Belmont owed $410,000 for ambulance runs

BELMONT — At the request of the Board of Selectmen, Fire Chief David Parenti is preparing a full accounting of the ambulance service in an effort to stem the increase in outstanding unpaid charges, which has risen from $188,041 in April 2011 to $410,240.

The proceeds from ambulance services are deposited in a special revenue account for the purchase of equipment for the fire and emergency medical services, any shortfall in revenue will ultimately be shouldered by property taxpayers. Parenti laid a significant share of the responsibility for the outstanding debt at the feet of insurance companies.

Parenti explained that the department, like many others in New Hampshire, contracts with Comstar, a Massachusetts billing service, which mails the invoices and collects the payments. He said that Comstar bills private insurance companies, Medicare, Medicaid and workers compensation carriers as well as private individuals and collects the payments. Parenti calculated that the collection rate approaches 70 percent.

Comstar, Parenti said, seeks to collect unpaid bills, but after a reasonable time refers the most delinquent and stubborn to First Financial Resources, a collection agency, or to the Belmont Fire Department. Some individuals enroll in payment plans while others may file a "hardship request," asking the Selectboard to forgive the charges. Parenti said that there are "not a lot" of hardship requests and legitimate requests are rarely denied. So far the town, unlike others in the state, has not turned to the small claims court.

Parenti said that the biggest problem arises from insurance companies that send payments to the insureds, who simply cash the checks, but not to the town, which is left out-of-pocket. State law (RSA 415:18-v) reads "Each insurer that issues or renews any policy of group or blanket accident or health insurance that constitutes health coverage and that provides benefits for medically necessary ambulance services shall reimburse the ambulance service provider directly or by a check payable to the insured and the ambulance service provider subject to the terms and conditions of the policy, plan, or contract."

"It's not a legislative issue," said Parenti. "It's an enforcement issue. It's frustrating, difficult and costly." As president of the New Hampshire Association of Fire Chiefs, Parenti said that departments across the state are wrestling with the issue.

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DeVoy says enhanced nursing home revenue budget still $500k under 2014 actual

LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioner Dave DeVoy (R-Laconia) says that he is comfortable with the revised 2015 revenue estimates that he and fellow commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) developed during an all-day work session on February 13.
The two men increased the revenue estimates for the county nursing home by over $700,00, from $8.1 million to $8.8 million, which DeVoy pointed out is still $500,000 less than the actual 2014 revenue total of $9.3 million.
DeVoy said that he and Taylor decided that the increase was reasonable, given that budgets developed by previous commissioners had sharply underestimated revenues in several accounts for a number of years. For instance one of the categories which had been budgeted for $750,000 by the former commissioners, nursing home revenue coming from the state, had been averaging $1,250,000 over the past four years.
''We couldn't understand why it was so low. And we couldn't get a good explanation of why it was that way so we increased it by $250,000, to $1 million,'' said DeVoy.
County Finance Director Glenn Waring said that he couldn't speak for the former commissioners but agreed that one of the reasons revenue estimates were so low might have been because the state doesn't finalize its budget until June — in odd numbered years — while county budgets are usually finalized in March.
DeVoy said that other major changes included adding $370,000 to the Medicaid Home Care line, bringing it to $3,370,000, which is $200,000 less than was actually received in 2014, and adding $100,000 to the Medicare Part A line to increase it to $1 million.
He said that the change was made in anticipation of having more short-term (Medicare paid rehabilitation) residents at the nursing home, for whom reimbursement rates are higher.
Those changes in revenue estimates are not supported by Commission Chairman Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton), who has said they are unrealistic, and who has offered a budget plan of his own which would cut eight jobs, including the county administrator and finance director, and reduce the increase in the amount to be raised by taxes from $1.4 million to $454,051, a 3.3 percent increase over last year.
Burchell unveiled his plan at Monday night's Laconia City Council meeting but DeVoy told council members that it does not represent the view of the majority of the commission. He said that the plan which has been presented to the Belknap County Convention calls for a $13,931,030 increase in the amount to be raised by taxes, a 1.96 percent increase, which is in line with the 2 percent increase sought by county convention Chairman Frank Tilton (R-Laconia).
The convention will resume its consideration of the proposed county budget when it meets Monday, March 2 at 6 p.m. at the Belknap County complex. It has scheduled meetings for the following two Mondays as well.

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Gilford to crush 10 tons of old asphalt

GILFORD — Selectmen voted unanimously last night to award a contract from asphalt crushing to F.L. Merrill Construction of Loudon.

Selectman Richard "Rags" Grenier said after the meeting that the town has accumulated 10 tons of asphalt over the past few years from road construction projects.

He said typically, a town needs a minimum amount for a contractor to bid on it. In Giford's case, one of the three companies in the state passed on the bid because the pile was too small.

The estimated cost of crushing 10 tons of asphalt is $36,000. Once crushed the asphalt is reused by highway crews for road repairs.

Town Administrator Scott Dunn said the savings to the town is about $3.50 per crushed ton — a products that is typically bought on the market for between $7 and $8 per ton.

Grenier said that the highway department expects to see more asphalt recycling because the selectmen and the Budget Committee have recommended the road construction budget be raised from $750,000 annually to $1 million.

"We are falling behind," said Grenier.

In other Gilford news, Librarian Katherine Dormody told the board that the average usage of the library has stayed consistent over the past five years or since the new library opened.

She said the circulation per capita is about 16.6-percent — meaning the percentage of town residents that use the library, which is twice the average for New Hampshire community libraries.

Dormody said there are some problem with the roof that were addressed by removing snow off of it, but said a few shingles were damaged in the process.

The problem, said Dunn, is ice damming and not a structural problem with the roof.

Selectmen also unanimously passed an ordinance regulating synthetic drugs after closing a public hearing where nobody spoke.
The ordinance prohibits the transportation, sale, possession or use of synthetic drugs on public property and private businesses in accordance with state law.

Finance Director Geoff Ruggles told selectmen that the 2015 budget was being followed so far was as expected. He also noted that despite the snowy and cold winter this year, expenditures are about on par with last year.

"As far a dollars go, it hasn't been that bad," he said.

Selectmen are also still seeking people who will serve on the newly created Solid Waste Committee. So far, said Dunn, only one person has volunteered.

The task of the Solid Waste Committee is to examine the contract with Laconia and Waste Management to determine if the town wants to renew the existing contract or create its own solid waste transfer station on the same site as the recycling center at 150 Kimball Road.

Anyone who is interested in serving is encouraged to contact Town Administrator Scott Dunn or DPW Director Peter Nourse for more information.

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