Commission asks judge to force lawmakers to meeet

LACONIA — The Belknap County Commission and Belknap County Convention returned to court yesterday when the commissioners asked Justice James D, O''Neill, III of Belknap County Superior Court to compel the executive committee of the convention to hold an emergency meeting on Thursday to approve transfers of funds they claim are required to sustain operation of the nursing home, county jail and sheriff's department.

With appropriations for wages of part-time employees and overtime expended, the commission seeks to transfer funds appropriated for full-time employees and other purposes to maintain staffing of the nursing home, county jail and sheriff's department . The impending fiscal crisis follows the decision last month of Justice James D. O'Neill, III of Belknap County Superior Court prohibiting the commissioners from transferring more than $300 from one line item to another without the approval of the executive committee.

Attorney Robert Desrosier, representing the commissioners, told the court that the convention has assumed authority over the county budget and the commissioners were simply asking that they exercise it. He asked the court to order the executive committee to meet on Thursday or temporarily stay its order, allowing the commissioners to transfer the necessary funds without the committee's approval.

Desrosier said that by 11 a.m. Friday there would not be sufficient funds in the appropriate line to pay part-time employees at the nursing home, which would require the staff to be cut by more than half. He explained that county officials had spoken with the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services about placing some of the 94 residents in other county nursing homes and were told that they would incur penalties and sanctions. In any event, he noted, there are no funds available to transport residents.

"There is plenty of money in the budget," he stressed, "but its in the wrong category."

Likewise, Desrosier said that without transferring funds for staffing at the jail, shifts would be reduced from five to three officers and medicines could not be provided to inmates. Superintendent Dan Ward said that the jail is already in lockdown and visits from the public and educational and drug abuse programs cancelled while inmates confined to their cells for much of the day.

Sheriff Craig Wiggin anticipated that unless funds became available he would have to suspend the dispatch service, leaving nine of the 11 police departments in the county without nighttime service.

The convention, represented by attorney David Horan, objected, claiming that it was not advised of the urgency of the situation in time to schedule a meeting. He noted that last month the executive committee scheduled a meeting on September 15, but when the meeting convened the commission presented no requests for transfers.

Desrosiers countered that on September 4, well before the meeting, he informed Horan that two of the three commissioners as well as the county administrator would be unable to attend a meeting on the 15th while emphasizing the need to meet as soon as possible. "If the convention wants the power to supervise the budget," he repeated, "it must step up and exercise its authority. The issue here is just good government."

Horan said that on Monday, Representative Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), chairman of the Executive Committee, scheduled a meeting for September 29 and expressed two concerns about meeting sooner. His primary concern was to ensure that the general public, which has an interest in the conduct of county government, would have sufficient notice of the meeting and ample opportunity to attend it. Second, he said that the committee must have sufficient information and time to digest it. Although the commissioners provided a list of transfers, which runs to three pages, he said in the past transfer requests were presented on forms, which explained the source and purpose of the funds and the remaining balances in the relevant accounts. "None of that information has been provided," he said. Describing the list as "woefully inadequate," he said that 'the executive committee will have to do lots of research. It's not fair expect this of volunteers paid $100 a year. "

"We're asking for a meeting," Desrosier said. "What we're talking about is government." He explained that the commissioners sought a "dialogue so that they can provide services."

O'Neill asked Desrosier "are you telling me that the nursing home, jail and sheriff's department can't operate unless $617,872.20 is transferred by Thursday?" Then asked how much would be required to sustain operations until the executive committee met on September 29. After a recess, Desrosier told the court that approximately $455,500, transferred from seven budget lines, would be sufficient.

O'Neill said he would render his decision sometime Wednesday morning.

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No Indian artifacts found beneath Belmont trail path

BELMONT — After digging 89 excavation pits along the proposed route of Phase I of the Lake Winnisquam Scenic (recreation) Trail, it appears there were no significant artifacts discovered that could delay the project further.

Town Land Use Technician Rick Ball said yesterday that the preliminary assessment from Louis Berger & Associates — the engineering company performed the Phase I-B archeological study — told him that noting was found except an early 20th century refuse pile that is outside the scope of the trail.

"I would not recommend further archeological investigation of the site," Ball read yesterday from a letter he received from the company.

Ball said that his understanding is that once the information is officially recorded by the N.H. Department of Transportation it will complete the categorical exclusion required by the grant being used to pay for much of the trail.

Ball said the Phase I-B archeological cost $15,000, 80 percent of which was paid by a federal Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.

Once the consultant files his report with the DOT, Ball said he will be able to begin getting easements.

"The final plans are okay," he said, noting that costs may have to be adjusted slightly once the DOT gets is new quarterly construction rates.

Ball said that as soon as the easements are finished, the town should be able to put the construction portion out to bid.

"Our goal is to advertise by December 1 with a construction start of next spring," he said.

