Scheduled power outage at Gilford Police on Thursday

GILFORD – The Police Department will have scheduled power outages on September 10 from 7 to 10 a.m. so construction crews can perform work on their new facility.

Lt. Kris Kelley said the power interruption will not affect the ability of the police to respond to any emergency as all phone calls are being directed to the Laconia Police Department and they will dispatch officers as needed.


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County Primed to shift health insurer, needs union approval for change

LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners are leaning strongly towards switching health insurance plans for county employees from the current provider, Health Trust, to the New Hampshire Interlocal Trust, which partners with the non-profit Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare to provide group health insurance plans for local governments.
Commissioners would like to make the change starting January 1, 2016 and have asked Albert Jones, president of NH Interlocal Trust, to return to them with a revised proposal which will include an upgraded Wellness plan which would make it comparable to the Health Trust wellness program.
Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) said that with the exception of the wellness program the Interlocal Trust benefits are ''definitely comparable'' with current benefits.
Under terms of the current contacts with three State Employee Association affiliated unions at the Belknap County Home, Corrections Department and Sheriff's Department, the county has the right to substitute a comparable health care plan for an existing plan provided the unions agree that the new plan is comparable.
''I'd like to have it (the Wellness plan) when we make the request to substitute the new plan as of January 1. We need to allow for an orderly consideration of the change by the SEA,'' said Taylor when commissioners discussed the issue at last Wednesday's meeting.
Albert Jones, president of the Interlocal Trust, who at a commission meeting on August 5 had projected savings of $14,000 a month for the county presented revised numbers which he said would produce $156,000 in annual savings on county health insurance costs.
County Administrator Deb Shackett presented her own cost comparison between the plans, which showed a $136,919.92 annual savings.
Her figures showed the monthly savings for the 42 one-person HMO plans currently provided by the county to be $2,005.08 per month. Savings on the 29 two-person plans currently provided would amount to $2,738.76 per month and monthly savings on 43 family plans provided would be $5,551.73.
Smaller savings would be realized through the site-of-service plan, which has only 10 people enrolled, two in one-person plans, four in two-person plans and four in family plans. The total savings amount to a little over $1,100 a month.
The county recently received a $250,000 refund from the Health Trust and commissioners had been waiting to receive that refund before considering switching insurers, as it would not have been eligible for the refund had it switched earlier.
Commissioner DeVoy had pushed for a quicker switch due to his concerns that the county might run short of funds to cover health insurance costs in this year's budget, leading to higher costs and potential layoffs. A 60-day notice to the unions of the proposed change of insurers is required according to Shackett, who said that most that could be saved this year would be $11,409.41.
Taylor said that there was a possibility that the switch of health insurers could wind up in court and that waiting until January 1 to make the change would give the commissioners time to have the issue resolved in court.
DeVoy said that he was also concerned about what might happen if the county convention continued to hold county health insurance costs level with previous years, which several legislators have seen as necessary in order to force the unions to agree to having workers pay a larger share of their health insurance costs.
Last month the Belknap County Convention approved a collective bargaining agreement between Teamsters Local 633 and the county by a 10-5 vote.
The vote provides a 1.4 percent pay raise as well as step increases for the 23 mid-level managers represented by the union, which are based on individual performance reviews, and would increase total compensation by 4.4 percent by those who qualify.
In return the union members agreed to switch to a less expensive site of service health care plan which will lower health care costs for the county.
A cost summary of the contract shows health insurance costs for the covered employees dropping from $336,433 this year to $322,543, a $13,890 decline, and from $356,881 next year to $300,400, a $56,481 decline.
DeVoy said that the agreement provides for $1,000, $2,000 and $3,000 deductibles on single , two-person and family plans for which the county will now pay the entire bill, which reduces the amount the county pays for the current HMO plan by as much as $4,000. Currently employees pay 5 to 6.5 percent of the premiums for the HMO plans.
Among those who voted against the plan was Rep. Brian Gallagher of Sanbornton, who said that he liked the plan but thought that the county should have not shouldered the entire bill.
Commissioners have sought to get the other three county unions to agree to switch to a site of service plan. They recently met with union representatives to lay the groundwork for future negotiations.

