tina Nadeau and a host of local and state dignitaries in his courtroom yesterday for a discussion and brief press conference about heroin use and the benefits of Recovery Court.

Carroll, who along with volunteers from Public Defenders Office, the Restorative Justice Office, Horizons Counseling, the Belknap County Attorney and local police, created Recovery Court — the first and only type of court in the state operated at the circuit court level.

"I recently saw that a young man who I coached in (youth) baseball and basketball had died of an overdose," Carroll said, adding the death of this man was the second death of person he had coached who has died of a drug overdose.

The next class begins in November, he said, but he told the invitees that "there's no money". He said his continued optimism is like that of the hero of the classic movie "Field of Dreams" — if we build it, they will come.

The local Recovery Court has almost no budget and the people involved are volunteering their time.

Recovery Court is an alternative to incarceration whereby the defendant pleads guilty to an underlying criminal offense but doesn't serve the time unless he or she fails. Acceptance into Recovery Court is at the discretion of the county attorney often as part of a negotiation with the defense attorney. Once accepted, defendants are expected to undergo intense therapy, admit that drugs have brought them to where they are today, perform 300 hours of community service, report regularly to the jail for drug testing, attend either NA or AA, and gradually pay the costs of their participation. A failure means the defendant goes to jail for the crime for which he or she pleaded guilty.

People who have committed violent crimes against other people are not eligible for Recovery Court.

While everyone in attendance agreed the Recovery Court — as well as other so-called drug courts in the United States — should be funded, none of the legislative attendees offered much hope of money for these types of programs.

Hassan said that as a society and a government we are responsible to think about all of the people who are affected by heroin.

"It threatens our families and our safety," she said, calling attention to the fact that in 2014 more young people in New Hampshire have died from drug overdoses than in car accidents.

She also took the opportunity to "urge" the state Legislature to accept expanded Medicaid that could bring $5.7-million in federal money to New Hampshire, some of which will be used for a "drug court" in Hillsborough County and some of which would be dedicated to new drug treatment and mental health programs that she said the state desperately needs.

"It's sad were are here for the reason we are here," said Shaheen.

She said that while the whole state is in "crisis", the challenges in Belknap County are acute. However, every police chief she's spoken with agrees that "we cannot arrest or way out of the problem."

Shaheen added that drug courts (recovery courts) can work if there is are treatment and mental health facilities available. She also bemoaned the fact that a subcommittee in Congress voted to reduce the SAMHSA allocation for the next fiscal year and a different subcommittee voted to make cuts to community-oriented policing.

She called the cuts "penny-wise and pound-foolish" because if the problem isn't addressed as soon as possible, in the long run more and more people will become incarcerated, which costs the country about $20,000 per person more than treatment programs.

Nadeau noted that people who get treatment in Stafford County's recovery program have about a 25-percent crime recidivism rate while people who leave prison with no recovery or treatment program have about a 75-percent recidivism rate.

"Addiction is a medical and mental health illness, not a weakness in character," Nadeau said.

"We aren't Democrats or Republicans. We are all human being and some have a sickness," said Carroll. "(They are) sick and they have the right to expect clinical and therapeutic services to help them become more productive."

Sophisticated signal program proposed for 3/25 intersection

MEREDITH — After again discussing what can be done to ease congestion along the Route 3/Route 25 corridor with the Board of Selectmen last night, officials of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (DOT) agreed to return with a proposal for coordinated signalization to improve the flow of both traffic and pedestrians.

Gene McMarthy of McFarland Johnson engineering company, the project manager, said that the equipment that controls the signal at the 3/25 intersection can manage whatever coordinated system of signals is proposed. In particular, he explained it could handle vehicles passing through the intersection along with a signal controlling pedestrians crossing Rte. 3 and do so continuously in real time as the volume of traffic and number of pedestrians traffic changed. This system, called "adaptive control", is slated to be installed for the first time in New Hampshire in Lebanon later this summer.

"The issue is capacity", McCarthy emphasized, explaining that without increasing the width of the roadway to accommodate the volume of traffic "not much can be done." However, he agreed that adaptive control of the signal at the intersection and another at a pedestrian crosswalk between Lake Street and Dover Street could offer some improvement.

In light of the antipathy of residents to roundabouts along the corridor, Jonathan James asked, with some trepidation, if any consideration has been given to constructing a roundabout at the junction of Rte. 25 and Pleasant Street. McCarthy cautioned against what he called "mixing and matching", or controlling one intersection with a roundabout and a nearby intersection with a signal. "They do not work well together," he said. "The signal stops the traffic, which then backs up into the roundabout."

Initially DOT had allocated approximately $6 million to address congestion through corridor. However, after the town soundly rejected a proposal to construct three single-lane roundabouts at Lake Street, the 3/25 intersection and Pleasant Street, the funds were assigned to other projects, leaving $1.75 million for Meredith.

Don Lyford, project manager for DOT, estimated that since much of the technology is already in place, enhanced signalization would cost approximately $250,000. McCarthy said that a proposal would be prepared and presented to the Selectboard later this summer.