Lawmakers approve $46k expenditure for pilot recidivism program at county jail

LACONIA — The Executive Committee of the Belknap County Convention has approved a transfer request from the Belknap County Commission for $46,564 to fund a pilot program at the Belknap County House of Corrections which is designed to reduce recidivism.
The action came Monday at a meeting held at the Belknap County complex and was unanimously supported by the four members of the seven-member committee who were present.
Acting Belknap County Corrections Superintendent Keith Gray said that currently 70 percent of those held at the facility are repeat offenders and that the goal of the program is to reduce that to 35 percent over the next few years. The program will also serve as a bridge to wider programming which would be offered at a proposed 64-unit community corrections facility which are currently being developed by a jail planning committee and will come before the County Convention later this year for a bond issue of around $7 million for construction.
County Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) said that currently many of those held at the county jail are ''sitting around watching TV and talking with other inmates abut what they'll do when they get out'' but are not receiving any programs designed to help them deal with alcohol and substance abuse problems.
''We want to put people to work doing good things and this program will help us get started,'' said DeVoy.
Last week commissioners voted unanimously to seek funds for the pilot program which will provide a comprehensive substance abuse/behavioral health assessment and treatment and offender case management program as a first step towards a planned "community corrections" center.
The program was developed by a committee of county agency representatives working with consultant Kevin Warwick, whose firm was hired to develop programs for a community corrections facility for the county, and calls for contracting with a private community-based treatment contractor at a proposed cost of $46,564 for six months of services provided by equivalent of 1.5 full-time workers.
The program, as outlined last week by Warwick and Jacqui Abikoff, Horizons Counseling Center executive director, would provide early intervention and screening assessments which would classify and target offenders appropriately and identify low risk offenders, who could be considered for alternative programs and moved out of the jail, as well as high risk offenders, who would be targeted for intensive treatment services at the jail.
The plan calls for a three track system to identify the treatment and transitional needs of offenders, an intensive treatment program for those serving a minimum of 90 days who have been identified as high risk, which would see 12-15 hours a week of treatment; a second track for short-term offenders identified as low risk and a third track for pre-trial inmates.
Members of the committee which came up with the pilot program included Gray, Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen, Public Defender Jesse Friedman, Restorative Justice Director Brian Loanes, Sheriff Craig Wiggin, Department of Corrections Program Director Tamara McGonagle and Abikoff.
Rep. Brian Gallagher (R-Sanbornton), a member of the Executive Committee, said that he was encouraged by the group that the commissioners had put together and praised them for ''putting together a plan which shows a vision for the county.''
The Executive Committee authorized the transfer of the funds from the $363,000 remaining in the jail planning account in the corrections department budget.
Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith), who chairs the Executive Committee, issued a warning of sorts about the jail planning effort, saying that he was concerned over how the county will be able to handle the additional $454,000 in first year staffing costs for a community corrections center and the estimated $240,000 in program provider costs.
''I don't see how the county can come up with the new money. We're going to have to consolidate and cut people (elsewhere),'' said Vadney.
The Executive Committee also approved the transfer of $15,000 for overtime wages in the Corrections Department with the funds coming from the part-time wages account.
DeVoy said the transfer was needed because two full-time employees are out with injuries and overtime is being utilized to adequately staff the jail.
Gray said that the department has lost four full-time employees and five part-time employees this year and that newly-hired corrections staff need to attend the state corrections academy for five weeks as part of their training.
Rep. George Hurt (R-Gilford) asked if the department was aware ahead of time about the resignations and is there was an ongoing hiring process. Gray said the department is provided notice of resignations and that he has to go through a request to fill a vacancy process which takes about a month.

Mayor calls for greater & broader investment in annual Motorcycle Week

LACONIA — The growing public debate about the future of Motorcycle Week took a fresh twist this week when Mayor Ed Engler, speaking at the City Council meeting, scolded those — the state and the city as well as business and property owners — who treat the rally as a source of revenue or income without significantly investing to ensure its success.

