Dick Breton dies

LACONIA — Richard "Dick" Breton, who passed away earlier this week, will be remembered as an effective public servant and avid motorcycle rider, who served as a commissioner at the Laconia Water Works for two decades as well as two stints as a city councilor.

"Dick was a key player," said Seth Nuttelman, superintendent of the Laconia Water Works. "Although the chairmanship of the commission generally rotates, he was a go-to guy throughout his tenure. He brought a lot of financial expertise to the commission and was a very structured man who always thought things through," he continued. "In his 20 years, we did a lot of stuff, including upgrading the treatment plant and replacing water mains."

Breton was a first elected to the City Council in 1971 and served for two terms. Three decades later, following the death of incumbent Fred Toll, he was one of seven candidates — Pat Wood, David Stamps, Scott Vachon, Pat Emanuel, Doris Makely and Diane Hanley were the other five — who applied to complete the unexpired term. At the time, the council was divided over a proposal to construct a new high school and middle school on Parade Road. Breton was the candidate of Councilor Armand Bolduc (Ward 6), who with councilors Judy Krahulec (Ward 1) and Jim Cowan (Ward 4) opposed the project. With the support of the three, Breton was appointed by a three-to-two vote.

Controversy erupted when Breton refused to resign from the Water Commission. Mayor Mark Fraser, after consulting the New Hampshire Attorney General, ruled if Breton could not hold both offices, but was overturned by the council. Wood then sued Breton, who ultimately resigned from the Water Commission.

As a city councilor Breton proposed holding a referendum on whether to build new schools at an estimated cost of $76-million or renovate old schools. Meanwhile, Councilor Rick Judkins (Ward 5), one of the two to oppose Breton's appointment, resigned. He was replaced by Bob Hamel, who has held the seat ever since, which confirmed the unassailable majority of those opposed to the construction of new schools. When his stormy term ended, Breton did not seek election, but instead returned to the Water Commission, where he served until July 2014.

"Dick was a good friend of mine for a long time," said Hamel, who recalled that they met in the early 1980s when his wife joined New Hampshire Savings Bank where Breton was a vice president and branch manager. The two shared an enthusiasm for motorcycles and often rode their Honda Gold Wings in tandem.

"Dick was a fixture at Dunkin' Donuts at 8 a.m. every fine Sunday for pick-up rides," he said. Breton was also a regular at the annual rallies in Daytona and at Lake George (Americade) as well as made several trips to Sturgis, South Dakota. Hamel said Breton also enjoyed parading his antique cars, a 1931 Ford Model A coupe and an old Buick to cruise nights at diners in the Lakes Region.

"Dick was a good friend and a very smart, open-hearted man who was a big part of this community," Hamel said.

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Commission went from chaos to success in 2015

LACONIA — It was a year marked by a chaotic beginning and a happy ending for the Belknap County Commission according to Commission Chairman David Devoy (R-Sanbornton).
“It was a long journey with a lot of turmoil, but in the end we accomplished a lot of what we set out to do,” said DeVoy, who pointed to the Belknap County Convention’s unanimous passage in early November of an $8 million bond for a new community corrections center as the major achievement of the commission during 2015.
“We wanted to end all the drama with the lawsuits and bickering between the commission and the convention and establish a better relationship where we could work together. And we worked hard at it and were able to achieve that. A lot of good things happened this year despite the bickering on the commission, which was a huge drag for a good part of the year.”
The year began for the commission with DeVoy and Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) as the only two commissioners, with Burchell elected as chairman. At the very first meeting, the new commissioners announced their intention to become more involved in the management of the county and set new policies in motion to reverse the delegation of authority to the county administrator which had been practiced by the previous commission. The new commissioners also reinstated Matthew Logue, who had been fired by the previous commission, as superintendent of the Belknap County Home.
Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) was appointed by the county convention in late January to fill a vacancy on the commission, which soon began bickering behind closed doors over a number of issues, including a proposed reorganization of the county sought by Burchell.
DeVoy and Taylor refused to go along with Burchell’s plan and, after several weeks of conflict with him, ousted Burchell as chairman at a March 2 meeting at which Burchell attempted to gavel down motions made by the other commissioners by saying that they were out of order.
Burchell appealed his ouster as chairman to Belknap County Superior Court, where a judge ruled that the majority had the right to replace him as chairman.
Squabbling continued into mid-summer and the depth of the differences between commission members became public in late July with the release of sealed minutes of commission meetings held when Burchell was chairman which showed that the commissioners had clashed over a grievance filed by Logue over missing emails which DeVoy and Taylor had rejected.
Before the year was out, Logue and the commissioners agreed to a settlement in which Logue resigned and accepted a $62,500 settlement.
DeVoy, who headed a Jail Planning Committee which came up with the plan for the community corrections center, said that he was really pleased by the unanimous vote the proposal received from the convention.
“It showed that working together to build mutual trust and respect paid off,” he said.
The plan passed by the convention calls for spending $7,171,928 for a 18,000-square-foot, 64-bed community corrections center adjacent to the existing county jail, as well as $1,159,300 for renovating parts of the existing jail, which would have 60 beds.
The community corrections center will feature a rigorous regimen of substance abuse, mental health and educational programs and services, which Corrections Superintendent Keith Gray said the county currently lacks. Work is expected to start in late spring and the center will open around September of 2017.
DeVoy said another major accomplishment was establishing a 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 cost of $46,564 for six months of services provided by equivalent of 1.5 full-time workers.
He said that other accomplishments included switching health insurance providers which will save the , county $150,000 a year and finding other cost savings in a number or areas.

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Grant would fix most energy inefficient building in the state

LACONIA — One building in Laconia uses more energy than any other building of its type and size in New Hampshire, according to an energy audit, so the City Council is considering spending $500,000 to make improvements to the the Scott and Williams building at 22 Strafford St.

Councilors will consider a proposed application for $500,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds at a public hearing at 7 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 28.
Improvements are needed to the central heating system, fresh air ventilation and insulation in the basement crawl space. The largest item will be to install a combined heat and electric power system so that the building can generate its own electricity.
The building houses nonprofit sponsored condominium units providing affordable workforce housing, community health care, wellness center and child care services.
Mayor Ed Engler said the application does not conflict with any city project dealing with the Colonial Theatre as the funds, which are awarded on a competitive basis, come from a different source of money.
The 60 so-called affordable housing units are overseen by the Laconia Housing and Redevelopment Authority and are known as the Normandin Apartments.
A strategic plan adopted in October by the housing authority calls for the agency to assume property management responsibilities at Normandin Square Apartments and Scott and Williams Condominium Association by July 1.
Other properties managed by the Laconia Housing and Redevelopment Authority include Sunrise Towers, 98 apartments; the Tavern Inn/Stafford House, 50 apartments; Northfield Village, 36 apartments; Perley Pond Townhouses, 35 apartments and Orchard Hill II in Belmont, 32 apartments.
The LHRA also manages other properties with a total 407 units, making it responsible for 718 apartment units.

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