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Commissioners say lawmakers asking county to ignore contractual obligations

LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners Wednesday morning defended their actions in transferring funds from 90 lines in the 2013 budget to fund salary and benefit items for county employees.
''We met our contractual obligations. Now county convention members are saying we did something wrong because we lived up to the contract,'' said Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia).
Commissioners were responding to charges made at Tuesday night's meeting of the Belknap County Convention by Chairman Colette Worsman (R-Meredith) that the commissioners, by shuffling appropriations authorized by the convention, "overspent salary and benefit lines to the detriment of maintenance and capital" then "falsely blamed" the convention for underfunding routine maintenance and capital projects.
The convention last year stripped funding for sick day and longevity bonuses as well as increased health insurance premiums from the budget. The commissioners then shuffled funds from some 90 budget lines to fund what they say are the contractual obligations under the collective bargaining agreements with the State Employees Association local, which represents employees of the Corrections Department, Sheriff's Department and Nursing Home.
''Some members of the convention have a serious misconception about these contracts. I heard it from at least two reps that they think they can do what they want, that there's no contract in place. But we can't.'' said Philpot.
He later said that ''I know they understand that. They were screwing around with the contract.''
The commission now faces the challenge of possibly having to deal with another union as 28 county employees who are not members of a union have petitioned the Public Employees Labor Relations Board to form a collective bargaining unit represented by Teamsters Local 633 which is headquartered in Manchester.
Commission Chairman John Thomas said that he thought that the new union is being sought by employees due to ''the convention's refusal to fund contractual obligations and the threat of benefits being further reduced by the non-appropriation of funds.''
Philpot said ''we shouldn't speculate'' and urged making no comments on the petition. The county has 15 days in which to respond to the petition and commissioners met later in the morning in a non-public session to discuss whether they would oppose the petition.
Commissioners also discussed three bills proposed by Belknap County legislators regarding the county budget process. They criticized provisions in all three and said that the bills wouldn't be necessary if the convention would only engage in a dialogue with the commission and think beyond the current situation.
''We've been threatened with a lawsuit on this issue and have been corresponding with the convention's attorney and haven't heard back, They don't have an argument against what we say should be the way the budget is handled,'' said Philpot.
Nedeau said that the three bills were totally ''anti-county'' and didn't see any way they would make it through the Legislature.
With regard to the lawsuit authorized by the convention against the commission Nedeau said that he was waiting for something to materialize as no court action has been filed. ''People, if you've got something, bring it on.'' he said.

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 January 2014 02:17

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Land Trust asks county to sponsor $250k grant application for riverfront project in Laconia

LACONIA — The Laconia Area Community Land Trust Wednesday morning asked the Belknap County Commissioners for their sponsorship of a $250,00 Community Development Block Grant application for a 32-unit workforce housing development which will be built next to the Winnipesaukee River in downtown Laconia.
Linda Harvey, executive director of the trust, said the $7.4 million River's Edge project has a $500,000 gap in its funding and the county's support would help bridge that shortfall. The project is ready to go out to bid and only needs to complete its financing in order to move ahead.
The project would be built on a 1.85 acre site bordered by Union Avenue, Arch Street and the Winnipesaukee River which currently is occupied by two abandoned and blighted warehouse buildings formerly used by F.W. Webb, according to Harvey.
Commissioner Steve Nedeau (R-Meredith) wondered why the LACLT hadn't gone to the city of Laconia for its grant sponsorship and Harvey said that the trust hadn't anticipated the shortfall.
''We didn't think we'd need them,'' she said, adding that the city is participating in other ways, including its Riverwalk project, which will pass through the site, and by waiving 80 percent of the impact fees for the project.
Harvey said and LACLT was approached by Laconia City Planner Shanna Saunders last year about redeveloping the site and that it's plan for a three-story elevator-eqipped building has already been approved by the city's planning board.
Plans call demolition of the structurally unsound warehouse buildings and construction of a three-story building which would have parking next to Arch Street and also on Union Avenue, where only the top floor of the project will be visible to passing motorists.
Harvey said the N.H. Housing Finance Authority has already approved financing for Low Income Housing Tax Credits and capital subsidy funds and there is also a commitment of funds from NeighborWorks America.
LACLT is providing an easement to the city for public river walk, which will be constructed and maintained by the city.
The organization is looking at purchasing electricity produced at the nearby Avery Dam hydro station as well as green innovations such as geothermal energy for heating and air conditioning.
She said that an additional benefit of the project will be the removal of hazardous waste from the site.
County commissioners agreed to hold a public hearing on the request at their next meeting on January 21, which will enable LACLT to apply for the grant before the January 27 deadline.

