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Ever increasing length of inmate stays could mean jail size planning target is too low

LACONIA — Members of the Belknap County Jail Planning Committee were told last night by Corrections Superintendent Dan Ward that a 20 percent increase in the length of time spent behind bars by prisoners is calling into question projections that a 180-inmate facility would be large enough meet the future correctional needs of the county.
''We were up from an average stay of 25 days in 2012 to 32 days this past year. And the average length of stay has gone up for 16 straight years,'' Ward told the committee, pointing out the major effect the court system has on how the jail is managed.
Ward, Belknap County Sheriff Craig Wiggin and Jail Planning Committee Chairman and Belknap County Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia) said that the projections of the so-called Bennett Report, which called for a community corrections approach in which programs would be provided which would reduce recidivism, were based on numbers which may prove to have been too conservative.
''That means we may be planning for a project which will be too small,'' Philpot observed.
Ward said that the jail is holding more people charged with serious crimes, such as armed robbery, manufacturing crystal meth and serial burglaries and that pre-trial confinement contributes to the jail's space problems.
He said that one frustrating factor for him in keeping inmates in jail for long periods of time is the lack of supervisory personnel for electronic monitoring of those who might qualify for supervised release.
''We can only monitor released inmates 14 at a time. That means those who qualify and are serving 12-month sentences have to sit in jail and wait in line until they rise high enough on the list to be able to qualify. And they pay for the costs of that electronic monitoring themselves,'' he pointed out.
He said that the county has had some successes with programs such as one on parenting skills which 27 inmates have taken and there has been no recidivism and another in which nearly 100 inmates have earned a high school diploma and recidivism has dropped sharply.
''We've had success in putting out little fires and can do better if we can offer programs to more people,'' said Ward.
The committee rejected by an overwhelming show of hands a motion made by Commissioner Steve Nedeau (R-Meredith) to suspend the committee's work for an indefinite span of time in light of recent criticism of its efforts by members of the Laconia City Council and other local officials in the county.
Committee members urged development of an informational campaign to get the word out to the public about the extent of the jail's problems and how the lack of action is making matters worse and more costly for taxpayers.
At its next meeting on January 21 the committee will revisit a proposal to seek a $3.5 million bond issue from the County Convention this year for temporary steps to deal with crowding issues at the county jail.
The bond issue would include a 48-bed temporary housing unit, which would cost $1,584,681 for a three-year contract; $500,000 for a schematic design for a new facility and $1 million for replacing the HVAC system at the current jail.
Ward said recently that there are currently 140 inmates in the facility, which is designed for 120, and that the 17 women inmates are housed in the gymnasium, which keeps that part of the facility from being used for recreation during the months when outside recreation is limited.
''We've been sending upwards of 30 people away (to facilities in other counties) during recent months. If we install a temporary facility we get all of the prisoners back and get the use of the gymnasium back as well as have some program space,'' Ward told the committee at a recent meeting.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 02:21

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School Baord will study all fundraising done in association with school activities

LACONIA — The School Board last night unanimously adopted a slightly revised policy on fund-raising activity with the caveat that the Policy Committee and the administration will conduct a review of all club money raising activities and accounts beginning in February.

In an Policy Committee meeting held an hour before the full board meeting, members said they would like to know more about who is raising money in the name of the schools and who is keeping track of the money once raised.

All Policy Committee members agreed that the pool of available money — both from the school budget and from private donors for extra-curricular activities has dwindled while the number of clubs and organizations seeking money has grown.

"It would be nice to know how many are asking for donations as opposed to selling stuff," said member Beth Arsenault.

Specifically, the new policy replaces one that expressly forbade the use of raffles and other games of chance. The old policy has been in place since 1972 and members of the current School Board and administration have no idea why raffles had been prohibited.

A need for a review of fund-raising activity within the district came to light last summer when members of the Capital Campaign Committee promised Laconia Youth Football the concession stand revenue at home football games in exchange for a donation to the campaign.

The objections arose when members of the Kiwanis Club — the adult sponsors of the LHS Key Club — cried foul when they learned they would no longer be staffing the Friday night concession stand as they had for many, many years. It was, contended members of the Kiwanis Club, the students' biggest source of income.

The policy said then and continues to say now that the building principal must approve any fund-raising activity.

While concession stand issue has been settled, some members of the board, led by at-large member Mike Perssons, questioned how much fund-raising activity there is in the schools and whether or not there is real need for it.

