Commissioner proposing 50-75-bed drug treatment facility in Laconia

LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) has called for a feasibility study of creating a 50-75 bed residential substance abuse and detoxification facility in the county.
Taylor told his fellow commissioners when they met Wednesday morning at the Belknap County complex that such a facility would not only serve a pressing social need but could also be a money maker for the county.
He said that Strafford County has a facility similar to that which he is proposing which makes the county $1 million a year by providing services not readily available around the state.
''Right now the county jail has become a mental health hospital and drug treatment place because that's the only place people with these kinds of problems end up.'' He said that it costs the county $80 to $100 a day to keep them there and that if there was a place they could go to for treatment it would save the county money and achieve better results.
Taylor envisions a large treatment and detoxification center which would not be connected to the county jail but would be able to serve people like those in the court diversion program, as well as the general public.
He suggested that the county partner with the city of Laconia to create the facility and said that funding could come federal, state and private grants with operating costs covered by private insurance and Medicaid funds for those without insurance.
Taylor says that he is a fiscal conservative who would like to see Medicaid money go straight the states. But until that happens he says the state should take advantage of expanded Medicaid,
''We owe it to ourselves to take the money and treat these people,'' says Taylor, who says that in the long term he would like to see health care treatment controlled at the local level.
He says that the feasibility study could be conducted by current members of the county's Jail Planning Committee, which includes people such as Jaqui Abikoff of the Horizons Counseling Center and Brian Loanes, director of the Restorative Justice Program. He says that if needed, a consultant could be hired.
Taylor says that the lack of such a facility is one of the biggest barriers to being able to rehabilitate those with drug addictions, pointing out that last year there were 320 deaths in New Hampshire attributed to prescription drug abuse and heroin addiction.
''It's a huge social need. It's an epidemic which has grown and intensified,'' said Taylor, who notes that it cuts across all segments of society and poses a huge threat to American culture..
''In 2012 over 200 million prescriptions were written for opiates. Pain killers are the first step towards heroin which is where we're having so much trouble today. This is real threat to our culture where we now have an estimated 10 percent of our population who are substance abusers.''
Taylor says that there is a growing realization that the problem can't be solved with jails and that treatment at the community level is the best way to deal with substance abuse problems.
''There's a lot of awareness but very little being done. We could step up as a county and establish something which other parts of the state would want to use and would pay us for,'' he says.

Demand for security deposit has long-time electric company customer seeing red

LACONIA — On the heels of reading that Eversource had suspended its policy of requesting deposits from customers in arrears, Al's Auto Service on Court Street, which has been a customer of Public Service Company of New Hampshire — and its successors Northeast Utilities and Eversource — for the past 21 years, was surprised to receive a request this week for a deposit from the company.

Lauren Collins, speaking for Eversource, explained yesterday that the practice of requesting deposits from delinquent customers was suspended until April 1, 2016, but only for residential — not commercial — customers. She said that she was not authorized to comment on the circumstances of individual customers, which in the case of Al's Auto Service appear puzzling.

Al Raper explained that his company has two accounts, one for each of two adjacent buildings at 300 and 304 Court Street. He acknowledged that neither of the bills due on September 1, one of $88.24 for 304 Court Street and another of $46.84 for 300 Court Street, were paid on time. However, on October 8, both bills were paid with checks of $188.24 and $146.84, consisting of what was owed on September plus $100. Moreover, on October 22, the bill of $229.30 due October 30 was paid in advance.

Nevertheless, on October 21 Raper received a request for a security deposit of $260, on the account for 304 Court Street, which was dated October 13 and postmarked October 15 only to be received six days later. He was told if the deposit was not paid by October 29, the electricity to 304 Court Street would be disconnected.

Alternatively, Raper could enroll in Eversource's auto-pay system and have his monthly bills withdrawn from his checking account 21 days after the billing date. Or, the deposit could be paid in three equal installments. Or, his payment could be guaranteed by a third party. Or, he could purchase a surety bond from an insurance company and mail a copy to Eversource. The utility would keep the deposit until bills were paid on time for 24 consecutive months, when it would be refunded with any accrued interest.

Raper insists that his accounts are not only current, but that there are outstanding credits on both and sees no reason to post a deposit.. "They have more of my money than I have of their electricity," he said.

Raper said that he tried to speak with someone at Eversource, but was unable to reach a representative of the company. Meanwhile, Robert Fisher, a Republican from Laconia serving in the New Hampshire House of Representatives who has taken an interest in Eversource's policy of requesting deposits, referred Raper to the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Raper said he spoke with someone at the PUC who simply assured him the utility was entitled to request the deposit.

Fisher intends to introduce a bill that would address such situations by prohibiting utilities from requesting deposits from customers whose accounts are current in anticipation that they may make late payments or fall into arrears in the future.

30,582: festival organizers hope to eclipse world jack-o-lantern record

LACONIA — Can the first ever Laconia Pumpkin Festival establish a new world record for the most lit jack-o'- lanterns in one place?
That question will be answered when results are in at 8 p.m. on Saturday when the final tally is announced. The festival has been registered with Guinness in an attempt to break the world record of 30,581, which was set in Keene in 2013.
Amanda Bullerwell, the local volunteer in charge of the count, says that the count will take place during a five-minute span starting at 6:50 p.m. when teams of counters, each in charge of one section of downtown, will tally up the number of unlit jack-o-lanterns.
That number will be subtracted from the total number on display in the downtown area, which will already have been determined prior to the start of the lighting of the jack-o-lanterns at 4 p.m.
''This is the first time I've done this,'' says Bullerwell, who works at Titeflex and whose husband, Ben, is a partner in Wayfarer Coffee Roasters in Downtown Laconia.
She says that she has been to the Keene Festival several times and was glad to see it find a new home in Laconia.
''This is a good spot for it and I want to see it be a success,'' says Bullerwell, who signed on in April as a volunteer and says that she has been impressed with the enthusiasm being shown in the community for the festival.
Some unsolicited assistance showed up early Friday afternoon at Rotary Park, where Bullerwell was overlooking the placement of jack-o-lanterns, when Laconia High School students in Jon Myers' exercise and nutrition class pitched in to place some of them on stands.
''This is good for Laconia. I'm glad to see it here,'' said Leah Stivali, one of the students, a sentiment echoed by Ciara LaGarde, who said that she liked the festive atmosphere being created.
Welcome centers will be open at several entrances to downtown where visitors can log in their carved pumpkin or arrange to carve a pumpkin at the Community Carving Center at the Bank of New Hampshire.
Volunteers there were gutting some 4,000 pumpkins and were halfway through that amount Friday afternoon according to bank spokesperson Tiffany Benton.
''There's a lot of excitement here. There's even a marriage proposal that will be going up on display on the big tower.'' she said.