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Agenda change blocking public comment riles former Newfound chair

By Thomas P. Caldwell
BRISTOL — A move by the new chair of the Newfound Area School Board to streamline the meeting agenda met with strong resistance from the former board chair but the other members were unconcerned until those in the audience spoke up.
Ruby Hill of Danbury, who succeeded Vincent Paul Migliore as chair last month, changed the format of the meeting agenda for April 14 to reduce its bulk; but, in doing so, she also eliminated the public's opportunity to offer comment just prior to the board taking any action. Her changes would not have raised an eyebrow in most school districts, which typically limit public comment to the beginning or the end of a meeting, but Newfound for at least the last nine years has given members of the public two chances to voice their opinions.
Under the old procedure, at the beginning of the meeting, those in the audience have been allowed to speak on any issue, whether on the agenda or not. Mid-way through the meeting, after the board has discussed all agenda items, the audience had a second opportunity to speak with the benefit of having learned more about the topics under consideration. The board then could keep that public comment in mind when going back through the agenda items for a vote.
Hill's agenda placed public comment at the beginning, limiting it only to agenda items, and again at the end, after the board has made all its decisions.
Migliore raised an objection at the beginning of the meeting, saying the change had been made unilaterally, without any prior discussion. He also objected to shutting out the public, saying it had been very helpful to him in making decisions to hear what people in the audience had to say.
No one seconded his motion to open a discussion on the matter, and the board went on to other business. At the end of the meeting, though, when the public had a chance for final comment, several spoke up on Migliore's behalf, saying they objected to the new format.
That led the board first to support Migliore's suggestion that the matter be put on next month's agenda for discussion, then to discuss the merits of the change that evening.
Hill said her intention was only to streamline the agenda, not to shut out the public.
Jeff Levesque, the board member from Groton, said he agreed that the public discussion at the beginning should be open to any subject, not just the items on the agenda. Members also considered a compromise that would allow public comment on each item as it was discussed, prior to a vote, eliminating the need to take up each item twice, as in the old procedure.
In the end, the board agreed to take up the agenda format again at next month's meeting.

Last Updated on Friday, 18 April 2014 11:45

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Federal grant will allow area ambulance crews access to gear to handle obese patients

LACONIA — The city has been chosen as one of 10 municipalities in the state where advanced equipment to enable emergency medical personnel to handle obese (bariatric) patients will be kept.

Bill Wood of the Division of Fire Standards and Training and Emergency Medical Services at the N.H. Department of Safety, said that the equipment is being purchased with a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and will be housed at one location in each of the 10 counties.

The City Council this week accepted a grant of $25,400 awarded by the Bariatric Grant Program, funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, for the purchase of a bariatric loading device, stretcher and lift, which will be stored at the Central Fire Station. The equipment will be for the use of all first responders in Belknap County and the Lakes Region as necessary. Fire Chief Ken Erickson said that the department was chosen because it is staffed and operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A department needing the equipment would be responsible for collecting and returning it with no cost to the city. "We would simply be the storage facility," he said.

Erickson said that the department was contemplating the acquisition of similar equipment with funding from LRGHealthcare, but instead purchased a hydraulic lift for the primary ambulance. He said that equipment will supplement the department's inventory of tools for dealing with obese individuals.

According to data compiled by the state's Trauma and Emergency Medical Information System (TEMSIS), the Fire Department transported 162 patients weighing between 400 and 1,100 pounds between 2010 and 2013, far and away the most reported in the state. Derry transported 82, Manchester 67, Concord 56, Lebanon 47, Rochester 44 and Dover 43. Erickson said that the figures may reflect differences in the collection, recording and reporting of information among departments as well as the numbers of obese patients in various communities.

The other municipalities in the Bariatric Grant Program are Conway in Carroll County,Gorham in Coos County, Keene in Cheshire County, Lebanon in Grafton County, Peterborough in Hillsborough County, Concord in Merrimack County, Hampton in Rockingham County, Dover in Strafford County and Newport in Sullivan County.

