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City welfare guidelines amended to strike automatic right to re-apply 6 months after a suspension

LACONIA — After some debate the City Council this week amended the welfare guidelines to clarify when a person receiving general assistance who has been disqualified may submit a new application for assistance.

The guidelines stipulate that, subject to two conditions, a welfare officer is not required to accept an application from a recipient who has been suspended or disqualified for failing to comply with the requirements set forth in the guidelines. These include disclosing and verifying all income and other resources, participating in the work program, searching for gainful employment and seeking other specified sources of public assistance.

The first condition is that provided any applicant contesting their disqualification can request a hearing. The second, and more controversial condition, reads "that a recipient who has been suspended for at least six months due to noncompliance may file a new application."

City officials who administer the welfare program expressed concern that recipients — and their advocates — were interpreting the second condition to entitle them to file a new application for assistance six months after being disqualified regardless of whether or not they have resolved the issues leading to their suspension. Consequently, they asked the council to strike the language from the guidelines, which the council, after some debate, did.

Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2) was concerned that recipients for one reason or another may fail to contest their suspension in a timely manner, effectively forfeiting their right to appeal the decision. In such cases, where the grounds for suspension remain in question, he suggested that recipients, after foregoing assistance for six months, should be entitled to file a new application. Rather than striking the language, he proposed amending it by adding a phrase authorizing the welfare officer to "consider past issues of non-compliance" in weighing the new application.

The council rejected Bownes's amendment then voted to strike the second condition from the guidelines by a vote of five-to-one, with Bownes dissenting.

NOTES: City Manager Scott Myers said that the Department of Public Works has overspent its winter maintenance budget by $41,334 with another storm in the offing. But, he assured the council that roads will be plowed. sanded and salted. He anticipated that the deficit could be overcome within the operating budget, from surpluses in appropriations for compensation and benefits and withdrawals from contingency, which has a balance of $50,000, without dipping into the winter maintenance stabilization fund. "We'll look at the options and I expect us to be fine," he said. . . . Myers told the councilors that he will present his 2014-2015 city budget at the regularly scheduled City Council meeting on March 24. . . . The City Council reappointed Jim Rogato to the Licensing Board, where he has served since it was established in 1986. Bob Selig, who has chaired the Board of Trustees of the Laconia Public Library since 1999, and John Perley were reappointed to the board for three year terms while Craig McKeon was named an alternate. Don Flanders, who joined Trustees of the Trust Fun in 2002, was reappointed to a fifth three-year term. Linda Peary was reappointed to the Advisory Committee of the Putnam Fund. Pamela Clark, Dorothy Duffy and Mary Jane Hoey, all charter members of the Heritage Commission were reappointed to three year terms while Charlie St. Clair, another charter member, and Ellen Boudman were appointed as alternate members.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 01:28

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Car Dealers Report Strong February Sales

LACONIA — Despite the cold and snow three of the largest car dealerships in the Lakes Region enjoyed strong sales in February, which they take to signal even more brisk business with the coming of spring.

Autodata Corporation reported that nationwide sales were flat as the 1.2 million vehicles sold last month matched the volume during the same period a year ago. But, AutoServ of Tilton recorded 326 sales in February, the most for the month in its 25 years in business, while the Irwin Automotive Group posted 90 sales, 35-percent more than in 2013, and Cantin Chevrolet reported "robust sales."

"There is certainly something going on in central New Hampshire," said Dennis Gaudet of AutoServ. "We're bucking the trend."

Gaudet, along with Chris Irwin of Irwin's and Don Deprospo of Cantin's, all said that low interest rates, stable fuel prices and a recovering economy underlay a rebounding market for vehicles, in which manufacturers are competing aggressively for market share.

Irwin stressed that car makers are offering attractive incentives, including 0 percent financing for extended terms and generous leasing programs. "We're seeing the highest incentives in a long time," said Deprospo. "There is an underlying rebate war going on," Gaudet agreed.

All three dealers emphasized the role of pent-up demand in spurring the market.

When the economy slumped in 2008-2009, car sales plummeted as cautious owners kept their existing vehicles. Irwin noted that the average age of vehicles on the road has reached 11.2 years, as high as it has ever been. He said that the trend began to reverse itself last year when new care sales touched 15 million. "We expect this pent-up demand to buoy the market for new vehicles this year and next," he said.

Gaudet said that the recession not only slowed, but also changed shopping for vehicles. McKinsey & Company, a global consulting firm, found that instead of traipsing from one dealership to another, consumers do their comparison shopping on-line. The average buyer now visits 1.6 dealerships compared to five just a decade ago, a change Hans-Werner Kaas, a senior partner at McKinsey & Company calls the most dramatic in buying habits to affect the industry in 50 years. Gaudet believes that this trend provides dealerships, like AutoServ and Irwin's, offering multiple brands at one location a competitive edge.

