Forrester, Hosmer on opposing sides regarding Laconia DHHS office closure

CONCORD β€” The future of the Laconia District Office of New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will hinge on the outcome of the committee of conference where negotiators from the House and Senate will reconcile the differences between the versions of the 2016-17 state budget adopted by the two chambers.

The companion bill to the budget, House Bill 2, adopted by both the House and Senate, directs the commissioner of DHHS to consolidate district offices to reduce general fund appropriations to the department by $1 million in each year of the biennium.

Last week, HHS Commissioner Nick Toumpas confirmed that the Laconia office, along with its counterparts in Claremont, Conway and Rochester, have been identified for closure, trimming the number of district offices from 11 to seven. There would be no reduction in personnel, he said. Instead, costs would be spare primarily by reducing leasing expenses.

State Sen. Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said yesterday, "I'm willing to have a conversation about the Laconia office. I have no interest in making life more difficult for people who are already having a hard time." However, she asked if $1 million in general fund appropriations was not cut from the budget of DHHS, where is the cut going to come from? What else are you willing to give up?"

Forrester flatly ruled out any increase in revenue to keep the offices open.

"It's never going to happen," she said.

State Sen. Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia), who serves on the Senate Finance Committee, said that the closure of district offices of DHHS was "one of the reasons I voted against HB 2," along with the failure to adequately fund substance abuse programs, dipping into the Renewable Energy Fund and refusing to extend the New Hampshire Health Protection Program.

Hosmer charged that the Republican majority in the Senate put itself in "an ideological box" by not only refusing to consider any measures to increase revenue but also by foregoing $23 million in revenue by reducing both the Business Profit and Business Enterprise taxes, a step he called "disingenuous."

Although Forrester and Hosmer insisted they were willing to discuss the future of the district offices, both indicated that partisan differences would hinder negotiations. Insisting that the budget process has been "open, transparent and inclusive," Forrester said that the atmosphere has become "very partisan."

Hosmer claimed that the Democratic minority in the Senate was "anxious and willing to work on the issues, but our input was not welcome, if it was contrary to the ideology of the Republican majorities in the Senate and House."

There are 62 employees working in the Laconia District office with 11,938 open cases. The office serves the city of Laconia and 25 towns (Alexandria, Alton, Ashland, Barnstead, Belmont, Bridgewater, Bristol, Campton, Center Harbor, Dorchester, Ellsworth, Gilford, Gilmanton, Hebron, Holderness, Meredith, New Hampton, Plymouth, Rumney, Sanbornton, Thornton, Tilton, Waterville Valley and Wentworth).

Laconia, Belmont and Gilford are in Senate District 7, represented by Hosmer, while 18 of the 22 towns in the catchment area of the Laconia District office are in Senate District 2, represented by Forrester.


Laconia man charged with hitting Center Harbor police chief with car

CENTER HARBOR – Police Chief Mark Chase is recovering from minor injuries to his left and right arms and left leg after being struck by an alleged drunk driver late Saturday night.

Meanwhile, Matthew McKeen, 27, of 40 Fair St. in Laconia was ordered held by Judge Edward "Ned" Gordon on $10,000 cash or corporate surety bail after his video appearance in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division, yesterday.

Affidavits said Chase was on routine patrol and in full uniform when he saw a Subaru Forester parked in the parking lot at the Center Harbor baseball field on Route 25B on Dane Road at about 11:58 p.m. Chase pulled up to where the two cars were facing each other and Chase saw a man in the front seat wearing a red shirt.

The Subaru turned on its lights and began to back up. Chase turned on the cruiser's blue lights and spot light and got out of his cruiser. McKeen allegedly stopped and gave Chase a hand gesture. Chase told him to stop, but said the Subaru accelerated toward him rapidly, striking him with the left side of the car.

Chase was knocked to the ground. He received minor abrasions to both arms and one leg. He was treated at the scene by Stewart's Ambulance.

McKeen allegedly fled on to Dane Road then south on to Route 3. A police broadcast was put out to find him.

About 30 minutes later, Meredith Police Officer Michael Rand saw McKeen near Laconia Harley-Davidson on Route 3. Affidavits said Rand noticed the driver's side mirror was pushed in.

Rand tried to stop McKeen who allegedly fled for a second time. Rand pursued McKeen until he crashed the Subaru on Pickerel Pond Road that runs between Meredith Center Road and Parade Road.

Chase responded to Pickerel Pond Road in Laconia and identified the car and McKeen as the driver who allegedly hit him.

McKeen faces two sets of charges. In Center Harbor, he is charged with one count of felony reckless conduct for placing another in danger with a deadly weapon, one count of conduct after an accident for striking Chase and then fleeing, one felony count of second-degree assault for hitting Chase with his car, and one misdemeanor count of disobeying an officer for not stopping when Chase told him to.

According to a media release issued by Center Harbor, Meredith Police charged McKeen with one count of aggravated driving while intoxicated, one count of reckless operation, and one count of disobeying an officer.

McKeen appeared in court yesterday to initially face only the charges from Center Harbor. He will be scheduled to appear again in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division on the Meredith charges.

The Center Harbor Police were represented by Atty. Robert Libby who asked that bail remain at $10,000 cash or personal recognizance.

McKeen was represented by Laconia Public Defender Lauren Breda who made no bail argument, saying she reserved the right to argue it at a later date.

A probable cause hearing has been set for 11 a.m.

Memorial tennis courts closed for resurfacing

LACONIA β€” The Memorial Park tennis courts will be locked until Wednesday, June 10, advises the Parks & Recreation Department. Assistant Director Amy C. Lovisek said Friday the courts have been resurfaced and need to set for a few days.