Laconia chief reports overall arrests about level with '14 so far but drug arrests way up

LACONIA — The number of arrests for drug/narcotic violations in the city has nearly doubled for the first nine months of the year according to Laconia Police Chief Chris Adams.
A police department report submitted to Police Commissioners when they met last Thursday at Laconia City Hall showed that arrests in that category has increased from 80 last year to 151 this year.
Most of the narcotics arrests are for heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opiate which is more potent than morphine.
Adams said that local increase in narcotics arrests mirror the statewide increase, which has been labeled a ''heroin epidemic'' by law enforcement officials and drug treatment professionals.
He said that the number of drug overdoses his department has responded to this year is also up substantially.
''We've responded to 75 to 80 overdoses with eight deaths so far this year. Last year we responded to 50 overdoses and there were 10 deaths,'' said Adams.
He says that the department follows what he calls a balanced enforcement approach when it comes to drug and narcotic violations and doesn't arrest those whose overdoses are reported and tries instead to point them towards treatment for their problems while working hard to arrest those who are selling narcotics.
He noted that recently Laconia Police completed a drug arrest sweep which saw 25 individuals arrested.
''We're dong both,'' says Adams, who says that the lack of treatment facilities in New Hampshire ''is a ''big part of the problem. We're the second worst state in the country when it comes to treatment for drug and alcohol addictions.''
Adams says that the increase in drug and narcotic doesn't mean that there's been a big spike in criminal activity in the city. ''We've had 1,090 physical arrests this year, up from 974 last year, so we're pretty much on par.''
Nearly 60 percent of the increase in physical arrests this year, 71 out of 116, are accounted for by the major increase in drug and narcotic law violations.

Meredith will look at economic sustainability in light of againg demographic

MEREDITH — At the urging of Justin Van Etten of Winnipisesogee Investments, the Board of Selectmen last night agreed to convene a committee to explore what can be done to sustain the economy of the town in the teeth of challenging demographic trends.

Van Etten told the board that he has been troubled to find that year after year between five and seven young families, including some very successful families have left Meredith for "lack of economic opportunity" and for what he described as "lack of a community around economic opportunity."

Meanwhile, Van Etten explained that the median age, which rose from 31.9 to 36.2 between 1970 and 1990, an increase of 13 percent, jumped 35 percent to 48.7 by 2010, above that of the county, the state and the nation. Since 2002, he noted enrollment in the Inter-Lakes School District has fallen 20 percent while the number of students qualifying for the free and reduced lunch program has climbed from a little more than a fifth to more than a third of school population.

Van Etten claimed that while there are few obstacles to residential development and encouragement of affordable housing, "commercial development is unbelievably hard", which represents an obstacle to creating jobs that pay enough to enable people to live in Meredith. Although he expects the retiring baby boomers to sustain demand for waterfront property for another 10 or 15 years, he suggested that stalled population growth will shrink the demand for these properties and lower their value. Finally, he warned that as the numbers of older residents grows and school children dwindles, pressures on school budget will mount, adding to the disincentives of young families to settle in town.

Van Etten suggested the selectmen establish a relatively small committee to steer the process, which would then reach out to include all the diverse stakeholders and interests in the community. He said that the New England Electric Cooperative makes funds available to study economic development and sustainability and was confident of drawing funds from other sources, He anticipated the committee could engage a consultant and operate with a budget of $50,000 to $100,000. "My hope is that it wouldn't cost the town a dime," he said.

Town Manger Phil Warren endorsed the proposal, proposing that the committee become a sub-committee of the Board of Selectmen. He recommended the selectmen solicit applications for an executive committee of seven members to set the process in motion.

Thousands of pumpkins distributed to region's schools in anticipation of Saturday's festival

LACONIA — Representatives of more than 40 schools in the Lakes Region yesterday began collecting some 4,200 pumpkins, which the students will spend the balance of the week carving in preparation for displaying them at the Pumpkin Festival on Saturday.

Early in the morning the pumpkins arrived at Visa Foods in cardboard bins loaded aboard a tractor-trailer from Newmont Farm in Bradford, Vermont and were off-loaded by a forklift. Ruth Sterling, who is managing the festival for Let It Shine, Inc., said that Belmont Elementary School, Gilford Middle School and Woodland Heights School all requested more than 400 pumpkins while Elm Street School, Laconia Middle School and Pleasant Street School each asked for about 300.

Sterling said that that the carving parties at the schools, many of them drawing parents as well as students, are one of the highlights of the festival. "This week is when the kids make the festival their own," she said.

Several officers of the Laconia Police Department, along with members of the Public Works Department and off-duty firefighters, were on hand to help with distributing the pumpkins. "I put out a call on our Facebook page," Sterling said, "and they just turned up. I've never had anyone in uniform help out before," The officers and firefighters tossed the pumpkins from bins to trucks, apparently with only one casualty.

Walt Gladstone, who owns and operates Newmont Farm, said that he grows pumpkins on 175 acres while raising corn on another 1,100 acres and caring for 1,400 Holstein cows and 1,300 heifers. The pumpkins are sold to grocery stores throughout New England. But, Gladstone said "the grocery stores only want the perfect ones." He said that with the harvest in full swing and frost in the forecast "we were concerned to get the pumpkins off the ground, but worked hard to get ahead of it." Gladstone said he was pleased Laconia had chosen to host and perpetuate the festival.

Sterling said that the farm has stocked the festival with pumpkins for years as a favor. In addition to those distributed to the schools expects as many as 3,000 more for the community carving center at the Bank of New Hampshire before the week is out.