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Understanding Obamacare one of the programs at local Business Resource Fair

LACONIA — Local businesses owners and managers were updated on the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, at the opening session of the Lakes Region Business Resource Fair held at the Woodside building at the Taylor Community Wednesday morning.
Amy Bassett of the Small Business Administrations' Concord office, attorney Katherine DeForest of the Sulloway and Hollis law firm and Ray Hurd, regional administrator of the Boston office of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services all spoke about the impact of the comprehensive health care reform on businesses and how the provisions of the act are being phased.
Bassett noted that the rules for implementing the program are still being written and that open enrollment for the health care exchanges created in each state as part of the program opens on October 1 for insurance plans which will take effect on January 1, 2014.
She said that there is a one-year phase-in for provisions of the act and that firms which employ less than 50 people, which she said amounts to 96 percent of American businesses, are exempt from the provisions.
Bassett said that a great amount of work is needed to educate small business owners and workers about the provisions of the act and that all employers subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act are required to provide informational notices to their employees regarding the health insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Exchanges."
She said employers are obligated to provide to each current employee, on or before October 1, 2013, a written notice describing the individual employee's options in the exchanges, and to all employees hired subsequent to October 1, within 14 days of hire. This health care reform exchange notice requirement applies to hospitals, schools, certain residential institutions, and government agencies, as well as any employer that is engaged in interstate commerce or an employer with at least $500,000 of business per year.
Attorney Katherine DeForest of the Sulloway and Hollis law firm said that the Affordable Care Act is the largest piece of social legislation in decades and that many provisions are being only partially implemented.
She noted that the law's employer penalty applies to firms with 50 or more full-time workers who do not provide health insurance coverage or whose coverage is unaffordable (costing more than 9.5 percent of household income) are subject to assessments of up to $2,000 per full-time employee or $3,000 for each full-time employee who receives a tax credit when buying insurance coverage on the exchange.
DeForest said employer penalties kick in during 2015.
Ray Hurd of the Boston Medicare office said that a small business tax credit designed to help businesses afford the cost of health care coverage applies to firms with less than 25 full-time equivalent employees who pay average annual wages below $50,000 and pay more than 50 percent of employees' self-only health insurance premiums enables them to qualify for a small business tax credit of up to 35 percent in the first year of the program and 50 percent in the second.
He said that starting October 1 the Small Business Health Options Program will offer different kinds of health plans and that businesses which seek tax credits will have to purchase their plans through SHOP or a broker registered with SHOP in order to qualify.
Hurd said the program represents a step towards quality, affordable health care for those 41 million previously unable to obtain health insurance and that there is a huge education task ahead which will include health service providers as well as small businesses.

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 September 2013 02:44

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Alton Planning Department eyes changes needed to comply with state law requiring 'realistic' opportunity for workforce housing

ALTON — With a grant from the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority and guidance from Jeffrey H. Taylor & Associates of Concord, the Planning Department is preparing an amendment to the zoning amendment that would bring the town into compliance with the state statute "to provide reasonable and realistic opportunities for the development of workforce housing."

Town Planner Ken McWilliams said yesterday that he expects to present a draft to the Zoning Amendment Committee before the end of this month, a proposal to the Planning Board in November and a warrant article for Town Meeting in March. He said that in accordance with the terms of the grant an effort is underway to inform the public about the issue, adding that the Alton Business Association will host a public forum on Wednesday, September 18 at the Gilman Museum, beginning at 6 p.m.

McWilliams recalled that the issue was first broached in April 2012, when Ben Frost of the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority and Linda Harvey of the Laconia Area Community Land Trust spoke to some two dozen residents. "The reaction led me to believe that we had some education to do," he said.

The first step, McWilliams said, was to determine how closely the town's existing housing stock matched the standard for workforce housing as set by the statute. Housing for sale valued at $248,000 or less is considered "affordable" to those with the median income in Belknap County of a household of four, which is currently $69,000. Units renting for $930 per month are considered affordable to those with 60-percent of the median income of a household of three, which is currently $37,260.

After reviewing home values from 2005 to 2012, McWilliams said that a significant share of the housing stock, between 35-percent and 60-percent qualified as "workforce housing." However, he cautioned that the share of affordable units fluctuates with property values, which he noted have risen and fallen relatively significantly in recent years.

Moreover, McWilliams noted that accessory apartments are permitted in most zones and multi-famility dwellings are permitted in both residential commercial and residential rural districts. Manufactured and modular housing is also in most residential districts.

However, the vast majority of Alton's 63-square-miles of land is zoned rural, where house lots require a minimum of two acres and 200 feet of road frontage. Since the statute requires municipalities to provide for the development of workforce housing in the majority of its land area zoned for residential use, McWilliams said that the dimensional requirements in the rural district represent "the biggest hurdle to compliance."

McWilliams pointed out that one option was eliminated at Town Meeting in March when voters, by a margin of two-to-one, rejected a recommendation of the Planning Board to permit "conservation" or cluster subdivisions, which develop a portion of a parcel while leaving the remainder as open space. He pointed out cluster development lowers the cost of infrastructure — roads and utilities — and with it the price of the units. He said the Planning Board agreed not to reintroduce the proposal before 2015.

"The draft will address the issue of the rural zone," McWilliams said, anticipating that the proposal will spark lively debate among residents.

