Divided City Council appoints Planning Board chairman to another term

 LACONIA — The City Council this week reappointed Warren Hutchins, the chairman of the Planning Board, to a three-year term on the board, which will expire in June 2018. by a vote of three-to-two. Councilors Ava Doyle (Ward 1), Henry Lipman (Ward 3) and Armand Bolduc (Ward 6) supported his appointment while Councilors Brenda Baer (Ward 4) and Bob Hamel (Ward 5) were opposed. Councilor David Bownes (Ward 5) was absent.

Edwin Bones, a relative newcomer to the city who has worked as a contractor and real estate broker in Massachusetts and New Hampshire for more than 20 years, was unanimously chosen to fill the vacancy on the Planning Board created by the expiration of the term of Larry Guild, who did not seek reappointment.

Charlie St. Clair, executive director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association, also applied to fill the vacancy on the board, but failed to win support from a majority of the councilors. Councilors Doyle, Lipman and Bolduc opposed his appointment, which was supported by Councilors Baer and Hamel.

High employee turnover scrambling county budget numbers

LACONIA — Members of the Belknap County Convention's Executive Committee approved a number of 2015 budget transfer requests Monday afternoon after having been told by Belknap County Commissioners that high worker turnover in temporary positions has forced the county to pay more overtime than was originally projected.
Interim Belknap County House of Corrections Superintendent Keith Gray said that in recent months the department has lost four full-time and five part-time workers and that dealing with the turnover has resulted in additional overtime to cover absences due to vacancies and family leaves. So far the department has expended $42,761 of its $60,000 overtime budget.
''At this rate we're going to have the change the way we do business,'' said Gray, who requested the transfer of $15,000 which commissioners recommended be taken from the county's $200,000 contingency budget.
But committee member Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) said that he would prefer to see the transfer funds come from another account within the department's budget and the committee tabled that request. Commissioners agreed to submit a new transfer request next month.
Committee members asked County Administrator Debra Shackett how many nursing home employees had left this year and said that at least 20 people had moved on or retired.
The nursing home sought six budget transfers, four of which were for overtime; $8,000 for dietary wages overtime, $25,000 for overtime wages for the nursing home, $1,750 for housekeeping overtime and a separate request for an additional $4,000 in dietary wages overtime. Other transfers included $2,000 for office supplies and $2,000 for medical service supplies.
That request, which totaled $43,700 in transfers, was approved.
Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) said that filling part-time positions at the nursing home had proved difficult and there is a high turnover. ''As soon as they get a full-time job somewhere else they leave,'' said DeVoy, who said that he had talked with nursing home Administrator Mathew Logue about the situation.
He said that Logue had told him the high turnover rates are being experienced throughout the entire nursing home industry at both county-owned and private facilities.
''It's hard to keep people when you can't give them a raise'' said DeVoy, when questioned by Rep. George Hurt (R-Gilford) on whether an internal situations was contributing to the high turnover in the county.
Also approved by the Executive Committee were transfer requests of $10,000 for wages in the Sheriff's Department, $800 for overtime wages for training a new billing coordinator. For the county and $8,500 for the training of newly hired employees in the finance office on the financial accounting software used by the county.
Committee Chairman Rep. Herb Vadney supported the requests for training funds, saying ''we need highly trained people in the finance office.''
Commissioners did not bring up nor did the committee members question a projected $80,000 shortfall in the $2.6 million health insurance budget, which commissioners are hoping to close by offering an incentive for non-union workers to switch from a costlier HMO program to a so-called site-of-service plan.

Controversy over 'tone & tenor' of Laconia Planning Board results in close vote for reappointment of Chairman Warren Hutchins

LACONIA — The division among city councilors that arose earlier this week over the reappointment of Warren Hutchins, the chairman of the Planning Board, reflected concerns expressed by some developers and contractors about how the board conducts its business.

Hutchins, who also chairs the Lakes Region Planning Commission, was reappointed to a three year term by a three-to-two vote, with Councilors Ava Doyle (Ward 1), Henry Lipman (Ward 3) and Armand Bolduc (Ward 6) voting in favor and Councilors Brenda Baer (Ward 4) and Bob Hamel (Ward 5) voting against. Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2), who serves as the liaison to the Planning Board, was absent, but would also have voted to reappoint Hutchins.

At the same time and by the same margin, the council declined to appoint Charlie St. Claiir, a critic of Hutchins, to the board. Only Baer and Hamel voted to seat St. Clair. Instead, the council voted unanimously to appoint Edwin Bones, a building contractor and real estate broker relatively new to the city.

Before the councilors voted several people spoke both for and against the reappointment of Hutchins. Kevin Morrissette, who has developed residential properties in the city for 30 years, described the attitude of the Planning Board as "not as friendly as it might be". He explained that while the rules and regulations are clear, the members pursue "their own little agendas", which he makes "the board very difficult to deal with". Alluding to Hutchins, he told the councilors that "three more years of the same is not what we should be looking for."

Kevin Morrissette was echoed by his brother Peter, the owner of Joyce Janitorial Services and Lakes Region Party & Gifts who has developed residential and commercial property in partnership with his brother. He told the council that he had spoken with five others who shared his misgivings about the Planning Board, three of whom declined to speak openly for fear of retribution.

Peter Morrissette said that when he went before the Zoning Board of Adjustment to seek a variance permitting him to use the former St. Helena Mission Church as a storage facility he endured "personal attacks" from Hutchins, who, he said, claimed to speak for neighboring homeowners, but reminded the ZBA that he chairs the Planning Board.

Likewise he recalled that when and his brother developed a residential, multi-family property on Washington Street their original plan satisfied every city regulation, but the Planning Board insisted on architectural changes that were not specified in the zoning ordinance. As a result, he was required to present eight sets of fresh plans — 12 pages each — and his engineering costs, estimated at $3,000 swelled to $7,200.
In addition, he said that the board insisted he keep three oak trees on the property, including one overhanging a building that damaged a car when it shed its acorns. "Did I get a check for the $1,700 I paid to repair the car and for the $600 I paid to prune the tree?" he asked.

"It's not very user friendly and very frustrating," Peter Morrissette said. "I will not go to the planning Board as long as Mr. Hutchins is on the board," he continued. "I'm sick of it." As for the church property, he declared "I'll develop it three years from now when Mr. Hutchins is gone."

Clay Dunn, a contractor, said "I haven't heard anything positive from the Planning Board in two or three years" and added "it's a struggle and time for a new direction."

However, Hamilton McLean, a member of the Planning Board, rose in defense of Hutchins. As a veteran of land use boards in New York and New Jersey, he said "I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly on both sides of the fence" and stressed to the councilors "you have some very fine people who hold Laconia's best interests at their core." As a board member, he said he had witnessed the alleged "obstructive behavior" and urged the council to "consider the record of the Planning Board."

When the council voted, Lipman addressed the criticism leveled against the Planning Board. He said that he has heard similar concerns and acknowledged that "the tone and tenor is not always supportive of getting things done."

I'm going to be watching very carefully how we are perceived going forward," Lipman continued. "When economic development is thwarted, we pay a price." He said that while situation needs to be corrected, "blowing it up (by not reappointing Hutchins) is not the right course."

Although Hutchins was not in the council chamber, Lipman addressed him, saying, "you need to take stock of what's been said here tonight."