Executive committee grants some transfer requests but not enough to resolve health insurance issue

LACONIA — The Belknap County Executive Committee agreed to the transfer of $34,000 to meet the county's share of employee health insurance costs through mid-November when it met before a packed house of mostly county workers at the Belknap County Complex last night.
The action came after a recess in the meeting at which County Administrator Debra Shackett huddled with Finance Director Glenn Waring to produce a spreadsheet detailing the transfers, which will move $34,000 of a projected $50,795 surplus in the Belknap County Nursing Home's health insurance budget to five other departments to cover their health insurance costs, $20,000 for the Sheriff's Department, $5,000 for the County Attorney's office, $4,000 for the Finance Department, $3,000 for the Nursing Home Activities Department and $2,000 for Administration.
The committee had earlier approved the transfer of $10,292 from the Maintenance Department's health insurance line to cover the nursing home's administrative insurance costs, a move which Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), chairman of the Belknap County Executive Committee, said made sense because it involved the same budget category.
Shackett seemed surprised by the willingness of the committee to approve transfers between departments and Tilton said that of all the $93,667 in transfers which the Belknap County Commissioners had asked for this was the easiest to approve.
Tilton then tried to put off consideration of other transfer requests until the next scheduled meeting of the Executive Committee on November 17, but Shackett pointed out that health insurance funds for several departments would end as of this Friday, forcing employees to pick up the county's share of the bill, which in a written explanation provided to the committee she had said would force increases of over some $3,800 for employees while others would have no additional costs at all.
County Attorney Melissa C. Guldbrandsen, whose department would be one of those most affected by the inaction on the transfer request called on the committee and the commissioners to ''search for some common ground. I would hate to see it end without some resolution'' and questioned why they couldn't use the $159,000 credit the county was receiving on its health insurance premiums to pay the bill.
County Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia) said that would require the County Convention to approve a supplemental appropriation, an action which couldn't take place for nearly two weeks.
Tilton at one point suggested that the health insurance costs could be covered by existing appropriations but Shackett said that even if all of the $2.6 million approved for health care costs by the county, which were pegged to last year's appropriation level, were expended the county would still be $20,000 short of the actual anticipated costs for the current year.
Both Tilton and Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), chairperson of the county delegation, said that the intent of the convention, as expressed by a motion made by Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) in February was to limit health insurance costs to put pressure on the county employee unions to agree to new contracts which would see them take on more of the health insurance contracts.
Tilton, who was unaware that workers in the county are now represented by four unions instead of three, wondered why no contract negotiations have taken place since earlier this year. The convention in June rejected a contract with one of the unions which have granted a 1.5 percent pay raise while shifting some of the health care costs to employees.
Shackett explained that the new union was certified earlier this year by the state Public Employees Labor Relations board and although hey do not have a contract as yet that once they are certified the county is obligated to continue to provide benefits until a contract is approved.
Philpot also questioned whether Tilton was suggesting that commissioners negotiate with workers through threats of unilaterally reducing their health insurance, saying ''we can't do this unilaterally.''
Guldbrandsen said that she is aware that unions representing county workers are prepared to go to court with unfair labor practice complaints if health insurance benefits are reduced, a situation she said which would further harm relations with county workers.
Shackett said last night's decision does not end the current situation and that commissioners will return next month with more budget transfer requests for the committee.

Council moves to ban ‘spice’

LACONIA — The City Council voted unanimously to pass a ban on the sale or possession of "spice" or synthetic cannibinoids commonly sold as incense.

A second reading including a public hearing will be held on November 10.

"This is a major problem in the state," said City Manager Scott Myers, who added that many surrounding communities have already banned the sale of spice.

Police Chief Chris Adams said Laconia has seen six non-fatal overdoses in the city. He said the chemicals are unregulated, meaning no one who consumes spice knows what it is they're ingesting.

"We don't want this in our community," he said.