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 September 2013 02:37

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Gunstock negotiating for 2014 return of Tough Mudder competition

GILFORD — It looks like Tough Mudder will be returning to Gunstock Mountain Resort next year but likely in September rather than in June.

Gunstock Mountain Resort General Manager Greg Goddard told selectmen last night that he is in negotiations with the organization that bills itself as one of the toughest endurance and obstacle contests known.

"We fully expect a much smoother road (next year)," Goddard said, referring during a briefing to what he called "confusion" surrounding this past year's contest.

Nearly 12,000 people participated in the June 1-2, 2013 event at the first Tough Mudder at Gunstock that occurred during one of the most punishing New England heat waves recorded that early in the season.

The "confusion" stemmed from more participants needing more emergency services from the Gilford Fire Department and Lakes Region General Hospital than was expected, although Tough Mudder provided most of its own medical care and emergency services.

Another sources of confusion, said Gunstock Commission Chair John Morgenstern shortly after the contest, was that all event parking was at the N.H. Motor Speedway in Loudon with Tough Mudder providing all of the transportation for the participants — many of whom were unaware of the distance between the two venues.

Goddard said last night that Tough Mudder, the management of the speedway, and Gunstock are working on not only a proposal for a 2014 contest but the possibility of a two-weekend contest in 2015.

He said the biggest issue the negotiations face is the schedule at the speedway in Loudon but he said he's fairly confident the agencies can come to some kind of agreement in time for next year.

Goddard said they are up to 32 Tough Mudder events held annually, with Gunstock being one of two venues in New England.

In other Gunstock news, Goddard said they are rebuilding the festival field and making a terrian-based learning area. He said the new field will give them a better physical space for large events such as the annual summer Soul Fest.

Other summer improvements include a complete over haul of "loop road" or the road that goes around the main parking lot, something he said would make a lot of people very happy, especially in the spring.

Soul Fest, said Goddard, will be shorten by one day next year and will run Thursday, Friday and Saturday as opposed to being a four-day event.

He said participation this past year was down about 10 percent from previous years, noting Soul Fest organizers think this is because many people can't spend the entire four days in the area and don't want to pay only to miss one full day.

He also said the event would be moving from the first week in August to the second week in August.

Despite a lower turnout this past year, Goddard said Gunstock had a level revenue stream because the resort makes much of its money in chair-lift rides, retail concessions, and camping.

Down the road, he said Gunstock will host a new event called the Ragnar Trail Race Series that he said is a relay that is only trail running along a set route.

He also said Area Road is near completion and almost ready for the town to accept as a town road. Running from the old Alpine Ridge Ski Area to Cherry Valley Road, Area Road has 11 homes and 14 lots and for years was the primary egress from the resort.

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 September 2013 02:28

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Barnstead road agent fired

BARNSTEAD — Selectmen fired former Road Agent Chris Carazzo for refusing to cooperate with a town-generated investigation into the possible theft of recyclable materials.

According to a notice of dismissal letter filed with the Town Clerk's Office, selectmen had been told in April that Carazzo allegedly brought town-owned metals to Harding Metals of Northwood and Berwick Iron & Metal Recycling in Maine and kept the money for himself.

When the board began its investigation in late April, they met with Carazzo, the town attorney, and an investigator. Selectmen said the investigator spoke with a number of people and his report, if true, indicated that he "refused or neglected to carry out the duties prescribed by law for highway agents."

Despite the meeting, the board asked and later instructed Carazzo to sign authorizations for his personal access to the company's records so the investigator could examine and document the metal deliveries he allegedly made.

On the advice of his attorney, Carazzo refused and selectmen terminated his employment as of September 3, telling him that the signed authorizations were "reasonably necessary" for them to continue their investigation.

Selectmen also told him that his refusal to sign the releases could be grounds for his termination, citing RSA 231:65 that says (elected) highway agents shall be sworn in by selectmen, are under their supervision, and if any agent "shall intentionally or deliberately refuse or neglect to carry out the duties prescribed by law for highway agents after written request by the selectmen, the selectmen may remove such agent from office."

Carazzo was first elected to the position of road agent in 2008.

As part of the dismissal letter, selectmen said Carazzo's removal is not based on any conclusions about misappropriation of town money but on his deliberate refusal to obey a direct order from the board.

Selectboard Chair Priscilla Tiede recused herself from the meeting according to the minutes obtained from the Barnstead website. The letter was signed by Vice Chair David Kerr, James Barnard and Gordon Preston. Selectman Francis Vardaro did not sign it.

Kerr said he had no comment on the specific matter, but when asked if he supported Barnstead continuing with an elected road agent — as opposed to hiring a person to manage the department — Kerr said the voters at annual town meeting have consistently rejected the idea.

He said it was too soon to know if the selectmen would support a related article in 2014.

Earlier this year, a former employee of the Barnstead Highway Department filed a complaint in Belknap County Superior Court against Carazzo and the town for sexual discrimination, claiming Carazzo called him a number of emasculating names during his employment with the town. The time frame of the alleged harassment began in 2009 and continued until July of 2010 when he resigned.

Richard Niolet alleges that the allegedly "hostile work environment" began with a racial slur made to him by a subcontractor who was working for the town and under Carazzo's supervision. Niolet has a mixed-race family and he claims that the harassment started when he complained to Carazzo about the subcontractor's comments.

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 September 2013 03:00

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