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What to do with The Weirs? City to revisit the question

LACONIA — By encouraging the Planning Board to reconsider the zoning at The Weirs, the City Council has revived a suggestion first offered by a team of consultants sponsored and funded by the United States Environmental Protection, which issued its report in 2007.

"Currently," the report noted, "Weirs Beach is at risk of having its character change very quickly in ways that are at odds with the community vision." In particular, the team found that "Weirs Beach is not capitalizing on its full range of destination opportunities" and that "one major challenge will be developing new types of businesses and lodgings to attract a new group of visitors, while maintaining the energy and economic success of existing events."

The team recommended addressing the zoning at The Weirs. "Weirs Beach is not well suited for a single regulatory strategy," they concluded. "Instead, the area needs a variety of zoning designations," the report continued, that "need to be of a finer grain and distinguish between commercial and residential properties."

Apart from residential zones along Scenic Road to the west and Pendleton Beach Road and Wentworth Cove Road to the east, the remainder of The Weirs lies entirely within the Commercial Resort (CR) District. The CR district begins on Lake Street, just south of its junction with White Oaks Road, extends northward along Weirs Boulevard, includes the center of The Weirs and runs either side of Route 3 to the Meredith town line. It also includes property along both sides of Route 11B, including the former Surf Coaster property.

The zoning ordinance describes the district as intended to accommodate dining, lodging and recreation entities for both occasional tourists and seasonal residents as well as apartments and condominiums. All residential and recreational uses are permitted throughout the district, along with most commercial uses, other than those of an industrial character.

With its proximity to Lake Winnipesaukee and relative abundance of undeveloped and underdeveloped land served by municipal utilities, The Weirs represents a significant opportunity for the city to increase its commercial tax base. In Laconia, residential property represents 82.6 percent of the total assessed valuation, the largest share among the 13 cities in the state. Conversely, the value of commercial property and buildings, including utilities, accounts for 17.4 percent, the smallest share of any city.

Land suited for commercial development is limited. Laconia, with 20.1 square miles of land, is one of the smallest cities in the state. Only Somersworth with 9.8 square miles, and Portsmouth, with 15.7 square miles, are smaller. Moreover, there are six state forests — Hamel, Huston-Morgan, Opechee Bay, Paugus, Prescott, Swain — covering 749 acres in the northern reaches of the city as well as Ahern State Park of 128.8 acres and the former Laconia State School of 202 acres on North Main Street. Altogether these properties account for nearly ten percent of the land area of the city. Moreover, much of the remaining land in the northern part of the city on either side of Meredith Center Road and Parade Road is environmentally sensitive and without municipal utilities.

Meanwhile, there are a number of properties at The Weirs, ripe for development or redvelopment. Of these the largest is the 13.6 acres at the corner of White Oaks Road and Endicott Street East (Route 11B) that formerly housed Surf Coaster USA, which has been on the market since 2007. The Weirs Beach Drive-In Theater, 12.6 acres, was listed for sale earlier this year. Robert Csendes, who acquired the 2.46 acre lot where the waterslide operated at the corner of Endicott Street North and Lakeside Avenue, is seeking to redevelop the property and Al Mitchell recently acquired two vacant lots, the 0.6 acre parcel next to the drive-in theater and a 6.8 acre tract next to Cumberland Farms on Endicott Street North.

Under the current zoning in the CR district these and other properties at The Weirs could become either residential subdivisions or commercial developments. In fact, the current discussion arose after the City Council rejected the Planning Board's proposal to restrict commercial development along Weirs Boulevard by rezoning it from commercial resort to shorefront residential. A number of business owners from The Weirs objected to the change, which they feared would unnecessarily limit commercial opportunities in a resort area.

When the question of zoning at The Weirs last arose at the City Council Mayor Ed Engler noted that the Planning Board may want to consider reserving some land in the CR district solely for commercial or mixed use development. In particular, he suggested that the frontage along Endicott Street North could be restricted to commercial uses or alternatively to commercial uses on the ground floor and residential uses.

The City Council will invite property owners and other stakeholders to join the discussion of zoning at The Weirs at a future council meeting.

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