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6-4 Gilford BudCom vote endoreses new collective bargaining agreement with teachers

GILFORD — The Budget Committee voted last night to recommend an overall school budget of $24.6 million for coming fiscal year, as well as recommending passage of a new three-year contract with the teachers' union.
The committee gave its endorsement to a total school department appropriation of $24,610,710. The sum is $51,500 less than what the School Board was seeking. The $51,500 had been earmarked for new carpeting in the High School library and the school's computer lab, as well as a new stage curtain for the school auditorium.
The Budget Committee voted to recommend passage of the teachers' collective bargaining agreement by a split vote of 6-4 with two members abstaining.
Under proposed three-year agreement with the Gilford Education Association, those covered by the contract would see their pay increase an average of 3 percent a year. Those at the top end of the pay scale would receive pay increases averaging about 1.5 percent, Assistant Superintendent of Business Scott Isabelle told the committee.
The cost items of the contract would be $110,000 in the coming fiscal year, Isabelle explained. The cost impact would be $257,911 in the second year of the contract, and $260,333 in the third year.
Isabelle said that the first-year's cost impact would be offset by a $156,000 saving in the cost of health insurance. He said that those covered under the proposed contract would pay much more for the prescription medications, as well as higher co-pays for medical care. Isabelle said that under the new contract the district would pay for an HMO-type health insurance policy only. Other options would be available to teachers, he said, but the individual teacher would have to pay the entire cost of the difference.
Budget Committee Chairman Phyllis Corrigan said she had "no qualms" with the contract, but others criticized the pay increases.
Member David Horvath objected to giving teachers raises at a time when the economy is "anemic" and when most people are not getting any raises at all and are having to deal with increases in the cost of gasoline and other items, as well as higher taxes.
"At some place we're got to say slow down some," he said.
But School Board Chairman Sue Allen reminded the committee that teachers have had their pay frozen in recent years.
The committee voted not to recommend a warrant article that would have allowed the School District to retain a small portion of any year's budget which would be used to cover any unanticipated expenses or else be rolled over into the next year's budget if the amount did not need to be used.
Seven committee members voted not to recommend the measure while five voted in favor of endorsing it.
Superintendent Kent Hemingway said that the fund would help to dampen increases in the school tax rate that can now occur due to unexpected expenses.
But committee Vice Chairman Kevin Leandro said holding the money in reserve was akin to "holding taxpayer money hostage."
"If the money is not spent for what it was intended then it should be returned to the taxpayers," he said.

Last Updated on Friday, 10 January 2014 01:58

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Belknap Convention votes to follow subcommittee budget process in most areas

LACONIA — After dividing over how to conduct the preparation of the 2014 county budget, the Belknap County Convention reached a compromise by which personnel costs, capital projects, fund balance and debt service will be addressed by the entire convention, acting as a committee of the whole, while a half-dozen subcommittees will review departmental budgets.

Controversy over the process arose in December, when the Belknap County Commission presented its recommended budget to the convention. Questioned by several members about how the convention would proceed, Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), who chairs the body, demurred, remarking "I haven't made that decision yet." Several members stressed the importance of convening traditional sub-committees to meet with department heads in order to assess the needs of the county before jumping to conclusions about appropriate levels of spending.

When the convention met this week the issue arose again. Rep. David Huot (D-Laconia) was concerned that the commissioners failed to include the department requests in their budget, explaining that the convention could not make sound decisions without comparing the departments' requests with the commissions' recommendations.

Rep. Dennis Fields (R-Sanbornton), who has challenged Worsman's leadership throughout her tenure, told her that "you have not helped us as a delegation" and "you do things on your own without the members of the delegation knowing." When Worsman and Rep. Bob Greemore (R-Meredith) tried to call Fields to order, he stood up from his chair, raised his arms in the air and invited Sheriff Craig Wiggin to arrest him. Fields joined the chorus urging Worsman to refer the budget to the sub-committees

Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) agreed with Huot that the sub-committees should meet with department heads and make recommendations on their budgets to the convention. However, he insisted that issues common to all departments, compensation and benefits, should be addressed by the convention "as a whole."

Meanwhile, Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) urged the convention to address personnel costs, introducing a motion to withhold any appropriation to increase compensation or expand benefits until the employees' contribution to their health insurance premiums is substantially increased. His motion was adopted by a vote of 11 to 7.