The mayor made his remarks amid the shadow cast over the event by shrinking attendance and falling returns. This year The total average daily traffic volume counted at the 10 locations during the nine days of the rally was 117,208 vehicles compared to 156,894 in 2014, a decrease of 25 percent. Traffic volume declined by between 8 percent and 46 percent at all 10 locations. This year the city closed the books on Motorcycle Week with red ink as expenses rose 16 percent to $149,163 and revenues fell 10 percent to $146,851. This was the first loss posted since 2007 when the revenues collected and expenses incurred by the city were removed from the general fund budget and treated as a special revenue fund.

Meanwhile, the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association (LMWA), the organization that promotes the rally, has been riven by dissension. In the last year two charter members — Laconia Harley-Davidson and the New Hampshire Motor Speedway — along with the Weirs Action Committee left the association, leaving six members — the city of Laconia, town of Meredith, Naswa Resort, Faro Italian Grille, Half Moon Enterprises and Hot Leathers.

Noting the decision of the Keene City Council to abandon the Pumpkin Festival, which the city had hosted for 24 years, Engler said "their loss is our gain" then remarked "we don't want to look back and think we made the same mistake with Motorcycle Week. I hope we don't follow Keene's example."

Engler referred to the defections from LMWA, explaining that there were differences over how to market the event. "Okay," he remarked, "then find another way to support Motorcycle Week." He acknowledged that Laconia Harley-Davidson "invests substantially in promoting the rally," but said "they're one of the exceptions. What is unacceptable," he continued, "is to take money from Motorcycle Week and the people it draws and put nothing back into it. That's unacceptable!"

Later Engler said "I'm not giving anybody a pass. The city is as guilty as anybody. We're mad this year because we didn't make any money." Only three of the major landowners at The Weirs — Faro Italian Grille, Half Moon Enterprises and Naswa Resort — are dues paying members of the association and/or sponsors of the rally. Others may be Rally Patrons contributing just $200 a year. "They could become sponsors or find some way to contribute something significant financially." For example, the mayor said that the Weirs Action Committee, which reaps significant returns from a parking concession on city property during the rally, left the LMWA when the dues were increased from $2,000 to $5,000 a year to address a deficit.

Engler said that he had not considered reorganizing the promotion and management of Motorcycle Week while conceding that "more coordination by the city, state or whoever" would be helpful. He said that the city will continue to work through the LMWA, but suggested "it may be possible for different groups to work toward the same goal on parallel paths." He noted that in Sturgis, South Dakota, the city stages and manages the nation's largest rally, a model that was rejected in Laconia some years ago.

Greater Laconia area called 21st richest small city in USA

LACONIA — This week Bloomberg Business released a list of the wealthiest small towns in the United States, on which Laconia placed 21st. But, the city's high ranking is not what it appears at first glance.

The list is drawn from 536 "micropolitan statistical areas" designated by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The OMB defines a micropolitan statistical area as one or more adjacent counties or county equivalents with at least one "urban core area" with a population of at least 10,000 but not more than 50,000 together with "adjacent territory that has a high degree of social and economic integration with the core as measured by commuting ties." In other words, the Laconia micropolitan area consists of the city and eleven towns of Belknap County.

Bloomberg Business applied and scored four criteria to derive its ranking — the median household income, share of households with incomes of $200,000 or more, median home value and the share of homes value at $1-million or more. Each factor was weighed equally and scored on a scale of 0 to 100. The data was drawn from the 2013 American Community Survey prepared by the United States Census Bureau.

In Belknap County, called "Laconia" by Bloomberg, the estimated median household income is $58,654, 3.2 percent of households earn incomes of at least $200,000, the median home value is $219,900 and 2.1 percent of homes are valued at $1-million or more.

In Laconia itself the numbers are significantly lower. The estimated median household income is $47,757, 19 percent below that of the county. In the city 133 of 7,112 households, or 1.9 percent of the total, earn $200,000 or more. The median home value in the city is $187,000, 15 percent less than in the county. And 61 of 7,112 occupied housing units, or 0.9 percent of the total, are valued at $1 million or more.

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