Adams noted that the police have made spot checks in stores both undercover and in uniform and haven't found any for sale.

That statement, and the fact that there is no empirical evidence regarding the danger of the chemicals the city seeks to ban, made Councilor David Bownes question the need for the ordinance.

He said he wasn't necessarily against the ordinance nor was he against protecting the youth of the city but in his mind "it's a panic reaction that started in the governor's office." He said he was leery about imposing sanctions on something when the Council doesn't really know what it is.

"People are dying..." said Councilor Henry Lipman, who said the city should try to limit spice's influence. He also noted that if the city didn't pass the ordinance, it would be the only community in the immediate area where the product could be legally sold.

Councilor Bob Hamel said he'd been looking at an ordinance banning spice for about two years and said it was "better than doing nothing."

Councilor Armand Bolduc echoed Hamel and agreed that Laconia should pass the ordinance. "We're not going to put up with it," he said

Anyone found to be in violation of the ordinance, should it pass at its second reading, will be fined $500 per violation. Police can also confiscate and destroy as they see fit any substance that fits the criteria defined in the ordinance.

Spice or incense is marked as "not for human consumption" however its use as a synthetic and legal substitute for marijuana is wide spread.

About two years ago, Tilton became the first Lakes Region community to ban the sale and possession of it. Franklin, Gilford and Belmont soon followed suit.

Pedestrian hit by vehicle when crossing Beacon St. East

LACONIA — A woman sustained minor injuries yesterday evening when she was struck by a vehicle at the intersection of Beacon Street East and Church Street.

According to a press release issued by Laconia Police, a 56 year-old woman was walking eastbound on Church Street, toward Messer Street. She was struck at the intersection of Beacon St. East by a vehicle that was turning left onto Church Street. Police reported that witnesses, as well as the driver of the vehicle, said the traffic light was green for vehicles turning on to Church Street and red for pedestrians crossing the intersection.

The woman was transported to Lakes Region General Hospital with what was described as minor injuries to her right lower back and hip. The driver remained on scene to speak with police.

Police remind all pedestrians to obey traffic controls and only cross when directed by the Walk Light. Failure to do so can result in a ticket or cause an accident.

In Laconia, Shaheen pledges to work for middle-class families

LACONIA — With her race to hold her seat in the United States Senate against the challenge of Republican Scott Brown tightened to a toss-up, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen stopped here yesterday after her campaign whisked through Berlin, Littleton and Plymouth earlier in the day.

More than a hundred supporters crowded the American Legion hall to share the chili whipped up by their hosts, the Laconia Professional Firefighters, and the fiery rhetoric to match from Shaheen and her traveling companion Gov. Martin O'Malley of Maryland.

Dave Lang, president of the Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire, urged everyone to think like firefighters and prepare and respond to the "next call" on election day, Nov. 4, by telling family, friends and neighbors how much is at stake and being sure to go to the polls.

Recalling her tenure in the New Hampshire Senate and three terms as governor, Shaheen vowed to serve middle-class families and small businesses as she has throughout her career. She charged that Brown, who served in the Senate from Massachusetts, has "worked for the big guys — international corporations, Wall Street banks, and oil companies. She said that while she backed legislation to expand credit to small enterprises, Brown voted to grant subsidies of $19 billion to banks and $20 billion to oil companies.

She said that she wants to strip corporations of rewards for outsourcing jobs overseas, but Brown serves on the board of directors of a firm that does just that. She stressed her support for raising the minimum wage and ensuring women equal pay for equal work, both of which Brown opposed.

O'Malley, who as a recent college graduate worked with Shaheen on the presidential campaign of Gary Hart in 1983, underlined that "there is a really clear choice here." Echoing a recurrent refrain in Democratic campaigns, he said that large corporations and special interests have the best lobbyists money can buy, and added: "They don't need to buy your senator as well." He described Shaheen as not the senator from, but the senator for New Hampshire and rallied his listeners to vote next week.