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Grand Exalted Ruler visits Laconia Elks Lodge

GILFORD — Laconia Elks Lodge 876 hosted a rare visit from the organization's national leader, John Amen, and his wife, Marcia, yesterday.
Grand Exalted Ruler Amen, a native of Denver, Colorado, visited the Lakes Region as part of a tour through New England this month. Following yesterday's luncheon he attended a banquet-reception last evening at the Plymouth Elks Lodge.
Amen said his tour is part of an effort to increase membership in the organization, which has nearly a million members nationwide, but whose membership has declined in recent years from a peak of 1.6 million members in 1976.
''We have two problems, our membership is declining and if we can turn it around we will solve our second problem, which is the financial condition of our lodges,'' said Amen.
He said that in the early 1980s Elks clubs nationwide were gaining 100,000 new members a year but that has dropped to 55,000 a year and that nationally and in the state of New Hampshire itself membership is declining by 2.8 percent a year.
''If we can get 65,000 to 70,000 members a year we will be in a positive category,'' said Amen, who cited the success of efforts in recent years by the American Legion, which is gaining 60,000 new members a year and has set a goal of reaching a membership of 3 million by its 100th anniversary in 2019.
''We are vital to our communities but only can perform if we are strong in our membership,'' said Amen.
Laconia Mayor Ed Engler welcomed Amen and his wife to the community, noting that he had also once been a resident of Colorado. He praised the Elks for their philanthropic efforts on behalf of veterans and youth organizations and the organization's support in combating drug abuse, which he said is a major problem in the city of Laconia.
State Elks Exalted Ruler Sandra Shene presented Amen and his wife with gifts of purple T-shirts bearing the local Elks emblem and her husband, Bill, who is Grand Exalted Ruler of the Laconia Elks Lodge, presented him with a plaque, which was mounted on a small but heavy block of granite commemorating his visit.
Local Elks club member David L. Brown Sr. was presented with a national Elks Award by Amen for his charitable giving to the Elks organization at the conclusion of the afternoon's event. As the kitchen crew handed out desserts, after having been summoned from the kitchen for a round of applause for their efforts in putting on the lunch, Elk members lined up to have Amen sign their membership cards.

The Elks have lodges in 14 New Hampshire towns and cities with a statewide membership over 7,000 members. The Elks provided over 36,908 hours of volunteer help in the Granite State last year. Members and their helpers also traveled 209,774 miles in New Hampshire in conjunction with the Order's programs. The Elks total contribution to the state of New Hampshire last year amounted to $1,357,608.

CAPTION: elks granite 1,2 (first photo shows elk painting at right)

John D. Amen of Brighton, Colorado, Grand Exalted Ruler of the National Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, holds a granite plaque commemorating his visit to the Laconia Elks Lodge yesterday. The memento of his visit was presented to him Laconia Elks Lodge Grand Exalted Ruler Bill Shene, right. Amen's wife Marcia is standing at left.(Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)

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Belmont selectmen reverse course, decide to plow ‘Jefferson Loop’, Waukewan Rd., Lakeside & Bayview Drives

BELMONT — Selectmen decided last night that they would move forward with a public hearing to designate all of "Jefferson Loop" as well as Wakeman Road, Lakeside Drive and Bayview Drive as emergency routes and will continue to maintain them as such.

The decision last night could end a controversy that began last year when town officials decided that only Wakeman Road and Bayview Drive would be considered emergency routes and that the town would stop plowing the northwest portion of Jefferson Road and all of Lakeside Drive.

In the town's opinion, all of those roads are private and state law prevents them from expending public money on private roads because of liability. The only exception is to designate them as emergency access roads.

There are sewer pumping stations at the ends of Wakeman Road and Bayview Drive so selectmen determined those two would be "emergency routes." However, no reason was immediately given to designate Jefferson Loop and Lakeside Drive as such.

When residents learned last year the services to some of them would stop, they showed up in droves at a public hearing in August of 2013. Their request was that all of the roads be designated as emergency routes and that the town continue to provide the minimal services they now get, such as plowing.

At the end of that meeting, selectmen decided to wait until this year for some additional research to be done on the part of the town and the landowners before they made the final decision.

The area in question is off Union Road on Lake Winnisquam and is the area beyond the railroad tracks and closest to the water. The portion of Jefferson Road to the southeast of the tracks is public.

There are four ways to create a public road in New Hampshire, with three of them being that the town builds it on its own, builds it as part of a municipal plan, or if a deed holder dedicates the road to the town and the deed is accepted in which case the road must be up to town standards.

The fourth way is that a town must have used the road without the permission of the landholder for 20 years prior to 1968. These so-called "prescriptive uses" rarely, if ever, appear on deeds or maps and there is some evidence that shows at least two families may have been getting town services before 1948.

The town has been providing limited maintenance such as plowing to the "Loop" area for years but exactly how many and when families owned certain properties is undetermined.

Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin also said last night that some of the residents had hired an attorney who has filed a "significant" Right-To-Know request to determine the status of the two roads the town wanted to stop plowing.

She also noted that school buses travel all of the roads in the area and it would be her recommendation that all of the road in Jefferson Loop be designated as emergency routes.

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