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Commissioners see lawmakers' interest in county grant process as 'power grab'

LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners called an attempt by the County Convention to assert authority over the process of obtaining federal and state grants ''a power grab'' and defended the current policy used by the county in its public accounting of how grants which are obtained outside of the county budget process are accounted for.
''It's a matter of control, a power grab,'' Commissioner Steven Nadeau (R-Meredith) said, pointing out that there might be a lot of ''lost opportunities'' for the county to obtain grants which are currently sought after the county budget has been adopted if the convention puts a cumbersome process in place.
The County Convention on Tuesday discussed requiring that the county seek approval from the convention before applying for grants and require that the funds must be first be appropriated by the convention before they can be spent.
A concern over grant funds not being included in the county budget was raised last week by Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), chairman of the Executive Committee of the convention, who said that a $297,3000 grant which was received last summer by the Belknap County Sheriff's Department wasn't included in the 2013 budget summary nor referenced in the proposed 2014 budget. He said that the funds need to be appropriated by the county in order for it to be able to track all of its expenditures.
During last week's discussion, Belknap County Sheriff Craig Wiggin said that it has never been his experience that a pass-through grant needed to be appropriated by the County Convention.
But at Monday night's convention meeting Curt Magee of Sanbornton reminded the convention of a statute (RSA 24:21-a) that provides that "all moneys to be appropriated by the county must be stipulated in the budget on a 'gross' basis, showing revenues from all sources, including grants, gifts, bequests and bond issues, as offsetting revenues to appropriations affected."
County Administrator Debra Shackett said since it is impossible to forecast what grants will be received at the time the budget is prepared and approved that if grants must be included in the budget it would require a supplemental appropriation each time a grant was received.
She said that the grant policy which was developed by commissioners and mirrors those used by other counties, will be explained to convention members in a written opinion by the county's auditors.
Shackett also reported to the commissioners Wednesday morning that she had attended a committee meeting in the New Hampshire House Tuesday at which two of the three bills submitted by Belknap County legislators in the ongoing dispute over line item budget authority were rejected while another had been amended.
She said that one of the legislators on the committee had said it was not the role of the convention to have line item control over the budget as proposed in the bills and suggested that if the supporters of the bills wanted that much control they should run for county commissioner.
In other business County Treasurer Michael Muzzey told commissioners that the most recent cash flow projection shows the county will run out of cash in March, as is typical, and recommended that the commissioners seek a $10 million tax anticipation loan.
Commissioners voted to accept the recommendation and plan to schedule a meeting with the County Convention's Executive Committee next week.

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 February 2014 01:27

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Hemingway has had wide variety of business interests in just 10 years

BRISTOL — The same day Andrew Hemingway became the first and so far the only Republican candidate for governor, the University of New Hampshire Survey Center reported that eight of 10 voters have never heard of him — so he has some work to do.
Hemingway, 31, describes himself as an "entrepreneur," but is best known in political circles, where he served as chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire and ran unsuccessfully for the chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party.
Born and raised in Plymouth, Hemingway said yesterday that he attended Calvary Christian School and upon graduation enrolled at Ambassador Baptist College in Lattimore, North Carolina, which was founded by the evangelist Ron Comfort in 1989 with the mission of preparing men and women spiritually and academically for the ministry.

Hemingway said that he did not graduate, but while at college started his first business, a window washing company, which he sold his interest in to his partner.

Hemingway married and joined the financial services department of a large insurance firm, rising to the position of sales manager in six months before returning to New Hampshire to assist his father-in-law with his dry cleaning business in Derry and janitorial service in Bristol.

Then, in 2006 he opened Hemingway Insurance Services, selling agricultural policies among other lines, which he said led him to appreciate the role of farming in the New Hampshire economy. Although the trade name remains registered, the business never filed an annual report with the New Hampshire Secretary of State.

Not long afterward, Hemingway launched the first of several digital projects, Online Sports Coaching, LLC, which offered web-based videos to train parents and volunteers in coaching youth soccer. After selling elements of the business but retaining sole ownership, he began applying technology to politics with Digital Acumen, a political communications enterprise, which enabled Hemingway to enlist six of the 2012 Republican presidential candidates in the first Twitter debate. Most recently Hemingway debuted Grassloot, an on-line platform to support the fundraising campaigns of political and nonprofit organizations.
Hemingway served on the Budget Committee in Bristol from 2007 to 2010, the last two years as chairman, when he says the budget was reduced by 30 percent and the property tax rate dropped to its lowest level in 40 years.

As chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus he contributed to the electoral success of the GOP in 2010, when the party won commanding majorities in both houses of the New Hampshire Legislature, which included members who shared Hemingway's libertarian values. In 2012 he was less successful as the state director of Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign.
Hemingway told The Daily Sun he expects he will need to raise about $1.5 million to mount a competitive gubernatorial campaign against incumbent Democrat Maggie Hassan. He indicated that he has the personal resources to support the effort, adding "I'll be contributing heavily to the campaign as we need it."

At the same time, he said, the role of independent groups in funding candidates would be a significant variable in the upcoming election season.
Hemingway and his wife Katie and daughter Morgan, six, and son Connor, four, live in Bristol. They attend the Hill Village Baptist Church where he is superintendent of the Sunday School.

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 February 2014 03:07

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Dog bite brought arson suspect to the attention of police

LACONIA — Some heads-up police work, surveillance cameras, and a dog bite were three of the things that led police to charge Jason Clairmont with three counts of arson Tuesday.

Clairmont, 36, had been living in Gilmanton for the last two months but is a Laconia native. He is now being held on $50,000 cash-only bail at the Belknap County House of Corrections.

He is charged with three separate counts of arson — two on January 25 and one on September 4 of 2013. The earlier fire was a car fire started in a parking lot behind a Main Street business.

According to partially redacted police affidavits obtained from the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division yesterday and statements made to the media by police and fire officials, Clairmont was found by Gilford Police in the area near one of two suspicious fires reported in the early morning of January 25.

Police Capt. Bill Clary said yesterday that the first call that morning was for a car fire on Academy Street. He said while firefighters were extinguishing that fire, police officers including a Gilford officer, were patrolling other sections of the city. He said it was a Laconia Police officer who found the trellis afire at 91 Highland Street and reported it. A Gilford Police officer who came to the city to assist with patrolling found Clairmont in the area.

He said Clairmont had been bitten by a dog but information he gave police about the why and where he was bitten did not correspond with other information gathered by police including images from surveillance cameras from around the city that showed him at certain places at certain times.

Clary said Gilford Police took Clairmont to Lakes Region General Hospital for treatment of the dog bite. Police said yesterday it was not a bite from a police K-9.

Police picked Clairmont up in Gilmanton on Tuesday. Gilmanton Chief Joe Collins said he didn't know him and had never had any contact with him.

Affidavits said Clairmont admitted to police, during what his attorney John Bresaw said was seven hours of questioning, that he threw a cigarette into the car on Academy Street but didn't know if it had started a fire.

Clairmont also said he may have been smoking a cigarette too close to the lattice of the house on Highland Street but that he didn't remember.

He also admitted he accidentally burned the top of the vehicle parked in a Main Street parking lot on September 4 when a cigar he was smoking fell onto the convertible top.

Clary said yesterday that police knew about the September 4 fire when it happened but the woman who owned the car never reported anything unusual to police until some time after the fire.

It is believed the September 4 fire was the first of 19 suspicious fires in Laconia and Belmont (a dumpster fire at the Belknap Mall). Subsequent fires range from small dumpster fires, two fires at Pitman's Freight Room on New Salem Street, and two major building fires — one at the corner of Fair and Court Street on September 22 that caused nearly a million dollars in damage and one at Christmas Island on September 29 that destroyed a building that had been slated for demolition.

In addition to admitting some complicity in the three fires for which he has been charged, affidavits said Clairmont admitted to accidentally throwing a cigarette into a dumpster by Hector's restaurant on October 31. He said he tried to extinguish the fire with some water.

"Within minutes of this dumpster fire, Pitman's Freight Room was found on fire for a second time," read the affidavits. The next sentence in that paragraph has been redacted by mutual agreement between City Prosecutor Jim Sawyer, Bresaw, and Judge Jim Carroll, who reviewed the document yesterday.

Clary said yesterday that at a few points in time, Clairmont has lived in his family's home, which is located next door to both Pitman's Freight Room and the Laconia Police Department. He said police are still developing a time line as to where Clairmont was living and when he was living there.

