Laconia man involved in stolen credit card case that got Tilton cop in hot water pleads guilty

LACONIA — A city man who became entwined with a Tilton Police officer regarding a stolen merchandise card pleaded guilty yesterday in the Belknap County Superior Court to one count of receiving stolen property.

Judge James O'Neill sentenced Richard McNeil, 40, formerly of Laconia to 1 1/2 to 3 years in prison — all suspended — pending five years of good behavior. McNeil was also ordered to undergo substance abuse treatment.

McNeil, along with the man who actually stole the card, Richard Miner, was ordered to pay back $2,000 to the victim.

Miner pleaded guilty in August of 2014 to receiving stolen property and was released from the Belknap County House of Corrections on April 1, 2015.

According to records, Miner stole the card from a Tilton homeowner and contacted McNeil about selling it. At the time, Minor and McNeil were roommates.

McNeil, according to an investigation into the theft conducted by the Merrimack County Sheriff's Department, allegedly called former Tilton Det. Crp. Mathew Dawson and asked him if he knew anyone who could use it. (It was a Lowe's rebate card good only for merchandise).

According to Dawson's statements to investigators, McNeil assured him it was not stolen and Dawson told a relative about the card. The relative  allegedly purchased it from McNeil for $600.

The card was used once in Gilford for a small purchase and once in Littleton for the balance.

By pleading guilty today to receiving stolen property, McNeil acknowledges he knew or should have known the card was stolen.

In court yesterday, McNeil, through his lawyer William Woodbury, told Judge James O'Neill that he was an addict. He said he failed to appear for a court date because he had relapsed while in Manchester sometime in April and spent a month in both Massachusetts General Hospital and a Manchester Hospital. He said when he was able to fully be aware of his circumstances he called his parole officer. McNeil was returned to the N.H. State Prison for a 30-day parole setback but has since been released.

As a result of his overdose, McNeil told the judge he had become involved in a residential treatment program called Teen Challenge, which is a 15-month residential program with an option to stay as an intern for an additional six months.

He said he had been living there since May 5.

McNeil told Judge O'Neill that prison was a "crazy experience" and that he completed programs while he was there but they just weren't long enough. He said his new program is Christian-based and is helping him to address the feelings and problems he had been using drugs and alcohol to masquerade.

"I am at your mercy," he told Judge O'Neill and agreed with him that if he didn't complete the program he would go to prison.

Grafton County Prosecutor Mary Bleier said that McNeil's most recent sentence would be served consecutively to his current one (for which he is on parole) should he mess up again. He must be of good behavior for five years.

"I'm giving you a shot again to straighten out your life," said Judge O'Neill. "I sincerely hope you do so."

Because of his involvement with McNeil, Dawson was placed on paid administrative leave for six months while the Merrimack County Sheriff's Office and the N.H. State Police investigated the case.

Upon his return to work, Dawson was demoted to patrol officer and removed from the detective bureau.

Neither he or his relative Ted Dawson have been charged with any wrongdoing by police.

DeVoy says $7 million is limit to budget for a new 'community corrections' facility

LACONIA — Belknap County Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy said that he sees $7 million as the highest acceptable figure for building a new "community corrections" facility for the county and urged the architectural firm hired by the county to design the new building to see that as their target.
DeVoy was speaking at a meeting of the county's jail planning committee with SMP Architecture of Concord, held at the Belknap County Complex Wednesday morning.

SMP Architecture was hired last week to provide architectural and engineering services for a schematic design and cost estimates for the project.

Devoy said that some of the costs associated with reconfiguring the current jail for continued use could be handled outside of the projected $7 million bond issue if that was necessary in order to hold the line on costs.
''We've got more than $300,000 left in the jail planning account and another $200,000 in contingency which we could use,'' said DeVoy, who said that if necessary the work on the old facility could be spread out over several years and paid for as maintenance within the corrections department's annual budget.
DeVoy said that the yearly payment on a $7 million borrowing would be around $550,000, which the county could handle without a tax increase as bonds which are currently costing $600,000 a year in principal and interest payments will be retired in the near future.
He said that a $7 million bond is ''salable'' to the Belknap County Convention, where a two-thirds vote of the 18-member delegation is required for passage.
SMP President Eric Palson said that the company will keep that in mind but at some point during the planning process ''we're going to get push back from our experts and we'll hit the point where we can't squeeze out anymore.''
SMP, which designed the community corrections facility for Sullivan County (Claremont), which is the model that Belknap County is closely following. 