His primary concern, one that was echoed by other members, is how much is being raised for each activity, who is keeping track of the money, and what happens to it should the fundraiser exceed its goal or fall short of its goal.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 02:04

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Worsman & Vadney take aim at county personnel costs

LACONIA — Representatives Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), who chairs the Belknap County Convention, and Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) delivered a one-two punch at county personnel costs when the convention began considering the 2014 county budget last night.

Worsman opened the meeting by charging that the Belknap County commissioners, by shuffling appropriations authorized by the convention, "overspent salary and benefit lines to the detriment of maintenance and capital" then "falsely blamed" the convention for underfunding routine maintenance and capital projects.

After the convention stripped funding for sick day and longevity bonuses as well as increased health insurance premiums from the 2013 budget, the commissioners drew funds from some 90 lines to fund what they believe are contractual obligations under the collective bargaining agreements with the State Employees Association local, which represents employees of the Corrections Department, Sheriff's Department and Nursing Home.

Looking ahead, Worsman warned of a "financial meltdown ahead for Belknap County" unless steps are not taken to rein in personnel costs. She conceded that since 2008 the number of employees has been reduced by nearly a fifth, but highlighted the 62-percent increase in the employer share of health insurance premiums. "Remaining on this track," she said, "will be a trainwreck for Belknap County taxpayers." She said that health insurance costs are projected to climb by $500,000 in 2014, when they will represent 12-percent of the county budget.

Next Worsman turned to "the ballooning salary cost of the administration and finance departments," where she claimed the compensation for six employees has risen 91.7 percent since 2009. These departments, she said, "have not shared the financial challenges of other county workers. Indeed, they have thrived." Moreover, she noted that the actual salary expenditures in the administration and finance departments are expected to exceed what the convention budgeted by "a whopping $73,000."

Worsman said that the commissioners struck the $554,000 to fund the Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid Association from the 2014 county budget in favor of billing the municipalities directly, but rather than heed the expressed wishes of the cities and towns to reduce the county by an equal amount replaced it with more spending. The commissioner's recommended budget, she said, was equal to that of 2010 when the county received $2.7 million in federal stimulus funds.

"On behalf of our constituents it would be irresponsible to affirm this budget," she declared.

"The money is in the people," added Vadney, riffing on Worsman's theme. "That's where the money is."

Vadney said that he compared the salary of department heads with those of their counterparts in the other nine counties and found "we are paying our managers fairly well." The nine positions, he continued, cost $774,000, which is $141,000 more than the average for the same positions in the other nine counties.

Vadney offered a motion to withhold any increase in the appropriation for salaries, wages and benefits until there is a substantial increase in the employees' contribution to health insurance premiums and a thorough review of compensation and benefits. He explained that the base line would be the appropriation for compensation and benefits in 2013 authorized by the convention, not the actual amounts expended by the commission.

"The commissioners have treated us as though we're not serious," he said. "On this we are serious."

Vadney's motion carried by 11 votes to 7, with Republican Representatives Bob Luther of Laconia and Dennis Fields of Sanbornton joining the five Democrats — Representatives David Huot and Beth Arsenault of Laconia, Ruth Gulick of New Hampton, Ian Raymond of Sanbornton and Lisa DiMartino of Gilford in opposition.

Representative Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) suggested the convention adopt a target of a 1.5 percent increase in the amount to be raised by property taxes in preparing the 2014 budget.

His proposal drew a sharp response from Sheriff Craig Wigging, in the audience, who reminded the members of the convention that he was elected by all the voters of the county. He cautioned the convention against "laying down the gauntlet" and "throwing out a bottom line." Instead of saying "here's your money, make it work," he urged the convention to meet with department heads and "educate yourselves."

"You're talking out of both sides of your mouth," Wiggin remarked. "You say you don't want to micro-manage, but clearly that's just what you want to do." He sat down amid a round of applause from the crowd of more than 50 attending the meeting.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 09:33

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Police report armed robbert in parking lot of Laconia apartment complex

LACONIA — Police are investigating the armed robbery of a local man at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday in the parking lot of 103 Blueberry Lane.

The victim, a 30-year-old male, was walking to his car and said he was punched in the face and robbed by two men, one of whom pulled a handgun and demanded he empty his pockets.

The suspects made off with a cell phone, a silver ring with a black, stone cross, and an undisclosed amount of money.

The victim said one man was white, about 6-feet tall and weighed about 200 pounds and the other was about 5-feet 10-inches, about 200 pounds and clean shaven. He told police the first man wore a dark ski jacket and the second man wore a dark hooded sweatshirt.

Police ask anyone with any information to call the Laconia Police Department at 524-5257 or the Greater Laconia Crime Line at 524-1717.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 01:08

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