The paving of Belmont's Wareing Road brings some objections

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

BELMONT — Some people in town are now voicing opposition to paving Wareing Road, a project that has been planned for nearly a year and for which bids are scheduled to be opened at 1 p.m. today. The project is estimated to cost around $300,000.

Kevin Sturgeon, who mounted a last-minute, albeit unsuccessful write-in candidacy for the selectboard during the last election, told selectmen on Monday that it makes no sense to pave the dirt road from Route 106 to the entrance to the Parent Sand and Gravel and not pave the last 0.2 of a mile nearest South Road.

He said he would prefer to see it not paved at all, but he agreed that some draining and ditching should be done. Sturgeon added that it makes no sense not to pave the last 0.2 of a mile.

Selectmen have said the purpose of adding drainage, ditching and paving to Wareing Road to the sand pit opening is to encourage Parent to use the road to access Route 106 and not go through the center of Belmont Village to reach Route 140. There are only two families that live on Wareing Road, and one is on the corner or Route 106.

In September, Town Planner Candace Daigle said Wareing Road is unable to handle the weight of the gravel trucks in its current condition, but once it is upgraded and paved Parent will be able to use it. Parent Sand and Gravel representative Adam Towne said he wants to move his truck weight scales to the entrance on Wareing Road and has agreed to use it to move his product to Route 106.

Former Selectman Donna Cilley also told selectmen on Monday that paving the road was a mistake. She said she fears that even though it is posted "no through traffic," it will become a bypass of Belmont Village for regular drivers and that traffic will increase dramatically on South Road.

"It will give them a straight shot to Tilton," she said.

But the real objection Sturgeon and Cilley have to the project is that both believe there are other roads in Belmont that warrant attention before Wareing Road. At the recent selectman's meeting, Sturgeon pointed out that in 2007, Belmont's own road priority system rated Wareing Road a "3," or the least important rating.

Cilley said Wednesday that she spent many hours at the polls on Election Day and said a lot of people she spoke with told her they were against paving Wareing Road.

"They kept saying, 'If they're going to pave Wareing Road, why can't they pave my road?'" she said.

Selectmen have said that keeping the last 0.2 of a mile unpaved will discourage regular drivers from using the road as a cut-through for regular traffic and to keep heavy truck traffic from coming through the newly reconstructed Belmont Village.

Help Feed the Need and enjoy a Common Man meal

By GINGER KOZLOWSKI, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — There are only a few days left to "Feed the Need" and make a donation to help the Lakes Region Visiting Nurse Association while enjoying a meal at The Common Man restaurants.

Cheryl Gonzalo, executive director with the LRVNA, said they serve over 10,000 people a year in six towns in the Lakes Region - Laconia, Gilford, Meredith, Center Harbor, Moultonborough and Sandwich – and the need is great to provide services.

The fundraiser "allows us to provide care to those in need who don't have insurance," she said. Between "Medicare regulations (and) a decrease in private insurance payments, we are definitely down in funds more than ever. Medicare does a lot of take backs."

Take backs are medical reviews that can result in reimbursements being denied by Medicare.

Gonzales said Feed the Need was started when LRVNA board member Harry Viens reached out to The Common Man, and they decided to come up with fundraiser.

To participate, visit stop by the LRVNA at 186 Waukewan St. in Meredith, or go online at www.lrvna.org/need. If you donate $10 you get a $10 Common Man gift card. There is no limit to the number of cards you can buy. Donate $100 and receive 10 cards. The card is good at Lago in Meredith, Camp in Meredith, the 104 Diner in Hampton, the Tilt'n Diner in Tilton, the Italian Farmhouse in Plymouth, The Common Man Co. Store in in Ashland, The Common Man Inn and Spa in Plymouth, Foster's Boiler Room in Plymouth, the Flying Monkey Performance Center in Plymouth and The Common Man Restaurant in Ashland.

"It would be great for businesses to donate and give cards to their customers," suggested Gonzales.

The cards are only good through May 26, with no cash value or change returned, valid from Sunday through Thursday.
"The need is great," said Gonzales.

Shadow of poverty - Demography is subtext of Laconia school budget debate

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — As the School Board wrestles with the 2016-2017 school district budget, the challenge posed by the demographic profile of the student population is emerging as a prominent theme among school officials, school board members and parents.

When the board met last week, Mike Persson, who serves on its Budget and Personnel Committee, stressed that "This budget crisis is happening under the backdrop of an increased need for quality services" and highlighted the "increasing number of children living in poverty."

