County Commission to recommend 6.8% budget increase

LACONIA — When the Belknap County Convention meets on Monday, Dec. 8, the Belknap County Commission will recommend a $27.3-million budget for 2015, which represents a 6.8 percent increase in expenditures and a 10 percent increase in the amount to be raised by property taxes,
The proposed increase in expenditures is the first since 2009, when the budget rose by 3.7 percent, before decreasing every year since. Likewise, the amount to be raised by property taxes has also fallen every year since 2009, when it grew by 0.9 percent.
The budget proposes expenditures of $27,330,778, which less revenues from sources other than property taxes of $12,296,021, leaves $15,034,757 to be raised by property taxes -- or $1,371,443 more than the $13,663,314 raised this year.
Despite the increase, County Administrator Debra Shackett described the commission's proposal as "a very lean budget." She said that "the commissioners are maintaining the services that the county provides" and stressed that "there are no new projects in this budget."
Personnel costs account for the largest share of the increased expenditures. The budget includes a 3 percent step increase for eligible employees, that is, those not at the top of their pay scale, based on their job performance as well as a 1.4 percent cost-of-living allowance (COLA) for all employees. This would be the first pay raise since 2012. The cost of the health insurance plan in which most employees are enrolled is budgeted to rise by 6.4 percent, and the less popular plan by 4.9 percent.
The budget for the Corrections Department funds the benefits of two positions created in the 2014 budget that were not filled this year because funding for the benefits was withheld. It also includes funding for the compensation and benefits of one additional officer. There is also funding for the compensation and benefits of a human resource director, a position that has been vacant for about six months, in the administrative budget.
Only two capital projects are funded by the budget — replacement of windows at the Belknap County Courthouse and a time and attendance system. The commission stripped funding for schematic design of an expanded, renovated or rebuilt county jail along with improvement of the HVAC system at the existing facility. However, the commissioners provided funding for the purchase of four cruisers in the Sheriff Department's budget.
The commission recommends drawing $1,775,000 from the fund balance to offset property taxes in 2015, The fund balance is estimated to have a balance of about $2.6 million at the end of 2014. The budget projects that $500,000 in excess revenue and $300,000 in operational savings will accrue to the fund balance in 2015. Withdrawing $1,775,000 would leave an estimated balance of $1.7 million at the end of 2015..
In 2013, when Moody's Investor Service reaffirmed the county's Aa2 bond rating, it noted that "sizeable fund balance growth" could raise that rating while "draw down of reserves" could lower it. The rating affects the county's cost of borrowing.
Two of the three commissioners who prepared the budget — John Thomas, a Belmont Republican, and Ed Philpot, a Laconia Democrat — will be succeeded by Republicans Richard Burchell of Gilmanton and David DeVoy of Sanbornton in the new year. The newly elected Belknap County Convention, which must adopt a budget within 90 days of Jan. 1, consists of the 18 Republican state representatives elected in the county earlier this month, seven of whom will be serving their first term.

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Fla. man indicted for allegedly stealing school’s truck

LACONIA – A Belknap County grand jury has indicted a Florida man with local ties for allegedly breaking into Laconia High School and stealing the white Ford F-350 used by the School District for plowing.

Dennis LeFebvre, 34, was also indicted for one count of receiving stolen property for being in possession of and crashing the truck in Belmont on or about Aug. 4 near Mile Hill Road.

Also indicted for the burglary is Tyler Marchand, age and address unknown, who was with LeFebvre in Belmont when police apprehended him after the truck crash.

Marchand has said he was walking down Union Avenue when LeFebvre allegedly stopped and picked him up.

In a related matter, the truck has been sitting at a private impound lot in Tilton since the night it was recovered. The district is being charged $75 a day for storage and has had to pay for a lawyer to petition the court for its return.

On behalf of the school district, Attorney Paul Fitzgerald filed a motion on Oct. 22 petitioning for the return of the truck. However, because LeFebvre had not been indicted, action on the motion was postponed.