When the meeting was opened to the public, Wiggin rose to urge the convention against "throwing out a bottom line" without first meeting with department heads and "going through the process. "You clearly don't like what these three have done," he said, referring to the commissioner's recommended budget, then told them "look at their budget" and "educate yourselves. Your constituents," he continued, "want you to do your job."

With that the convention, by a margin of 11 to 7, voted to convene sub-committees while providing that compensation and benefits and other issues will be addressed by the entire convention.

All five Democrats — Representatives Huot and Beth Arsenault of Laconia, Ian Raymond of Sanbornton, Ruth Gulick of New Hampton and Lisa DiMartino of Gilford were joined by Republicans Vadney, Tilton, Bob Luther and Don Flanders of Laconia, Fields of Sanbornton, Stephen Holmes of Alton in the majority.

Worsman asked the sub-committees to complete their work in January and present their recommendations to the convention in February.

Last Updated on Friday, 10 January 2014 01:24

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City plans inauguration ceremony for Monday night

LACONIA — The inauguration of the new mayor and City Council will be held on Monday, January 13 in the Rose Chertok Gallery on the third floor of the Belknap Mill, beginning at 7 p.m. The public is invited and welcome.

As master of ceremonies, former Mayor Rod Dyer will introduce the incoming mayor, Edward J. Engler, and city councilors Ava Doyle (Ward 1), David Bownes (Ward 2), Henry Lipman (Ward 3), Brenda Baer (Ward 4), Bob Hamel (Ward 5) and Armand Bolduc (Ward 6), who will be led to the stage by an Honor Guard of Laconia Firefighters.

Retiring Mayor Mike Seymour and Ward 2 Councilor Matt Lahey will be honored for their service to the city.

The ceremonies will be punctuated by musical selections, including the National Anthem, performed by the concert choir of Laconia High School, featuring soloist Linda Spevacek and directed by Debbi Gibson.

Following the mayor's inaugural address and councilor's remarks, the city council will convene a brief meeting to elect a mayor pro tem and confirm committee assignments.

A reception open to all will follow the ceremonies.

Last Updated on Friday, 10 January 2014 01:20

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Effort to make consumer-grade fireworks legal in Gilford opening Pandora's box?

GILFORD — Although most town residents don't know it, setting off consumer-grade (Class C) fireworks is prohibited — and has been since 1988.

But at the request of the selectmen, Fire Chief Steve Carrier has been working with the N.H. Fire Marshal Chris Wyman to create an ordinance that could allow fireworks in Gilford under certain conditions and restrictions.

Selectmen reviewed an early draft of Carrier's proposal Wednesday night but ended up with more questions than solutions — including one continually posed by Selectman Gus Benavides about how the town can regulate common sense?

For example, one of the draft recommendations is that no fireworks can be discharged within 50 feet of a structure, utility lines or woods.

"I don't see how that can be possible," said Benavides. "What if they don't go straight up and straight down?"

Carrier and the fire marshal said that the goal of any ordinance would be to ensure fireworks met the consumer standards — Class C verses Class B (professional grade) fireworks — and that only people 21 and older are handling them. It would also have time restrictions.

The idea, they said, is to keep them in your own backyard.

Selectman John O'Brien, who has been talking about fireworks and their regulation and enforcement for a number of years, said by allowing their use, the town is assuming "a lot of common sense."

"Common sense and beer don't go together," he said.

About 20 percent of New Hampshire communities prohibit the use of fireworks said Wyman. He also said that it is hard to say how many injuries are reported annually form fireworks, because the state only gets records from emergencies room on burn information.

He noted that in the past two years there have been at least two serious incidents involving fireworks, including a young girl who was burned when a sparkler lit her dress afire and the incident in Pelham that sent 11 people to the hospital when a misfire caused an explosion. Wyman said two people are still being treated for their injuries.

When asked yesterday, Lt. Kris Kelley said fireworks complaints usually come in waves and are consistent with the Fourth of July and occasionally New Years Eve.

He said police respond but by the time they pinpoint where the fireworks are being used and get there they are usually all gone.

"What we do is try to stop people from using them," he said.

When asked if fireworks are confiscated when found, Kelley said they can be but they also represent an internal storage and safety problem.

Selectmen took no actions on the chief's draft proposal Wednesday and were reminded by Town Administrator Scott Dunn that if the board didn't want to allow them, then they could end the conversation and just keep the complete prohibition.

O'Brien said the town needs to do some more research before any kind of warrant article for a new ordinance is drafted.

Last Updated on Friday, 10 January 2014 01:11

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