Gaudet, Irwin and DeProspo were all confident that the factors that combined to boost sales in February would persist into the spring and would be enhanced by a break in the weather, which they conceded has been challenging for all retail businesses through what has proved a long winter.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 01:04

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Councilors draw direct line between overtime savings & retaining 4 newest firefighters once federal grant expires in April 2015

LACONIA — The City Council this week gave a first reading to a resolution authorizing the City Manager Scott Myers to establish a non-capital reserve account aimed at sustaining funding for four additional firefighters that were funded for two years with a federal grant that expires in April, 2015.

Monies assigned to the account would come from any savings realized in the Fire Department's annual operating budget for salaries. Normally, those savings would flow into the city's general fund.

The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant of $642,028 funds the salaries, overtime and benefits of the four positions for two years, with no requirement to retain them after that. The city bore the cost of outfitting the firefighters with turnout gear and equipping them with handheld radios, which was about $15,000.

City Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4), on Monday, immediately spoke against the resolution. She reminded the councilors that when Fire Chief Ken Erickson first asked the council to accept the grant they voted four-to-two to decline it, fearing when the grant expired, the city would lack the means to retain the additional personnel. Baer said that the council reversed itself on the recommendation of Municipal Resources, Inc, (MRI) of Meredith, which it commissioned to review coverage, overtime and scheduling at the Fire Department, and then on the understanding that the positions would be funded, long-term, by reducing overtime.

Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3), chairman of the council's Finance Committee, explained that the non-capital reserve account was intended to serve as "the vehicle for the Fire Department to put aside those funds." As for Baer's assumption that the positions would be funded by reduced overtime, Lipman said "I completely agree with you. If we can't find the funds, our intent is clear."

Likewise, Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5) said that the non-capital reserve account was simply a mechanism for accounting for the requiring funds, which he also expected to accrue from reducing the cost of overtime. He noted that MRI suggested that adding four firefighters would contribute to reducing overtime.

When the council accepted the grant both Erickson and Myers emphasized that the purpose of the funds was not to reduce overtime but to shorten emergency response times and expand fire suppression capability while reducing the risk of injury to firefighters. Nor do the minutes of the meeting at which the council voted unanimously to accept the grant make mention of reducing overtime. Instead, Lipman explained he decided to reconsider accepting the grant because he was "prepared to work with the Fire Department to come up with a plan to finance the continuation of the personnel at the conclusion of the grant."

The annual cost of the four positions is approximately $321,000, significantly more than the $247,000 budgeted for overtime in the Fire Department in the current fiscal year.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 11:58

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Full-day K will be put before Inter-Lakes voters in 2015

MEREDITH — The Inter-Lakes School District is aiming to put a proposal supporting all-day kindergarten before voters next March, giving a special committee formed by the district a full year to research it.

School Curriculum Coordinator Kathleen Hill told the School Board on Monday that there are multiple people in the three Inter-Lakes communities who have signed up for the committee and came before the board to seek a school board volunteer.

Meredith member Mark Billings volunteered to serve.

"It's terribly important to have Sandwich involvement because of their multi-aged system," said Sandwich member Howard Cunningham.

According to Superintendent Mary Ellen Ormond, Sandwich Center School has one section of kindergarten that lasts about four hours. She said the educational time is about equal to the 2 3/4 hours kindergarteners spend in Inter-Lakes Elementary School in Meredith because Sandwich has "specials" like art and music.

She said they don't have "specials" at Inter-Lakes, which has four half-day kindergarten sessions.

Ormond explained yesterday that Sandwich also has multi-aged classrooms – meaning grades are paired in the same room.

She said the school board has been taking about full-day kindergarten for at least two years and some members wanted to bring a proposal before district voters this year.

Ormond said the board and the administration agreed to take this year and establish a committee, and, should the school board agree, bring the plan forward next year.

Included in the committee's study, she said, are the logistics of having a full-day of kindergarten including the number of teachers needed, classroom space, busing schedules and district costs.

As to the people in the three communities, she said the board wants "clear and open communications" with all of the stakeholders including the business community.

She also said the committee is tasked with including an early childhood education component whereby the district would reach out to parents and expectant parents to let them know that kindergarten is available and how they can work with their children before they enter formal schooling.

At this point in time, she said the Special Education director works with parents of children with special needs long before they reach school age but the rest of the younger children either go to day care or stay at home with a parent.

In addition, Ormond said an early outreach program could also help the district better understand the size of the incoming class.

"Kindergarten (in New Hampshire) is not compulsory," said said, saying that alone makes it even harder to know how many young students can be expected, something nearly all public school districts wrestle with annually.

"This (school) year, we heard from (parents of) six kids who were in pre-school and ended up with 12 new kindergarten students," she said.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 11:48

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