County looking at interest-only payments in early years of retiring jail debt

LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners yesterday looked at spreadsheets showing the impact of a $8 million borrwoing for a community correction center on county debt and are poised to recommend to the Belknap County Convention that interest only payments for the first two years is the best way to proceed.
The convention will hold a public hearing on the proposed bond issue to build an 18,000-square-foot, 64-bed "community corrections center" adjacent to the existing county jail on Tuesday, Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. at the Belknap County complex. The convention will meet on November 2 at 6 p.m. to vote on the bond issue, which will require a two-thirds majority from the 18-member convention.

Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) said that from preliminary discussions with convention Chairman Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) it appears the lawmaker would like to see how the two-years of interest only payments compare to payments on a conventional (principal and interest) debt retirement schedule.
DeVoy said that the commissioners should take into account how the convention would like to see the debt repayment scheduled as it could possibly play a key role in determining whether or not the bond issues attains the two-thirds majority it needs for passage.
The county's existing debt requires payments of $630,988 this year, $602,568 in 2016, $579,005 in 2017 and $254,800 in 2018. The county currently has $2,067,361 in debt and the new bond would add $8 million in debt principal and between $3,009,789 and $4,309,754 in interest payments depending on which repayment schedule is chosen.
If a conventional 20-year bond issue is passed, the county's debt payments would rise to $1,142,168 in 2016, $1,124,557 in 2017 and $800,836 in 2018 before dropping to $541,208 in 2019 and remaining at that level of the remainder of the new bond issue. Total cost over the life of the bond would be $12,939,789. A conventional bond for 25 years would see payments of $1,082,368 in 2016, $1,056,689 in 2017 and $730,202 in 2018. It would them drop to $472,954 in 2019 and remain at that level for the next 21 years, resulting in a total cost of $13,949,329.
With interest only payments for two years, a 25-year bond would see payments of $725,099 in 2016, $824,066 in 2017, $728,539 in 2018 and drop to $470,726 in 2019 and remain close to that level for the rest of the bond. Total payments would be $14,239,754.
A 20-year bond with interest only payments for two years would see payments of $716,901 in the 2016, $807,672 in 2017 and $796,655 in 2018. In 2019 payments would drop to $53,729 and remain around that level for the rest of the bond. Total payments would amount to $13,205,162 over the 20-year period.
Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) said that he liked the two-year interest only approach, as did Commissioner Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton).
DeVoy noted that there was some suggestion that the spike in debt payments could be covered by using the county's unreserved fund balance, which he said would require the consent of lawmakers.
''It's either a tax increase or using the fund balance,'' he said, adding that the commissioners would have to negotiate with the convention on how to handle the principal and interest payments.
Commissioners have endorsed a plan developed by SMP Architecture of Concord, which calls for spending $7,171,928 for a community corrections center as well as $491,000 for upgrades to the existing county jail, which currently has 87 beds. County corrections Interim Superintendent Keith Gray said that parts of the current jail which are too difficult to renovate would no longer be used, leaving the current facility with a capacity of 60 inmates.
The proposed cost of the community corrections facility includes a $700,000 contingency fund.
Also included in the overall operating plan are security and program costs, which are estimated at $650,000 for hiring six additional Department of Corrections staffers and contracting with private firms to provide programs aimed at helping offenders deal with drug, alcohol and mental health problems before they are released into the community.
Kevin Warwick of Alternative Solutions Associates, Inc., a consulting firm hired by the county to develop programs for a community corrections center, has noted that Belknap County currently has the lowest staffing of any county jail in the state with only 30 staff members and a capacity of 93 inmates. Carroll County has 36 staffers with an inmate capacity of 60 while Grafton County has 54 staffers and a capacity of 115 inmates. Sullivan County, which served as a model for the plan developed for Belknap County, has a 56 staffers and a capacity of 95 inmates.
He and Ross Cunningham, who was corrections superintendent in Sullivan County when its community corrections facility was built, both say that doing nothing is not an option for Belknap County as the county faces the possibility of lawsuits unless its facility meets federal standards for correction facilities, which it does not.

Untimely death in Gilford being investigated

GILFORD — An untimely death which took place late Sunday evening on Liscomb Circle is under investigation.
Assistant N.H. Attorney General Geoff Ward said that the investigation is being conducted by the attorney general's office in conjunction with the N.H. State Police Major Crimes unit and Gilford Police Department.
He said no other information on the incident is being released at this time due to the ongoing investigation.

Enrollment at LHS down to 508

LACONIA — Interim SAU 30 Superintendent Phil McCormack told the School Board Tuesday night that enrollment is down in both the School District and at the regional Huot Technical Center.
McCormack said that district wide enrollment in city schools is down by 74 students, 3.6 percent less than last year. At the Huot Center, which is shared with four other school districts, enrollment us down by 30 students, a 6 percent decline.
He said high school enrollment is down 6.8 percent to 508 students, while the Middle School is down by 2 percent. Elementary school enrollments are up by 2.2 percent.
McCormack said that compared to five years ago the district-wide student count is down by 54, 39 fewer at the high school, 48 fewer at the Middle School but 33 more in city elementary schools.
He said that are 100 home schooled students this year in Laconia, 11 more than last year.
Board member Mike Persson asked McCormack to obtain enrollment data from schools in the surrounding area to see if there are similar enrollment decreases to those in the city. He said that if there are appreciable differences it would stand out as a ''red flag'' of problems with the perception of city schools that the board would have to deal with.
McCormack, a former superintendent of the Inter-Lakes School District, said that based on his experience in the Lakes Region he thinks Laconia's enrollment trend is on par with other school districts in the area.
He also said that in view of the opportunities available through the Huot Center to obtain health care college credits at Lakes Region Community College, he thinks enrollments in the health care courses should be increasing.