SMP was hired after its $84,880 bid for the work was accepted by the county commission, even though the bid was higher than than a $62,500 bid from Cowan Goudreau Architects.
Commissioner said that they felt comfortable with SMP and felt it would best serve the needs of the county for a comprehensive plan for the new facility.
In addition to its architectural team of Palson, architect Jason LaCombe and Project Manager Anthony Mento, SMP is utilizing the services of six consulting engineers to develop the schematic design, including Bauen Corporation of Meredith for construction estimating. The project has an August 21 completion date.
Palson showed five different versions of where the new facility could be built at the site, including one which would require a separate entry road into the county complex for service vehicles only, which would separate public traffic from service vehicles and provide an alternative exit way for the Sheriff's Department.
He also said that access for construction vehicles during the construction of the new facility was a key element in the planning process which needed to be looked at closely.
Following the meeting with the jail planning committee, which includes DeVoy, County Administrator Deb Shackett, County Corrections Superintendent Dan Ward and County Facilities Manager Dustin Muzzey, the SMP team toured the site with committee members.
SMP will be meeting every Thursday morning for the next few months with the jail planning group as well as Kevin Warwick and Ross Cunningham of Alternative Solutions Associates, Inc., a consulting firm hired by the county to develop a plan for a community corrections facility and programs which it would provide.
Next week the meeting will be held at 2 p.m. on Thursday afternoon but after that it will switch to Thursday morning meetings at 9 a.m.
Warwick was a consultant for the Sullivan County project and Cunningham, who is currently the assistant superintendent for the Merrimack County House of Corrections, was superintendent for Sullivan County when the facility there was designed and put into operation.
They have developed a plan for a 64-bed community facility for Belknap County which will have have 30 treatment beds, 20 for men and 10 for women, and 34 work release beds, 24 for men and 10 for women.
The new facility would be built next to the current jail and connected to it through a newly created control room. It would contain 22,327-square-feet and a suggested addition which would include a small 2,500-square-foot gym, 1,500-square-feet of administrative space — all of which would bring the total space to just over 27,000-square-feet.
Palson said that one of the first steps will be paring down the size of the proposed facility, which would see the gym replaced by an exercise facility, as well as looking at mechanical issues and the possible removal of a wing of the current jail.
Several of the models Palson showed the committee featured the community corrections facility as a two-story facility, which DeVoy questioned due to concerns over the costs of an elevator which he said might run as high as $500,000, a number which LaCombe questioned.
Palson said that many of the renovation costs to the current facility are unknown and Muzzey pointed out that the deterioration of the concrete in parts of the old jail made some of the proposed fixes which have been looked at over the years unfeasible.

The 'new normal': Grim picuture painted of future school enrollment in Moultonborough

MOULTONBOROUGH — Mark Joyce, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association (NHSAA), offered the School Board, along with the Board of Selectmen and Advisory Budget Committee, a glimpse of the challenges posed by shrinking school enrollment this week..

The School District, with support from the Advisory Budget Committee, contracted with the NHSAA to prepare a demographic profile and enrollment projections in anticipation of developing a strategic plan for the district.

Joyce said that the challenges facing Moultonborough arose from a set of changes that he called "the new normal", which bears on the future of public schools throughout the state. He recalled that across the country during the last half-century the numbers enrolled and graduating from public schools has risen significantly as fewer students leave school for work and complete their education and educational opportunities have been extended to those with learning and physical disabilities. At the same time, expectations of the school system have risen as unskilled and semi-skilled jobs have dwindled and success in the labor market requires higher level of cognitive and analytical talent. As enrollment expanded and expectations rose, costs increased.

Meanwhile in New Hampshire, Joyce said that demographic pressures, primarily slowing in-migration, falling birth rates, and rapid aging, along with the growth of private and charter schools, have led to declining enrollment in public schools. He noted that between 2000 and 2010, more peoples aged between 15 and 44, which includes the child bearing cohort, left the state than entered it. The Center for Disease Control reports that the birth rate in New Hampshire of 9.4 per 1,000 is the lowest among the 50 states. Joyce said that public school enrollment slid from about 215,000 in 1995 to 185,000 in 2013, a drop of 14-percent, and declined in 130 of 161 school districts between 2001 and 2010 130.

As enrollments decreased, costs increased. Joyce said the total cost of public education in New Hampshire in the 1999-2000 school year was $1,500,9333,722 and five years later rose 42-percent to $2,1333.881,477 and by 2012-2013 grew 22-percent to reach $2,796,242,013. He added that special education cost rose from 19-percent to 23-percent of total costs between 1999 and 2012.

The experience of the Moultonborough School District, Joyce said, mirrors these statewide trends. Enrollment fell from 651 in the 2006-2007 school year to 529 in 2013-2014, a decrease of nearly 19-percent, matching the rate of decrease in the town's population from 4,960 to 4,078. As a share of the town's total population, school enrollment has shrunk from 23-percent in 1995 to 13-percent in 2013.

Joyce said that the shrinking enrollment reflects the again population. The 657 residents younger than 19 represent 16.1-percent of the population. The median age of the population is 56.

Joyce noted Moultonborough was unusual in that three age cohorts — 35 to 54, 55 to 64 and over 65 — each represented more than a fifth of the total population. The 55 to 64 year olds number 1,153 and are the largest cohort at 28.2 -percent of the population followed by the 970 who are 65 and older.accounting for 23.2-percent of the total. The 35 to 54 year olds number 945 and represent 23.2-percent of the total. Joyce noted that most members all three cohorts are nearing or have passed their child bearing years. Just 353 people, or 8.6-percent of the population, are aged between 20 and 34, the prime child bearing years. Between 2006 and 2013 the number of births in town has ranged between 18 in 2009 and 27 in 2007.

Based on these demographic factors, together with the lack of significant residential development on the horizon, Joyce projected enrollment would continue to decline for much of the next decade, tumbling from 496 in 2015-2016 to 421 in 2022-2023, or by 15-percent, before adding one student the next year and three the year after that.

Joyce urged his listeners to think about the challenges of the "new normal," which he suggested called for innovation and cooperation. For example, he referred to Rollinsford Dchool District, which severed its 46 year relationship with Somersworth and chose to pay tuition to send its middle school and high school students to schools in Eliot and South Berwick, Maine, where enrollments are also declining. Or Barrington, where high school students can choose between Coe-Brown Academy in Northwood, Oyster River High School in Durham and Dover High School. "School districts are recruiting students to lower costs and achieve efficiencies," Joyce remarked, "and other districts are finding the cost of tuition is less than their per pupil costs."

Joyce said the next step in the process will be to analyze the uses and costs of school facilities in Moultonborough. He said that he expected to return to the school board again in August and September.