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No change yet to Inter-Lakes graduation venue (532)


MEREDITH — With the Inter-Lakes School Board expected to address the request of the Class of 2016 to hold the graduation ceremony on the artificial turf field at the high school when it meets tonight, there is no sign that the administration has dropped its opposition to the change of venue.

Last month, students petitioned the School Board to move the graduation from Prescott Park, which supplanted the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion (Meadowbrook) as the venue several years ago.

Trish Temperino, assistant superintendent and business manager, said yesterday that she has no reason to believe either Superintendent Mary Ellen Ormond or Pat Murphy, principal of Inter-lakes High School, have retreated from their position that the ceremony would pose an unacceptable risk to the condition of the field.

"I'm not 100 percent opposed," conceded Mark Billings, who chairs the School Board, "but I'm close." He stressed that his overriding concern is "what are the risks to the field." After thorough briefing by the administrators as well Chris Wald, the facilities director, as well as a careful review of the arguments of the petitioners, he indicated that he found the risks outweighed the rewards. However, he added "I have no sense of the rest of the board."

The petitioners emphasized the shortcomings of Prescott Park for an event that draws more than 1,000 people. The restroom facilities, they said are distant and inadequate. During and after rainfall both the parking lot and the park are muddy and dank. The capacity of the tent is limited to 1,000. Above all they stressed that the field, where "championships were won and individual accomplishments were achieved," holds "an abundance of great memories." Moreover, the field lies between the two schools where many graduates spent most of their young lives.

When the petition was presented last month Randy Eifert, the parent of a graduating senior, reminded the board that the $10,000 cost of renting a tent, chairs, stage and sound system would be halved by changing the venue. Discounting the risk to the field, he pointed that both Laconia High School and Kingswood Regional High School hold their graduation ceremonies on artificial turf fields. and Kingswood.

Murphy was most concerned about the weather, explaining that the ceremony would be at the mercy of both rain and heat. She said the temperature on the artificial turf could be 10 or 20 degrees higher than on natural grass while a rain date would inconvenience those traveling from out of town.

Meanwhile,Temperino advised the board that interlocking plastic decking would be required to protect the field at a cost of $37,698 while the cost of transporting and raising a tent on the artificial turf would cost another $35,631. With the cost of renting chairs and a sound system, the the bill for the ceremony would approach $90,000.

Billings said that the risk to field was not limited to the turf, but also to "the 6 to 8 inches underneath it." He calculated that 1,200 people, with an average weight of 160 pounds apiece, would represent 98 tons on a concentrated area of a $1.5 million field. Moreover, he found that at Kingswood Regional High School the audience is seated in the grandstand, not on the field. "Laconia," he remarked, "may be the exception to every rule."

County nursing home employees reject contract

LACONIA — Employees of the Belknap County Nursing Home last week rejected the employment contract offered by the Belknap County Commissioners and decided to petition the Board of Directors of the State Employees Association to authorize action without indicating what steps they may take.

The county and its nursing home employees have failed to reach agreement on a contract since 2012, leaving employees without an increase in compensation for the past four years wages. The tentative agreement was rejected by a vote of 33 against and 14 in favor. Another 23 employees, who would be covered by the contract, were not entitled to vote because they do not pay union dues.

The commission's offer mirrors the collective bargaining agreements negotiated with Teamsters Local 633 representing managerial and administrative employees and the State Employees Association representing corrections officers, which have been ratified by the members of both unions and approved by the Belknap County Delegation.

The two-year agreement includes a 1.4 percent cost-of-living adjustment for each year as well as step increases, which could increase total compensation for eligible employees by 4.4 percent each year. The agreement would change the health insurance benefit from an HMO plan to a site-of-service plan, which would include deductibles of $1,000, $2,000 and $3,000 for single, two-person and family plans. In the first year of the agreement, employees are entitled to a $1,000 bonus for changing their health insurance plan.

In a prepared statement, Candie Harriman, vice president of the union local, said that "at a time when the economy is very strong and the rate of inflation is stable, it is clear that the Belknap County Nursing Home employees deserved a better contract from the commissioners."

"This was very disappointing," said Commissioner Hunter Taylor. "These people really deserve a pay raise." He said that most employees would receive an increase of more that 8 percent over the two years of the contract.

"I think it was a good contract and like every other good deal neither side got all it wanted," he said. "The county got a break on the cost of health insurance and the employees got an increase in compensation."

Rich Gulla, president of the State Employees Association Local 1984, said that the commission offered employees "a minimal wage adjustment in return for significant health concessions. The employees," he continued, "would essentially be funding their own raises by agreeing to such a low wage increase." Nevertheless, he told employees that "We are eager to get right back to the bargaining table and reach a more mutually beneficial agreement."

In the meantime, employee will work to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement reached in 2012.

City manager presents budget that promises spending increases while keeping under tax cap


LACONIA —While keeping within the tight bounds of the tax cap, City Manager Scott Myers, last night recommended a city budget for fiscal year 2017 that would would increase total expenditures by 3.4 percent and infrastructure investment by 10.4 percent.

The manager's proposed city budget of $23,585,193, represents an increase of $779,732, which includes funding a 2.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment for city employees and a 9.71 percent increase in health insurance contributions while increasing spending for capital projects by $177,000, from $1,698,000 this year to $1,875,000 next year.

The rate of inflation was a mere 0.1 percent, representing additional spending of just $41,170, but the $32 million of value in new construction added $710,402. Altogether, the tax cap permits an increase of $751,572 in the amount to be raised by property taxes, of which $292,583 is allotted to the city, $410,983 to the school district and $48,006 to the county.

At the same time, the county assessment dropped by $128,195, increasing the share of the permitted increase in the amount to be raised by property taxes to the city by $176,201, from $16,009,430 to $16,185,630.

Meanwhile, revenues from sources other than property taxes are projected to rise by 4.4 percent, from $7,088,614 to $7,399,525, or by $310,911. Proceeds from motor vehicle registrations are expected to increase by $185,000 while transfers from the state, Rooms and Meals Tax receipts and Highway Block Grants add another $76,000. Charges for city services, up 4.4 percent to $53,244, account for most the balance.

In other words, with the decrease in the county assessment and the increase in revenue from sources other than property taxes, Myers proposes spending more than twice what the tax cap permits while budgeting within the limits it imposes on the amount to be raised by property taxes.

Myers recommended applying $1,500,000 to street repairs, which includes $100,000 appropriated but unexpended for winter maintenance, and suggested drawing on another $600,000 from contingency. In addition, he proposed allocating $75,000 to design the construction of Court Street, $25,000 for sidewalk improvements, $25,000 for replacing fencing and guardrails, $100,000 for drainage upgrades, $20,000 the ongoing study of drainage problems, $30,000 for bridge maintenance and $100,000 toward the total cost of $368,000 to upgrade radio towers for emergency communications.

In addition, Myers proposed borrowing $1 million to fund the reconstruction of 2,200 feet of Lakeside Avenue, a project that will included improvements to the sewer and drainage systems, $300,000 for upgrades to the drainage on Messer Street north of the Winnipesaukee River and $3 million for repairs and enhancements to the downtown parking garage.

With the proposed school district budget of $37,994.497 the grand total appropriation of $64,703,008 represents an increase of 1 percent. Less total revenues of $26,66,672, the total amount to be raised by local property taxes is $38,041,336, and increase of $690,921 or 1.8 percent, which represents a projected tax rate of $19.86 based on a n assessed valuation of $1,915,868,173. Withe state education property tax of $4,462,978, levied at a rate of $2.37, the projected tax rate would be $22.23, an increase of three cents.