In a letter to the City Council, Geoff Grey wrote, "I have a pit in my stomach over the future of our city" and asserted that "Our schools are already in trouble and have been for a while." He noted that Zillow, a real estate website, rated two Laconia schools 2, two more 3, and one a 5 on a scale of 10. The number of students taking free and reduced priced lunch he described as "staggering," adding that "the home lives that these children live has a direct impact on their schooling."

Another parent, Aaron Jones, told the councilors that, as the county seat, "Our city is a destination for people in need of services" and noted the "tremendous increase in low-income and subsidized housing" in the last 10 years. "While these services are valuable and important," he continued, "the developments in our city raise questions about plans for the future."

Sean Valovanie, who returned to Laconia 13 years ago to raise a family, was most concerned that "As we continue to choke our city budget, working class families will continue to live elsewhere," and warned that "Retirees and low socioeconomic families cannot sustain a city."

These concerns are starkly reflected by estimates released by the United States Census Bureau in December, 2015. The bureau estimates that the portion of the population with incomes below the federal poverty level climbed from 12.1 percent in 2010 to 15.9 percent in 2014, or from 1,886 to 2,545 individuals.

The number of families and families with children in poverty also rose sharply. In 2014, the incomes of 13.9 percent of all families fell below the poverty line compared to 8.1 percent in 2010. The share of families with children 18 years old and younger in poverty nearly doubled, jumping from 12.5 percent in 2010 to 23.4 percent in 2014. Among families headed solely by women, the portion in poverty climbed from 20.7 percent to 29 percent while those with children 18 and younger leapt from 29.2 percent to 43 percent.

In 2010, children born in poverty represented nearly a third of all births in the prior year, a number that rose to 68 percent by 2014. In 2015, the census reported that more than half the births in the prior 12 months were to unmarried women, with those aged between 15 and 19 accounting for 6 percent and those aged between 20 and 24 accounting for 12 percent of all births. Of all unmarried mothers, 85 percent were high school graduates without further education.

Between 2010 and 2014 the the number of residents receiving food stamps and cash assistance increased 13.7 percent, from 1,441 to 1,639, or about 10 percent of the population.

These statistics are reflected in the number of students who were eligible for the free or reduced program lunch program in the School District when the school began. Altogether 58 percent were eligible at Elm Street School, 50 percent at Pleasant Street School, 68 percent at Woodland Heights School, 53 percent at Laconia Middle School and 48 percent at Laconia High School.

Furthermore, a Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted at Laconia High School in 2015 reported that the prevalence of risky behaviors among students was greater than their counterparts at other high schools in the region and the state. Nearly a third of students reported using marijuana and more than a third reported drinking alcohol. Almost half said that they had engaged in sexual intercourse while 15 percent replied that they were victims of sexual violence and 10 percent responded that they were physically forced to have sexual intercourse.

More than one in five students said they had seriously considered suicide and one in 10 admitted to to attempting to take their lives. Almost a fifth of students said that a family member was serving a sentence in jail or prison, more than a fifth "saw or heard" domestic violence in the home and 45 percent lived in a household where a member abused alcohol or drugs.

When Jim McCollum, the principal of Laconia High School, presented the findings to the School Board this month he said, "This is a picture of our community. This is how our kids live day to day. It is a serious situation."

Interim School Superintendent Phil McCormack said that the district has mounted "a tremendous effort to meet the needs of all children, including those with special needs." He stressed that the district has been fortunate to supplement tight budgets with grant funding.

The district is in the third year of a four-year $2.2 million SafeSchools/Healthy Students grant by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration of the United States Department of Health and Human Services to promote the mental, emotional and behavioral health of students, including substance abuse, while also providing services to their families. The same agency awarded the district $100,000 to train personnel to address the mental health needs of students. And a five-year $1 million "School Climate Transformation Grant" from the United States Department of Education to pursue the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS) program in all five schools.

On the other hand, when the School Board proposed replacing the child care center at the Huot Technical Center with two half-day preschool programs, one parent said the change would benefit only the poor and the wealthy, not middle-income families with two working parents. Another suggested the preschool programs encourage more subsidized housing projects, which would lead the school district to depend more heavily of federal programs to assist low-income familes. Valovanie said that attracting more low-income residents would drive middle-income families to live elsewhere.

McCormack allowed that the magnitude of the budget reductions the school board is facing could limit access to students in needs, but insisted that "people in the schools are committed to doing the right thing and we will meet the needs of these kids."

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