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County pot still boiling

LACONIA — The Belknap County Convention and Belknap County Commissioners inched closer together in their ongoing battle over health care costs Monday night when the convention's Executive Committee approved budget transfers which put off until next month a decision on whether some county employees will be asked to pony up for the county's share of their health insurance premiums for the rest of the year to make up for an overall deficit in that line item.
But despite the agreement to transfer some $34,000 to cover the health insurance costs of five departments through Nov. 17, the perspectives of the members of the committee as expressed at Monday's meeting and those of the commissioners at the same meeting show that tensions still are simmering just below the surface in the two-year long battle on budget line item authority.
The convention won a temporary injunction in Belknap County Superior Court which prohibits the commissioners from transferring funds in excess of $300 from any line item in the budget approved by the convention in March.
Executive Committee Chairman Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) at first Monday wanted to put off addressing all the transfer requests, except for transfer of $10,292 from the Maintenance Department's health insurance line to cover the nursing home's administrative insurance costs which was approved as the first order of business, until Nov. 17. It was only after commissioners and Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen pointed out that a real emergency was being faced by the county, which would have to notify workers in five departments that they would be responsible for all of their insurance premium costs, including that normally paid by the county, as of Nov. 1, that he agreed to recess the meeting to allow commissioners to prepare a budget transfer proposal which would get the county through to mid-November. County officials also said that it is a certainty that if the county doesn't pay its share of the health insurance costs that the unions representing county workers will sue for breach of contract.
Tilton also expressed skepticism about whether the proposed transfers sought by the commission were necessary, maintaining that these should be looked at only after it was clear that the entire $2.6 million appropriated by the convention for health care was going to be used.
And he said that the convention had never been informed that a fourth union representing county workers had been certified earlier this year and that even though no contract has been negotiated their health insurance benefits must be paid. ''If you're doing things we don't know about, that's outside the budget process. I know nothing of any commitment,'' said Tilton.
County Administrator Debra Shackett said that it was a matter of public record that the union had been certified and that it had been discussed at their meetings. and there was no attempt to hide anything from the convention.
Following the committee's approval of the $34,000 in transfers Tilton said that it appeared that the $93,667 sought in transfers by the commission was excessive, which prompted an exchange with Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia), who said that transfer requests which will be presented at the Nov. 17 meeting could push the total to over $90,000.
''I'll explain my math to you after the meeting,'' said Tilton, which prompted Philpot to reply ''I don't need you to explain anything to me. Any explanation you might give to me would be suspect.''
During the exchange members of the audience, largely county employees and relatives of residents of the Belknap County Nursing Home, several times called for Tilton to apologize.
At a 10-minute public input session following the conclusion of the committee's votes on transfer requests, Rep. Dennis Fields (R-Sanbornton) defended County Administrator Shackett saying she had done a wonderful job for the county and that the committee's actions were ''shameful.''
Gordon Blais of Meredith praised the Executive Committee for it's actions and said that the county was being run by ''Moe, Larry and Curly and the Wicked Witch of the West,'' referring to the commissioners and administrator.
Bob Joseph of New Hampton criticized Tilton for what he said is ''a negative attitude toward the people who work for the county.'' He said that he has been a Republican voter for over 50 years but wouldn't vote for any of the members of the committee. ''This is our meeting and you listen to us,'' said Joseph.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 October 2014 12:50

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Taylor Community opens new memory care 'neighborhood' at Ledgeview

LACONIA — The Taylor Community held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday morning to open its new memory care neighborhood, Opechee Harbor, which will provide specialized residential care for seniors with memory loss and dementia.
Bob Selig, Taylor Community's CEO, said the new "neighborhood" is in response to the need to provide support for seniors and their caregivers in the Lakes Region. "Taylor has a long-standing reputation of providing a quality of life to seniors who are living independently and we can provide that same quality for seniors who are less independent." He said the new neighborhood will be open to Taylor Community residents as well as others and that the first three residents will move in Wednesday and another on Thursday.
Although the demand is great, Selig said the new memory care neighborhood was kept intentionally small to ensure that the caregiving staff could become familiar with each resident and attend to their individual needs. "We want to provide the best quality care available anywhere for residents with memory loss and dementia," Selig said. Taylor will use a universal staff model which assigns the same caregivers to residents day to day to provide continuity of care and build familiarity and trust.
Located on the ground floor of the Ledgeview building, Opechee Harbor will be home for up to 10 residents, six in private rooms. The secure neighborhood also has a dedicated dining room, living room, social club room and country kitchen as well as an outdoor garden sanctuary for flower and vegetable gardening.
"We recognize the need within Taylor and the community at large to offer dedicated support and care in a secure environment which promotes the highest quality of life for residents and their families," said Liz Pomeroy, Taylor's administrator and vice president of Operations.
She said that several staff members have already been certified in habilitation therapy, a care philosophy specifically developed for persons with dementia and endorsed by the Alzheimer's Association. In preparation for the new neighborhood, three Taylor staff members recently completed the Alzheimer's Association's "Train the Trainer" program for dementia care. Paulette Beyer, coordinator of Assisted Living; Stephanie Bennett, clinical director of Care Management, and Pomeroy are now trained to train staff in an intensive and experiential-based program in the habilitation philosophy.
"We already provide individual and supportive care to seniors at any age and with any diagnosis," Pomeroy said. "But our new specialized neighborhood will provide enhanced quality of life by fully integrating the habilitation model into every aspect of our residents' lives."
She said that a fishing tackle box and knitting materials in the unit are examples of items that rekindle positive memories and help provide a safe, secure and supportive environment for residents, who will be encouraged to help prep their own meals and retain skills important for their emotional well-being.
Selig says the neighborhood was built in an area of Ledgeview formerly used for storage and was designed by architect Peter Stewart and built by Bonnette, Page and Stone Corp.. Total cost for the project was $550,000, according to Selig.

