Gilmanton officials preparing for another showdown, this time over personnel issues

GILMANTON — More fireworks appear to be in the offing when the Board of Selectmen meets next week to consider the request of newly appointed town administrator Paul Branscombe for a multi-year employment contract and a proposal to convert his administrative assistant, Stephanie Fogg, to full-time status.

Don Guarino, who chairs the Selectboard, objects to both proposals, insisting that both issues should be addressed in consultation with the Budget Committee in the course of preparing the 2016 town budget. "It's premature," he said. Meanwhile, Rachel Hatch, who was appointed to complete the term of Steve McCormack last month, indicated that she favors proceeding with both proposals while Michael Jean, the third selectman, could not be reached yesterday by The Daily Sun for comment.

The issues were tabled a week ago at the close of a stormy Selectboard meeting during which, over Guanrino's opposition, Jean and Hatch voted to raise the salary of Finance Director Marie Mora. The vote followed the disclosure of several financial miscues, which together appeared to confirm Branscombe's judgment in his first report to the board that "we can no longer do full-time work with part-time employees. It simply doesn't work."

Last week, it was disclosed that there was a discrepancy between the total appropriations approved by the town meeting in March and the amount subsequently reported to the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration (DRA). After voters rejected the budget recommended by the selectmen, the town reverted to a default budget of $3,515,283, which together with approved warrant articles, including $45,975 for the Gilmanton Year-Round Library, total appropriations amounted to $3,769,522. However a figure of $3,678,235 was reported to revenue officials in Concord.

Furthermore, Branscombe revealed that against the advice of the DRA, the town made an unwarranted payment of $406,110 to the School Sistrict. Another $8,432 was encumbered to pay the health insurance of an employee who had ceased working for the town. And Branscombe said checks, signed, unsigned and yet to be mailed, were found here and there — even among Planning Board minutes.

"We found some things under the rocks," Branscmbe said yesterday. He added that all the errors have been or are being corrected and attributed them to unreasonable demands and expectations of part-time employees.

To address the situation Branscombe assigned Mora responsibility for both meeting the payroll and managing human resources and requested her hourly rate be increased from $19 to $25 per hour. He explained that before Mora, who came to the town after 27 years with Belknap County, was hired the town paid private contractors working part-time $55 and $65 per hour to do the same work. Assured the increase could be funded within the budget, Jean and Hatch voted to grant the increase.

Hatch said that when the board meets on Tuesday, September 8 she will propose granting Branscombe a "multi-year" contract and making his administrative assistant a full-time position. She said that both measures would "stabilize the Board of Selectmen's office. Last week Jean agreed with Hatch that the administrative assistant should be a full-time employee.

Guarino said he will oppose both proposals.He said that the town has never granted employees multi-year contracts, let alone contracts with guaranteed annual increase of $5,000, as Branscombe has requested, In any event, he stressed that any such commitment should be undertaken in collaboration with the Budget Committee. "The Board of Selectmen, as the executive branch, would be cutting the Budget Committee out of the process," he said. "We'll begin taking about the budget in the coming weeks," he continued. "It would be premature to act now."

Likewise, Guarino described converting the administrative assistant to a full-time position with benefits would represent "a significant change" that should also be made together with the Budget Committee and included in the 2016 budget. He acknowledged that Fogg, the incumbent, would not require health insurance, but her successor could, noting that a family plan would cost the town upwards of $24,000. "This is a substantial change."

Finally, Guarino rejected that contention that there are funds in the current budget to fund the proposals for the remainder of this year. He said that although the default budget exceeds the budget the selectmen recommended, "I think we should stay within in the 2015 budget we proposed. I don't agree with spending more just because the money is available."

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$1.99 gas appears inevitable

LACONIA — As crude oil prices have tumbled to their lowest level since 2009, prices at the pump have slid sharply, teasing motorists with the prospect of falling below the threshold of $2 per gallon for the second time this year.

In January, after plummeting 50 cents in a month, prices at the pump briefly dipped below $2 a galllon.

