by Thomas P. Caldwell
BRISTOL — The Newfound Area School Board split its vote on Jan. 13 when it came time to decide which warrant articles to support at the Feb. 1 deliberative session, with the majority opposing the budget that will go before the voters. The board also was closely divided over the article to hire a school resource (police) officer and, failing to attain a majority, goes on record as opposing the position it originally voted to create.
Last week, the Newfound Area School District Budget Committee reduced the proposed 2014-2015 operating budget from the school board's $20,310,865 figure to $20,167,997, eliminating guidance positions at the elementary and high schools, cutting $5,000 from a proposed stipend at the middle school, reducing the appropriation for legal fees by $9,999, and cutting $4,674 in other areas. It is the budget committee's recommendation that goes before the voters during the annual school district meeting.
The budget committee also opposed the newly negotiated collective bargaining agreement with the Newfound Area Teachers Association which provides for two percent cost of living increases in addition to the "step" increases on the pay scale for the first two years and a 2.5 percent COLA plus step increases in the third year. The agreement also would provide a two percent increase in co-curricular stipends in the first year of the three-year contract, with "significant" change in the language regarding authorized leave.
The cost increases in the teachers' contract would amount to $277,225 in the first year, $271,747 in the second year, and $312,479 in the third year.
This year, the entire school board was to serve as the district's negotiating team but New Hampton member Paul Rheinhardt could not attend the sessions and, during Monday's vote, he sided with the budget committee in opposing the contract. The other six members of the seven-member board, which had constituted the negotiating team for the district, supported the agreement.
The budget committee also had voted to oppose the $51,840 appropriation to hire a school resource officer who would be part of the Bristol Police Department but would serve in the district schools. The school board had placed the article on the warrant but, after the budget committee's vote, only Chair Vincent Paul Migliore of Bridgewater, Suzanne Cheney of Alexandria, and Jeff Levesque of Groton voted to support the article. Vice-Chair Ruby Hill of Danbury, Lloyd Belbin of Bristol, and Rheinhardt opposed the article, while Don Franklin of Hebron abstained from the vote. Because there was no majority, the warrant article will show that the school board did not recommend it.
After discussing the budget article, Rheinhardt and Belbin voted to go along with the budget committee's proposal but the rest of the board voted to oppose it because of the positions that had been eliminated.
During the public comment period, several people questioned the guidance cuts. Although the school district still would have more guidance positions than the state requires, Kathleen Connor of Hebron, a guidance counselor herself, said the state's minimum standards do not address student needs. Saying she was not concerned about her own position — "I'm very adaptable," she said — she was concerned about the students and what was best for them.
Fred Robinson, a paraprofessional educator at Newfound Regional High School, criticized the district's plan to replace para support with teacher support, eliminating four para-educators in Title I programs and 14.2 paras in special education while adding special education teachers. "So far, we've heard nothing about what the actual plan is," he said. "Has it been tried in other school districts? Is there any record of success? We only hear about staff reductions and money."
Because the Newfound Area School District operates under the Official Ballot Act, the school board at the Jan. 13 meeting also set the default budget that will take effect if the voters turn down the proposed 2014-2015 budget. The default budget is based on the previous year's approved budget, with adjustments for contractual obligations, debt service, and one-time items.
Business Administrator Michael Limanni said this year's default budget figure also addresses some discrepancies he has found with the way the default budget has been presented in the past. The official budget forms that the district has to file include federal grants and food service funds but those have not been included as part of the budget presented in past years.
Last year's general fund appropriation was $20,381,259 but the budget also included $636,249 for food service and $1,111,827 funded by federal grants, for a total of $22,065,040. The proposed budget of $20,167,997 will have additional food service $609,615 plus $1,024.957 in anticipated grants.
Limanni calculated the default budget to be $22,264,557, which the school board approved.
The default budget is larger than both the school board's and the budget committee's proposals because of the cuts that have been proposed. All three fall within the school district's tax cap which allows for an additional $420,272 in spending in order to stay within a two percent increase in the tax levy.
The school board had asked Limanni to provide an explanation to the voters of how the tax levy differs from budgeted appropriations. Many taxpayers, including members of the school board, were dismayed to see their tax bills increase last year when they had expected to see them go down.
During school and municipal annual meetings, voters often ask what the tax impact of their spending will be. Typically, they are told that, if they approve a particular item, it will add a certain amount to their tax bills, usually expressed as dollars per $1,000 of assessed valuation. They may be told that a building project will add $1 to the tax rate, or $200 for a home assessed at $200,000.