Most recently, Clairmont has been living at 33 Mallard Avenue in Gilmanton. His landlord said yesterday that he, his girlfriend, and their two small children moved in on November 17.

She said they seemed like a nice couple and she knew he was working for Four Corners Construction in Gilmanton.

In court yesterday, public defender John Bresaw argued for $50,000 personal recognizance bail, saying Clairmont was the sole support of his young family and was collecting unemployment because he was laid off from his job, though he occasionally picked up some work. While he is incarcerated, said Bresaw, Clairmont can not get unemployment. He argued that his girlfriend and children would lose their rented house.

Bresaw also said that there is nothing in the affidavits that indicate the fires in which he admitted some role were anything but accidental. He said Clairmont agreed to wear a bracelet, would abstain from alcohol and drug use, and would even quit smoking so that he didn't have any matches or lighters on him.

Clairmont's landlord said yesterday she and her husband haven't seen his girlfriend in about two weeks and that Clairmont had told them she was visiting an aunt in Vermont and had taken the children with him.

She said she always saw his girlfriend driving the car and that her husband had gone to Belmont recently to pickup Clairmont when he had called him for a ride.

Judge Carroll ordered that Clairmont have no contact with his girlfriend, however said he can speak through his parents to her about matters that relate to his family and only his family.

Clary said yesterday that although Claimont has been charged with setting three fires, police and fire officials including the state Fire Marshal said they are still investigating all of the remaining fires.

Clary said that while they haven't concluded that Clairmont was the perpetrator of the remaining fires, he said they have ruled out several other people.

He encourages anyone with any information to contact the Laconia Police at 524-5252 or the GReater Laconia Crime Line at 524-1717.

"This was outstanding police work," Clary said giving a nod to the two detectives who worked for four months to make an arrest. "It's a big burden off the Fire Department and the community.

Fire Chief Ken Erickson said that he couldn't release any of the details about any of the fires and wouldn't say if accelerants were in any of them. He said that is part of the onging investigation.

Erickson said the idea of having an arsonist in the city was very unsettling to residents and firefighters and thanked the police for their efforts in making Clairmont's arrest.
He said it was a difficult time for firefighters knowing there was at least one arsonist in the city.

"Any time we respond we have a concern for firefighter safety," he said adding that any time fire apparatus leaves the station there is the potential for someone to get hurt.

"To reduce this threat gives us great relief," he said.

Both Clary and Erickson spoke about the resources that were put into the arson investigations. Erickson said getting called to two simultaneous building fires overwhelms a small department like Laconia.

He noted that responding to the building fires brought firefighters and other resources from neighboring communities and that he wanted to thank them for all the support given to his department during the past four months.

He said it took multiple communities 13 hours to extinguish the fire at the former Aubuchon Hardware building on Court Street.

"The financial resources have been astronomical," said Clary noting that the Police Department had to take dedicated drug detectives from drug investigations and assign them to the arson investigations. He wanted to thank the Gilford Police for assisting them during this time.

Clary said police believe that there are other people who know more about the fires and he encourages to come forward.

As to ascribing a motive to Clairmont's alleged fire setting, Clary said they have none. He said the department is familiar with Clairmont but nothing in his past indicated he would possibly become an arsonist.

While Clairmont's criminal record is extensive, the most serious charges — one burglary and two simple assaults — were several years ago, the most recent being a 2008 burglary. Clary confirmed that Clarimont's driver's license was under suspension and his record shows he has multiple violations for driving after suspension, misuse of plates, and driving unregistered off-road vehicles.


Last Updated on Thursday, 06 February 2014 03:11

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Untimely Belmont death investigated

BELMONT — Police are investigating the circumstances surrounding an unnamed man's death on Arlene Drive late Tuesday evening.

Lt. Rich Mann said police and Belmont firefighters responded to a medical call at 56 Arlene Drive. He said police arrived before the Fire Department and found an adult male in his late 20s suffering from breathing problems.

While police were getting information from the family, the man stopped breathing. Police administered CPR until medics arrived but they were unable to save his life.

Police are withholding the name of the man until his relatives can be notified.

Mann said this is the second untimely death in Belmont in the past three months.

He said an autopsy on the man who died Tuesday was done yesterday.

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 February 2014 01:01

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