New union for Shaker employees would provide raises

BELMONT — A new bargaining unit for the Shaker Regional School District employees is seeking $117,679 for the first year of the three-year contract at the March 4 annual School District Meeting.

In June of 2015, the School Board and the Shaker Regional Education Support Professional Association entered into an agreement that would bring all but top administrators and SAU staff into a new union.

The association represents five categories of employees at the school district: secretaries, teachers assistants, specialist tutors, custodians and food service staff.

According to Shaker Regional Business Administrator Deb Thompson, the 2015-2016 budget included $84,000 in pay increases for nonunion staff that would only be paid if the group didn't start the process of forming a bargaining unit. Since the notice of intent to form a union was issued shortly after the last School District Meeting, no raises were paid and employees in those categories were paid the same as they were the year before.

Thompson said they began by looking at surrounding districts and comparing the wages similar employees earn. She said Belmont ended up somewhere in the middle and created five separate 16-step pay scales for each of the five categories of people who are union members.

She said the district looked at how many years each employee had been with the district to determine what step each would start at. Initially, every three years equaled one step.

For those who were clearly losing money on the new pay scale, Thompson said they guaranteed a 4.5 percent raise.

She said not everyone will get a huge increase in the first year, but going forward they'll get their increases.

The school district was able to negotiate a three-year contract that provided $117,679 in 2016-2017, $74,410 in 2017-2018 and $73,542 in 2018-2019.

Should this article fail, there is a provision on the warrant for permission to hold one special district meeting if necessary.

As to the total proposed budget, Superintendent Maria Dreyer said the same services would be provided next year as this year at a total cost of $21,745,870 which is 0.25 percent less than last year's approved budget of $21,801,204.

Mayor concerned about trends of Weirs development

LACONIA — Like the first, the second of four sessions to which the City Council has invited property owners to discuss changes to the zoning at The Weirs passed again this week without anyone offering their views either in person or writing.
City Manager Scott Myers said that he had written to more than two dozen people who own property at The Weirs, explaining that the council is reviewing the permitted uses in the Commercial Resort district, particular along the US Route 3 and NH Route 11B corridor from White Oaks Road to the Meredith town line. He said that a few indicated they would attend the council meetings while others said they would provide written submissions, but so far no one has been seen or heard from.
"They're all in Florida," said Councilor Armand Bolduc (Ward 6).
Meanwhile, Mayor Ed Engler with a map of the city and inventory of properties sought to place the issue in perspective. He noted that the commercial resort district encompasses most of The Weirs, beginning on Lake Street. extending northward along Weirs Boulevard, including the center of The Weirs and running either side of US Route 3 to the Meredith town line. It also includes property along both sides of Route 11B, including the former Surf Coaster property at the junction with White Oaks Road.
Engler said that Planning Director Shanna Saunders compiled an inventory of 32 large lots in the city that were either vacant or underdeveloped. Altogether, these lots represent 465 acres, of which 28 lots covering 446 acres, or 96 percent of the total acreage, are in the commercial resort district, most along the US Route 3/NH Roue 11B corridor.
Elsewhere, land suited for commercial development is scarce. Laconia, with 20.1 square miles of land, is one of the smallest cities in the state. Only Somersworth, with 9.8 square miles, and Portsmouth, with 15.7 square miles, are smaller.
Moreover, there are six state forests — Hamel, Huston-Morgan, Opechee Bay, Paugus, Prescott, Swain — covering 749 acres in the northern reaches of the city. Altogether these properties, together with Ahern State Park and the former Laconia State School property, account for nearly 10 percent of the land area of the city. Moreover, much of the remaining land in the northern part of the city on either side of Meredith Center Road and Parade Road lies in residential zones and is without municipal utilities.
The mayor noted that residential property represents 82.6 percent of the total assessed valuation, the largest share among the 13 cities in the state. Conversely, the value of commercial property and buildings, including utilities, accounts for 17.4 percent of the total assessed valuation, the smallest share of any city.
"Is it wise to allow residential development along the corridor?" Engler asked, referring to stretch along US Route 3 and NH Route 11B at The Weirs. "Theoretically, every one of these lots could become a trailer park," he continued. He said that the much of the recent development at The Weirs has been residential and warned if the trend persists "all that land could gone and we'd have no land for commercial development at all."
Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2), who serves as the council's liaison to the Panning Board, suggested referring the issue to the Zoning Task Force. "I think we need some more input," he said, encouraging the council "to be a little more expansive in how we're going about this."
However, Engler said that any recommendations the council offers should be incorporated in the Master Plan. He said that the council would ultimately submit its recommendations to the Planning Board, which in turn would refer them to the Zoning Task Force. He said that the council should frame its recommendations and forward them to the Planning Board to ensure they receive thorough consideration.

Audit shows Laconia is in ‘sound financial condition’

LACONIA — After completing its independent audit of the city's financial statements, Pat Mohan of Melanson, Heath & Company assured the City Council this week that the city remains in sound financial condition and the auditors provided a "clean" opinion with no major deficiencies.

At the close of the fiscal year ended on June 30, 2015, total assets exceeded liabilities by $59,818.945, a change of $4,549,523 compared to the prior year. Governmental funds posted ending fund balances of $15,332,243, an increase of $6,230,395 over the the year before. The total long-term debt at the close of the fiscal year was $42,538,768, or $7,340,912 more than the previous year.

During the year, actual revenues exceeded budgeted revenues by $190,891 while actual expenditures were $417,865 less than budgeted, leaving an excess of revenues over expenditures of $608,756.

To offset property taxes, $835,000 was withdrawn from the unassigned fund balance to supplement revenues in the 2015-2016 budget. However, with the operating surplus of $608,756, the net decrease in the unassigned fund balance was $226,244. Mohan said that the unassigned fund balance of $5,357,809, which represents nearly 10 percent of expenditures, complies with recommended guidelines.

Mohan stressed that for the first time the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report includes the city's share of the $ 4 billion unfunded liability of the New Hampshire Retirement System. The city's share of $37,059,606 represents 1 percent of the total. The city will never be billed directly for the unfunded pension liability. Instead, the unfunded liability will be addressed by measures taken by the New Hampshire Retirement System, which could include increased contributions to the system from municipal employers.