LeFebvre’s attorney, John Bresaw, filed a objection to releasing the truck arguing he had not been provided with any discovery about the burglary or been appraised of any evidence against his client.

Bresaw said he had gotten some discovery from the Belmont Police regarding the receiving stolen property charge as well as some other misdemeanor charges LeFebvre faces, but nothing at this point for the Laconia burglary charge.

He said LeFebvre’s defense may dispute Marchand’s assertion that LeFebvre picked him up on Union Avenue and argue that Marchand or another had possession of the truck.

Bresaw said he doesn’t know what forensic tests need to be done on the truck, such as fingerprints or other evidence that might need to be collected from it.

“Therefore, the truck and the integrity of any and all physical evidence within should be preserved,” wrote Bresaw.

A hearing is now scheduled for Wednesday on the motion.

The truck is the School District’s only plowing vehicle. It is also used for salting, sanding, and other maintenance jobs around the city’s school buildings.

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Laconia man accused of setting wife’s house on fire

LACONIA – A local man had been indicted by a Belknap County grand jury for one count of arson for allegedly setting his wife’s Taylor Street house afire following an argument.

John E. Woodbury, 52, formerly of 44 Taylor, is in the Belknap County House of Corrections and is being held on $50,000 cash-only bail.

The state argues that on Sept. 7, Woodbury argued with his wife who left the house on foot to walk to a friend’s nearby home.

According to affidavits filed in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division on the day after his arrest, Woodbury called his wife’s friend and was threatening to burn down the house.

He allegedly told the friend he was pouring gasoline around the house and wanted his wife to see it.

Woodbury also allegedly left messages on his wife’s phone saying he was lighting a match and watching the house burn.

Firefighters initially responded to Girard Street after the first caller indicated the fire was there.

A different caller said the fire was on Stephens Street which is parallel to Taylor Street. The fire heavily damaged the rear of the home.

Woodbury was arrested by police while he was standing outside his home.

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Laconia Police Department joins multi-agency initiative to prevent suicide

LACONIA — The Police Department, along with the Lakes Region Partnership for Public Health and Genesis Behavioral Health, with the Lakes Region, are taking part in an initiative to prevent suicide.

Lieutenant Richard Simmons told the Police Commission yesterday that the department is participating by means of a “Problem Oriented Policiing” or POP project in which he is joined by Lieutenant Al Graton, three patrol officers and a dispatcher. “This is very different from any of the other POP projects we’ve done,” Simmons said, explaining that other projects addressed problems in which the police are directly engaged.

The initiative is sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness — NH (NAMI-NH) , as part of a statewide effort mounted in association with the State Suicide Prevention Council. Ken Norton, executive director of NAMI-NH, said that “we try to involve law enforcement right away,” noting that police officers are usually the first to respond to a suicide.

Simmons said that the first step his team took was to attend classes offered by NAMI-NH and undergo training on limiting access to lethal means. Then he said the officers partnered with Elaine deMello of NAMI-NH, David Bouchard of Genesis Behavioral Health, Tammy Levesque of the Lakes Region Partnership for Public Health and Father Marc Drouin, chaplain to the department.

Rather than focus on reducing suicides, Simmons said the group chose to inform the public of what role the police can play in a crisis arising from a threatened or successful suicide and, in particular, to dispel fear and apprehension of calling on the police in such situations. He said the team has developed a lesson plan and spoken with local employers and on radio as well as begun preparing pamphlets and a video, all designed to explain the services the police and its partners can provide. Simmons said that the police can secure lethal means, especially firearms, as well as safely transport individuals in crisis to an appropriate facility where they can receive professional help.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among those aged 10 to 24 in New Hampshire, with young men four times more likely to take their own lives than women, although women are more likely to attempt suicide. Norton noted that this is a group familiar to the police who are well placed to identify young men at risk at risk, particularly those wrestling with mental illness or substance abuse.

For nine of the last ten years, the number of suicides per 100,000 people in New Hampshire has exceeded the national average and the suicide rate in Belknap County of 15.2 per 100,000 was the fourth highest among the ten counties in the state.

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