Limanni explained the reasons why that might not turn out to be true. First, he said, the tax levy will vary by town, based on the number of students residing in that community. Using figures from 2011 through 2013, he said Alexandia's ADM-R (average daily membership-residence) increased from 18.74 in 2011 to 19.60 in 2012, a .86 percent increase, to 20.35 in 2013, a .75 percent increase. During the same period, Bridgewater's ADM-R dropped from 8.65 to 7.48 (-1.17 percent), then rose to 8.18 (.70 percent). So Alexandria's portion of the school assessment has steadily increased while Bridgewater's has fluctuated.
Also affecting how much each town pays is the amount of the state's Equitable Aid Grant, which also varies from year to year based on a formula for calculating that aid. Alexandria's aid went up, resulting in less money to be raised by taxation, while aid to Bristol, Danbury, Groton, and New Hampton was reduced, leaving the towns to pay more to the district. Bridgewater and Hebron qualify for no state aid.
A third reason that the tax impact of the budget may be different from projected is that there is a difference between what was budgeted and what was spent. If there is an unexpanded fund balance at the end of the fiscal year, the school district may retain a portion of that surplus, or return it to the towns to reduce taxation.
The other major factor affecting the property tax rate, Limanni said, is the town's assessed valuation of the individual's property. In his written explanation, which will be placed on the SAU website, Limanni states, "If your town has been allocated a $500,000 share of the local education tax, and your neighbor's house has gone down in value while your own home has gone up in value (because the ice storm knocked down the trees that were blocking your view of the lake), then you could actually see an increase in taxes while your buddy just down the road is seeing a decrease."
Limanni noted that other factors affecting the tax bill include the county tax assessment, "but those are the four main reasons your taxes might go up even if the budget goes down".
The school board asked Limanni to review the allocation of last year's unexpended fund balance after questions at the Jan. 10 budget hearing revealed some confusion about the amount that can be retained by the school district. New Hampshire law allows a district to retain 2.5 percent of the net assessment but there was disagreement over whether that includes the whole budget. While the N.H. Department of Revenue Administration has agreed that the $350,000 retained was appropriate, Limanni will clear up how the DRA defines "net assessment" to make sure the district accurately calculates that amount.
Last Updated on Saturday, 18 January 2014 01:42
LACONIA — The paucity of skilled employees, together with the high cost of health care and energy, were the dominant themes when some 20 business executives and public officials from the Lakes Region joined Governor Maggie Hassan for a business roundtable hosted by Lakes Region Community College yesterday.
The governor opened the meeting by remarking on the appointment of Carmen Lorentz, the executive director of the Belknap Economic Development Council, as director of the Division of Economic Development, noting that for want of funding interim directors had filled the position for the past five years.
Jeff Rose, commissioner of the Department of Resources and Economic Development, welcomed Lorentz aboard, noting that he first met her at a business roundtable at the college a year ago.
Hassan reviewed a number of initiatives to strengthen the economy that were taken in the 2014-2015 biennial budget, including the restoration of funding for both the university and community college system as well as increased appropriations for international trade assistance and travel and tourism.
The capital, she said, provided funds for the "business one-stop" project, which will enable new and expanding firms to navigate the state's regulatory, permitting and tax requirements from a single website. In addition, Hassan said that the research and development tax credit was doubled and, for the first time, made a permanent provision of the business tax code.
When the discussion began Tyler Stone of Webster Valve, Inc. of Franklin at once spoke of the challenge of attracting employees with aptitude and skills manufacturers require, noting that recruitment has dwindled over the 15 years since Franklin High School eliminated "shop".
Dave Warrender, the director of the Huot Regional Technical Education Center at Laconia High School, said that enrollment in the manufacturing program has grown 20 percent, but acknowledged that it was difficult to accommodate students from Franklin because of the travel time. He suggested that if students interested in pursuing the program were enlisted earlier, in the lower grades, they could plan their curriculum to complete the program in their junior and senior years.
Jim Aberg of the Franklin Business and Industrial Corporation said that more must be done to dispel misconceptions that jobs in manufacturing are marked by repetitive work at low ages in dreary conditions. Advanced manufacturing, he said, employs sophisticated skills in clean facilities while paying high wages and providing a career path. However, at the same time he conceded that many workers are not "showing up on time and passing the pee test."
The governor recognized that substance abuse poses a challenge for many employers.
Rose said that his agency offers a "work ready program" designed to instill behaviors appropriate and expected in a variety of different work places.
With much of the conversation centered on manufacturing, Alex Ray of the Common Man Family of Restaurants, said he felt like "a fish out of water." He stressed that while the hospitality sector was often the first workplace for young people it also provided a variety of genuine career opportunities.
