County to shortchange local nonprofits?

By Michael Kitch

LACONIA — A subcommittee of the Belknap County Convention this week recommended withholding funding in the 2016 budget from the Belknap Economic Development Council and Genesis Behavioral Health and significantly reducing appropriations for the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Service, Belknap County Conservation District, Community Action Program Belknap-Merrimack Counties and Greater Lakes Region Child Advocacy Center.
The five-member panel, consisting of representatives Ray Howard (R-Alton), George Hurt (R-Gilford), Robert Fisher (R-Laconia), Robert Luther (R-Laconia) and Dennis Fields (R-Sanbornton), made its recommendations after a review of funding for so-called "outside agencies."
Officials of several of the agencies yesterday began urging their constituencies to ask members of the county delegation to maintain their funding at the level recommended by the county commission.
In 2015, the county appropriated $75,000 to Belknap Economic Development Council and $34,200 to Genesis Behavioral Health and the Belknap County Commission recommended continuing to fund both at the same amount in 2016.
Justin Slattery, executive director of the Belknap Economic Council, said that "we believe the council has provided quality services in an efficient manner by building economic opportunities and development for our and businesses. This is one step in the county budget process," he continued, "and we look forward to participating moving forward."
In a memorandum to board members, Maggie Pritchard, executive director of Genesis Behavioral Health, said that the funding supports adult outpatient services, in particular those seeking to stay at home rather than enter a nursing home, to avoid incarceration or to remain employed. She said that she was "taken aback" by the committee's action, which she said was based on "misrepresentations" of the agency's financial circumstances.

Lisa Morin, program coordinator of the Belknap County Conservation District, said that the recommended reduction would more than halve the agency's budget, leaving only enough funding  for one part-time position. Without the necessary funding services to landowners, businesses and municipalities would be entirely curtailed or severely limited, she said.
The subcommittee also recommended trimming $35,000 from the $152,217 appropriation for the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Service, $43,000 from the $92,400 appropriation for Belknap County Conservation District, $35,000 from the $89,905 appropriation for the Community Action Program Belknap-Merrimack Counties and $550 from the $11,000 approppriation for the Greater Lakes Region Child Advocacy Center, all of which were proposed by the Belknap County Commission.
Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), chairman of the Belknap County Delegation, said "I anticipated something like this." He said that although the delegation will hold a work session on the budget on Monday, Feb. 1, he did not expect much time would be devoted to what he called "the controversial issues." However, he stressed that the agencies and public would have an opportunity to question the recommendations of the subcommittees at a public hearing on the 2016 county budget to be held on Tuesday, Feb. 16, beginning at 7 p.m.

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Basement fire caused by candle quickly extinguished (185)

NORTHFIELD — A fire in the basement of a home at 48 Union Road was quickly extinguished by firefighters from the Tilton-Northfield and Franklin fire departments Thursday.

The fire was reported at 12:08 a.m. and on arrival companies reported a significant smoke condition from the building. Capt. Sean Valovanie immediately requested a second alarm due to the home's remote location and lack of water supply.
A press release from the fire department said "the crew from Tilton-Northfield Engine 1 made quick entry into the walkout basement of the single-story ranch an initiated an aggressive interior attack. The fire was quickly knocked down and brought under control keeping the fire contained to the basement."
The fire is considered accidental and was caused by an unattended candle.
There were no working smoke detectors in the home.

"The occupants were really fortunate they were able to get out of the home safely at this hour with no smoke alarms," said Deputy Fire Chief Mike Robinson. "It is imperative that homes have working smoke alarms and candles are not left unattended" said Robinson.
The incident was declared under control at 1:03 a.m.
There were no firefighter injuries. An occupant of the home was treated and released on scene for minor burns received while attempting to extinguish the fire.

Tempers flare over possible road closure in Gilford

By Gail Ober

GILFORD – After a discussion that began with a bang and ended in a whimper, selectmen agreed Wednesday night  to ask voters at next week's deliberative session to consider "studying" and not "discontinuing" Wood Road.

Because the words "to discontinue" are already on the warrant and it is too late for the town to remove it entirely, it can be changed by the body before it goes on the March 8 ballot.

Wood Road is a small road off Bickford Road which is off Cherry Valley Road on the Alton side of Gunstock. There is one house at the end of it owned by Mark and Nancy Watson whose primary residence is in Groton.

The Watsons met with selectmen last night and first spoke through their attorney, who subtly threatened them with a lawsuit when he said board members should reconsider their recommendation to discontinue the road or face the possibility of costly legal bills and lengthy litigation.

Tensions escalated when Mark Watson told them they had purchased the house with the knowledge it was on a public road and were concerned about not being notified by mail about the possibility the road would be closed. Town Administrator Scott Dunn said the process was duly noticed in the newspapers and the board visited all of the properties.

Watson threatened the board with the possibility of claims for diminished property value, the loss of a pending sale, and decreased emergency services.

The idea of closing Wood Road began in spring of 2015 when Public Works Director Peter Nourse suggested discontinuing five roads that appeared to be personal driveways that he felt the town shouldn't be maintaining. Selectmen examined all of them and determined that Wood Road was a driveway and recommended a warrant article to discontinue it as a Class V Road, which is the only way a town can discontinue a road.

According to one official, the town only heard from the Watsons on the day of Wednesday's night's selectman's meeting and not during the process that began seven months ago.

Watson told the board that the lower portion of Wood Road is used as an access to trail head parking for Belknap Mountain, a statement that was later confirmed by Bill Carpenter, the administrator land management within the N.H. Division of Forestry.

Watson also said that people park on Wood Road, especially during prime hiking season, and in some instances cars are parked all of the way down to Bickford Road. He said it's not unusual for people to park in his actual driveway.
He was also concerned about his personal liability for injuries to hikers if the road were no longer town-owned to which Dunn said he couldn't answer because he couldn't give legal advice.

Tensions eased when Nancy Watson told the board she really didn't want the town maintaining the driveway portion of the road and would be quite satisfied if they used the left access road to the trail head parking area as the turnaround for the snow plow. She said they already maintain the driveway portion.

It was at this point the board agreed to amend the warrant from the floor at the deliberative session.

Public Works Operations Manager Mia Gagliardi said yesterday that starting now, the town will only be plowing Wood Road to the turnoff for the trail head.

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