Wood said that in addition to the bariatric equipment there was sufficient funding to retrofit three ambulances in each county to accept and accommodate the bariatric stretchers.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 April 2014 01:37

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Jail panel will ask for $3 million

LACONIA — The Belknap County Jail Planning Committee Tuesday night overwhelmingly supported a plan to ask the Belknap County Convention for a $2.96 million bond issue so that it can start work on three major priorities at the county jail.
The committee wants $360,000 so that it can begin work on a schematic design plan for a new jail, $1 million for replacing the HVAC system at the current jail. and $1.6 million for a three-year contract for installation of a 48-bed temporary housing unit at the jail.
The decision by the committee came after a discussion of priorities during which Belknap County Corrections Superintendent Dan Ward said that while it will be tough for the committee to ask for all three elements, they are all badly needed.
''Temporary housing is going to be our new norm. We're definitely going back to having to ship inmates again this year. Our inmate population was up to 102 this morning,'' said Ward.
He said that the schematic design ''keeps us moving'' on the process of designing a new facility while the HVAC system is needed to improve air quality for both inmates and staff in the three or more years it will take before a new facility can be built. He said the temporary housing will enable the county to keep inmates in the county, where they can continue to receive needed services, while at the same time providing additional program space during the construction period.
Maggie Pritchard of Genesis Behavior Health, a member of the committee, at first had suggested that the bond be split into two parts, the schematic design and the HVAC upgrade, followed by the temporary housing, but Ward said that it would be better to address all three issues and was supported by Belknap County Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia), chairman of the Jail Planning Committee, who said that it would actually be cheaper to borrow everything at one time.
Architect Gary Goudreau said that it would take 4-6 months to produce a schematic design, which committee members are hoping will produce major savings over the conceptual design estimate cost of $42.6 million received last year for a 94,000-square-foot, 180-bed facility. Last month Philpot said that some of the ideas brought forth by Goudreau at that meeting raised the hope of bringing the cost of the project to below $30 million.
Ward said that it would take between 30 and 45 days to install temporary housing at the site and that all of the needed utilities are located on site.
County Administrator Debra Shackett said that Ken Ricci of the Ricci Greene consulting company which handled the conceptual design phase of the project has offered to meet with the committee at no cost to assist in finding ways to move the design process along. He is being invited to the next meeting.
Shackett also produced cost comparisons for other recent county jail projects in New Hampshire which showed that Grafton County 's 150-bed jail completed in 2012 cost $31 million, Merrimack County's 237 bed, 112,000 square foot jail completed in 2005 cost $24,800,000 and the state is currently looking at 224-bed, 113,000 square foot women's prison will cost $38 million.
Alida Millham of Gilford, former chairman of the Belknap County Convention, circulated a memo she had composed which summed up the county's jail situation and said that she was concerned that the community corrections aspect of the plan has not received the attention that it deserves and should be the centerpiece of the project.

Last Updated on Thursday, 01 May 2014 12:29

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It's official, Laconia school year will end on June 13

LACONIA — Superintendent Terri Forsten announced Tuesday that the last day of school is officially June 13 and graduation is scheduled for June 7.

Two weeks ago Forsten told the School Board that she thought the district had enough teaching hours planned to satisfy the N.H. Board of Education requirements but wanted to wait to see if any more days were lost in April to the weather.

Typically, the school year is based on 180 days however Forsten explained that the state board allows an alternate calculation and the district will meet the required number of instruction hours by June 13.

While seemingly good news for the students, some superintendents from schools who send students to the Huot Regional Technical Educaiton Center at Laconia High School have said they want the center open until June 20.

Most area schools lost four to five days from their planned calenders due to snow fall and Gilford, Winnisquam Regional and Shaker Regional have extended the last day of school until either June 19 or 20 depending on the number of days they lost.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 April 2014 02:20

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