CAPTION:
Laconia Mayor Ed Engler (left) on Tuesday cuts a ceremonial purple ribbon to open the Taylor Community's new Opechee Harbor Memory Care neighborhood at the Ledgeview building, along with Bob Smith, chairman of the board of trustees of the Taylor Community and Bob Selig, CEO of the Taylor Community. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 October 2014 12:26

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City Council agrees to pay $20k to Public Access TV in hopes others will follow suit

LACONIA — To keep Lakes Region Public Access television (LRPA) on the air to the end of the year, the City Council this week unanimously agreed to release $20,000, all that remains of the $39,500 originally appropriated for the station in the fiscal year 2015 city budget.

Since July 1 LRPA has been drawing from its reserves to sustain operations, when member municipalities entered a new 10-year contract with MetroCast Cablevision. Under the new contract each municipality will operate educational and governmental channels (24 and 26), which will broadcast only to the municipality where the programming originates.

Meanwhile, LRPA would provide public access on channel 25, airing programs from individuals and organizations from the member municipalities. However, LRPA decided to adopt a different funding model — one that relies primarily on business and individual sponsorships —  and the six municipalities, which had recently contributed to funding the operation of LRPA — Laconia, Alton, Belmont, Gilford, Meredith and Northwood, were not billed for their traditional level of support. At the same time, MetroCast, which had provided an annual $30,000 grant to LRPA, declined to renew under the terms of their new contracts.

LRPA's board and staff, however, failed to execute the new game plan and just last week sent out bills to the six municipalities, asking for the same level of funding as provided last year.

"We're operating on fumes right now," station manager Denise Beauchaine told the council. The City Council earlier trimmed $10,000 from its original appropriation, leaving $29,500, which Beauchaine said "gets us to the end of the year, but beyond that I don't know."

However, City Manager Scott Myers reminded the councilors that the city will be operating channels 24 and 26 and has applied "$7,000 or $8,000" to acquire the necessary technology, further reducing the reducing the available balance.

Beauchaine suggested that funding by the city might encourage some other towns to contribute. ""We're hoping you could lead a transition here," she said. She was echoed by Nancy Leroy, a member of the board of directors of LRPA, who urged the council to provide the funds. "I know you can do it," she said. "The other towns are looking to you and you know it." Beauchaine said that if all six towns contributed the $126,000 would fund operations until July, 2015.

But, in response to a question from Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2) Beauchaine conceded that LRPA needs a new business model to sustain operations for the long-term. She explained that the board of directors developed a model based on soliciting sponsorships and donations, but has not had time or resources to pursue it.

Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5), who serves as a director of LRPA, reminded the councilors that without funding there might be no telecasting of the WLNH Children's Auction come December and other popular programming would be lost "it would be a real shame to see the possibility of this going down," he said, adding that the $20,000 "will be enough for a little while, but not for long."

Beauchaine said that board members would approach the selectboards in Alton, Belmont, Gilford, Meredith and Northwood with requests for funding.

The selectboards in Gilford and Belmont have already tabled requests made to them for additional funding. Meredith is expected to take up the mater on Monday.

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 October 2014 01:14

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2 apparent drug overdise deaths in city

LACONIA — One day after Gov. Maggie Hassan met with city leaders and high school students about drug abuse, city police are reporting two apparent fatal illicit drug overdoses.
The first was reported yesterday morning at 10:30 a.m. on Pleasant Street and the second was reported at 3:15 p.m. from a house on Lincoln Street.
Police Chief Christopher Adams said neither person was being identified at this point. He said the person who died on Pleasant Street was a young woman in her early 20s and the person who died on Lincoln Street was a man in his mid- to late 30s.

He said the cause of death will have to be determined by the medical examiner, however he said both deaths appear to be drug related.
He said a third person who nearly died over on Sunday on South Main Street was revived by emergency responders who administered Narcan.
Adams said that at this point he has no reason to think the deaths are related but said there is the possibility that there may be some overly strong or bad heroin in the area.
While meeting with high school students and Hassan on Monday, Adams said there had already been five overdoses in the city this year.
In July, the city council voted unanimously to add $50,000 to the Police Department budget to specifically address drug abuse and availability in the city.
The Laconia Police Department issued a statement last evening that said that the city has "a side that few see or want to see, a powerful drug known as 'Heroin.'"
"Heroin is making an alarming presence in our community and this killer drug doesn't discriminate against age, race or religion," police said.
Usually snorted, smoked or injected, police said heroin is one of the most addictive of drugs and creates both a physical and mental dependence for uses.
"Heroin is becoming cheaper and more plentiful in this area. In most cases, one can purchase Heroin cheaper than buying a six pack of beer," said police
If anyone has any information about either of the above three incidents or drug use in the city they are asked to call the Laconia Police at 524-5252 or the Greater Laconia Crime Line at 524-1717.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 October 2014 12:13

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