LACLT manages 252 housing units in five communities in central New Hampshire, including Laconia, Tilton, Belmont, Meredith and Wolfeboro.

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 January 2014 02:06

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Laconia Fire Dept. takes delivery on new Engine 1

LACONIA — The Fire Department took delivery of it 2013 Emergency-One Fire truck yesterday and Chief Ken Erickson said it will soon be fitted with all of the equipment removed from an old truck.

He said the new "Engine 1" will be the primary attack truck for Central Station and the 1990 Sutphen that was purchased used a few years ago will be the second attack truck from downtown.

The truck cost $422,222 he said.

Erickson said the 1998 American LaFrance truck, "a problem child since day one" was taken in trade by E-One.

He said the truck command center — or operations panel — is enclosed by a top-sliding door on the side that protects the tools and equipment from the elements — especially road salt.

The E-One also has state-of-the-art safety protections including a anti-lock brakes, a roll cage, an automatic transmission and 45-degree steering capabilities that make it much easier to maneuver in narrow streets and alleyways.

He said the crews have had one week of training with the factory representative and will get an additional week of training once the Department of Public Safety strips the equipment from the old truck and adds it to the new truck.

CUTLINE: Platoon 3 stands next to the 2013 Emergency-One firetruck delivered to Laconia Tuesday. From left to right are Lt. Jeff Desrosiers, and Firefighters Chris Beaudoin, Trey Bushey, Nathan Mills, Kevin Pierce, and David Thompson. (Courtesy photo)

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 January 2014 02:01

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Gilmanton selectmen adopt policy that asks fire chief to work 2 regular firefighter shifts each week

GILMANTON — Selectmen formally adopted a written policy that sets 168 hours a week as the maximum number that can be used by the Fire Department to have two staff members at a time provide station coverage for 12 hours each day. With a full-time staff of one chief and three firefighter/EMTs, the effect of the policy is to make the chief insert himself into the rotation for two, 12 hour shifts per week.

The vote, which was taken in a public session Monday night, was unanimous.

Selectmen allowed for exceptions of the policy to provide for coverage for sick days, vacations days, staff vacancies, or personnel days. All staffing will be provided by full-time Gilmanton Firefighter/EMTs.

Appraised ahead of time about the impending written policy, Fire Chief Joe Hempel III — who, along with most members of the Gilmanton Fire Association had objected — sent a letter to the board expressing his "displeasure and disagreement" with it.

"Board members have stated that three employees working shifts during the week is 'overstaffing,'" he wrote. "I respectfully disagree and feel that our current staffing pattern addresses the safety needs of our community."

Selectman Don Guarino said Monday that during its annual budget preparation process, the board looked at Sunday staffing at the department and realized that Sunday's were being staffed by part-time employees and that both of them were not always certified Firefighter/EMTs.

All three said their interpretation of a warrant article passed at the 2004 Town Meeting was that the town would be covered by full-time employees. Guarino said he noticed that weekday shifts included three full-time employees, including the chief.

"We weren't digging for it but now we know that this is what the voters wanted in 2004," Guarino said.

The new policy is projected to reduce the Fire Department budget by $20,000.

In essence, selectmen determined that Hempel should be filling the role as the second firefighter/EMT for the 40 hours a week that he works and he should readjust his employee's schedules to have the Sunday shift covered by two of his four full-time employees.

Hempel, who did not appear at Monday's meeting despite being listed on the agenda, asked that selectmen reconsider the policy and allow him to reschedule his personnel as he sees necessary.

In a e-mail sent to The Daily Sun yesterday, he said the logic behind the selectman's assumption that he should be a "first responder" is flawed.

He pointed out that the fire chief serves as a command officer and if he is actively fighting a fire or transporting a patient, he is unable to command the scene.

In addition, he says the role of chief is one of oversight and education and his job is to ensure his employees and the public remains safe.

Hempel also said there a very few call firefighters available during the day and his presence as a "third" person allows for an additional "set of hands" in the event of an emergency and gives him the leeway to return to the station in the event of a transport, which can take two people up to three hours.

With two people only in the station during the day, he said it will increase Gilmanton's dependence on mutual aid while decreasing overall performance in his department.

Hempel said OSHA also requires responding firefighters to go "two-in and two-out" to structure fires, leaving no one to do the initial job of hooking up fire lines and  coordinating communications with other responders.

As to the specifics in Gilmanton's Fire Department, he said the selectman's actions have been demoralizing to the members of his department and hiring, training and equipping new firefighters is expensive.

As to the projected $20,000 savings, Hempel, who is also a Gilmanton resident and taxpayer, said that the $20,000 amounts to about 4 cents per $1,000 of evaluation or about $8 for the $200,000 home owner.

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 January 2014 01:42

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