Yesterday the average price of regular unleaded gasoline in New Hampshire as reported by touched $2.34 a gallon, after dropping 9 cents in the past week, 27 cents in the past month and $1.12 in the past year. The average price in New Hampshire was the lowest among the six New England states.

"The day's coming when we'll be below $2," said David DeVoy, who owns and operates the Gilford Mobil Mart at McIntyre Circle in Gilford along with the Bosco Bell and Bluebery Station in Barnstead. "But, I don't know when."

This week AAA reported that he national average price of regular unleaded AAA has fallen 96 cents during the past year and for the past 14 straight days to $2.47 a gallon and expected prices for Labor Day weekend would be the lowest since 2004.

In Laconia, Shop Express, at the corner of Union Avenue and Gilford Avenue, yesterday reported the lowest price for self-serve of $2.16, followed by Cumberland Farms at Weirs Beach and Court Street and Irving at Union Avenue and Messer Street at $2.17 and the Oasis Gas and Mini Market at $2.19. Prices at the remaining stations ranged between $2.21 at Premium Mart on Court Street and $2.29 at Citgo on Union Avenue.

The lowest prices in the immediate area were $2.11 at BJ's and $2,13 at Irving, both near Exit 20 on I-93 in Tilton and $2.14 at Penguin Fuels at the D & D Country Market and Deli in Belmont.

Last month the price of West Texas Intermediate crude oil fell to $38.25 a barrel, its lowest price in six-and-a-half years then rebounded $10 percent only to slide 8 percent yesterday to close at $44.25.

The slowing Chinese economy has put downward pressure on commodity prices, including oil. American stockpiles are as much as 90 million barrels above the five-year seasonal average. And Iran is expected to re-enter the world market if sanctions if the nuclear accord succeeds and economic sanctions are lifted. With shrinking demand and increasing supply, crude oil prices are projected to remain relatively low and even, some expect, approach new lows.

Meanwhile, DeVoy said "the market is pretty crazy." He said that he no sooner dropped his price at the pump to $2.19 in Gilford and $2.17 in Barnstead than he took a delivery priced at $2.20 a gallon. "I was expecting the price to keep falling, but it shot up," he said. "The day is coming," he repeated, "but I expected it to happen sooner."

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9 totally renovated math rooms a measure of Sachem Pride

LACONIA — High School Principal Jim McCollum practically danced through the newly renovated math wing yesterday morning while his students hunkered down in their first block classes.

He pointed excitedly to new tables, matching red chairs, the new drop ceilings and the humungous white boards built to hold the most complex calculus problem. He said the newly renovated wing represents both a commitment to education and to school pride.

"To me, when kids come in here they recognize this as a serious place where they are respected," he said.

The math wing — located on the third floor of the oldest building on campus —  holds nine classrooms and the renovation represents the final phase of a second $1.8-million Q-ZAB (Quality Zone Academy Bonds) grant awarded to the school district in 2013. School Business Administrator Ed Emond said yesterday the bulk of the money was spent on new science labs in the high school in the area that was made available by the construction of the new Huot Technical Center. He said the math wing was renovated with the unused contingency money from the science lab renovations.

The hallway and the nine classrooms have all been repainted white and given red trim. The drop ceilings, said McCollum, vastly improve the acoustics in each room.

Veteran math teacher Marc Corriveau said for him the elimination of the traditional desk and chairs and the addition of small tables with mobile chairs means he can reconfigure his classroom so students can work in groups on high-level calculus problems.

"I like the space and the setup," he said.

McCollum said some of smaller rooms were combined into two room making all of the math classrooms standard for the class size.

He also wanted to call attention to the "Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports System" and the district-wide PRIDE posters that are placed in every classroom and in some of the hallway.

On each is a list on one side of things that create pride and success including "P"ersonal responsibility, "R"espect, "I"ntegrity, "D"etermination and "E"mpathy while classroom behaviors, expectations and attitudes that reflect each one are listed opposite them.

He said each teacher is in the process of personalizing their classroom to make for a better learning environment.

McCollum said he is very grateful to the School District and the city residents for providing the High School with the tools educators need to teach the city's children.

"We're trying to improve young people's lives," McCollum said, saying he sleeps well at night knowing that the city and the district support the high school's mission.

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