Rusty McLear of Hampshire Hospitality Holdings, noted that an internship program introduced in Meredith. where the Greater Meredith Program partnered with Inter-Lakes High School, has enrolled 61 interns.
Switching gears, the mayor of Laconia, Ed Engler, turned the discussion to health care. He said that high and rising cost of health insurance was a "drag on wages and salaries" and asked if employers should consider significantly increasing compensation, but no longer providing health insurance and instead referring employees to the exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act.
Senator Andrew Hosmer of Laconia, the general manager of AutoServ, expressed concern that some employees, especially younger workers, would not apply their increased earning to purchasing health insurance. At the same time, he said that benefits were an important means of recruiting employees that firms would be reluctant to relinquish.
Andrew Curland of Vitex Extrusion of Franklin, a manufacturer with 100 employees, said that if he was starting afresh, he would not open a business in New Hampshire, citing the high cost of energy, which is twice that of New York, and health insurance. Nevertheless, he counted the challenge of recruiting and retaining qualified employees as "the biggest impediment to growth."
Barry Wilk of New Hampshire Ball Bearing agreed that energy and health care costs are high and anticipated that they would remain high relative to those in other states. Consequently, he said that developing and training "an agile and skilled workforce" was particularly important for New Hampshire firms as a means of offsetting a share of those costs over which they have little control.
Last Updated on Saturday, 18 January 2014 01:35
LACONIA — A local teen is being held in jail on $25,000 cash-only bail after discharging a gun he was allegedly using to beat a man he said had hit his sister.
Parker Cathcart, 19, of 124 Winter St. is charged with one count of first-degree assault, one felony count of criminal threatening, and two counts of felony-level reckless conduct for placing another in danger.
According to police affidavits obtained from the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division, police went to 10 Estates Circle (off Blueberry Lane) at 3:19 a.m. for a report of criminal mischief.
Once there, someone asked them if they were there for the gunshots. Police saw a circular hole in the glass of the foyer of the apartment building that was consistent with a bullet hole.
Police found a man in the apartment — the victim — who had facial injuries and who told them Cathcart and his mother had come to his apartment building. He said he went down when they rang the buzzer and that he knew them.
The victim told police that Cathcart came into the lobby and said, "You want to hit my sister?" while he pressed a gun he had just cocked up against his face. He said Cathcart swung the gun and hit him in the face. The gun discharged when Cathart allegedly hit the victim and the bullet went out the foyer door.
He said Cathcart threatened him and then left with his mother and sister, who was also in the lobby at this time.
The victim said he found the spent round on the floor and brought it to his apartment and his girlfriend put it in a drawer. Police said they recovered the bullet.
Police said they went to Cathcart's mother's house and learned he was living on Winter Street. While at his mother's house, she told them she had gotten a phone call from her daughter who said she was at the victim's apartment and he had assaulted her. She said her daughter asked her to come get her because she had been drinking and didn't want to drive.
Cathcart's mother said she went to pick up her son (Cathcart) because she needed someone else to drive her daughter's car.
Affidavits said the mother told police that when she arrived on Estates Circle, she saw her daughter standing in the foyer of the apartment building. She said she, Cathcart, and her daughter wanted to confront the victim about the alleged assault and stood in the foyer when the victim came down from his apartment.
Cathcart's mother told police she saw her son reach out and grab the victim's by the neck but never knew he had a gun until she heard it fire. She also told police the bullet went into the area where she and her daughter were standing.
Police said her daughter's statement was that she didn't remember much of what happened in the foyer but told police her "brother has a temper" and the three left when they heard the gunshot. She remembered being in the foyer near where the gun discharged.
During the interview with Cathcart's mother, police learned where the gun might be and that at one point it may have been with Cathcart's father. A gun was recovered but where, from whom, and if it is the gun that was fired is not known by The Daily Sun at this time.
Police went to Cathcart's Winter Street address and arrested him without further incident. Affidavits said he invoked his right to be silent and didn't speak to the police.
In court yesterday afternoon, the city prosecutor asked for $50,000 cash-only bail. Cathcart's public defender requested $1,000 and said Cathcart would abide by any bail restrictions. She also said he has asthma and required medication that often includes a nebulizer. She said she feared her client wouldn't get the medical treatment he needs in jail.
Judge Jim Carroll said he was "chilled" by the thought of someone putting a loaded gun up to another's head and ordered Cathcart held on $25,000 cash-only bail.
Should he post bail, Cathcart is ordered to live with his mother in Gilford, not drink any alcohol or take non- prescribed medication, and to obey a curfew. He is not to possess any firearms.
Last Updated on Saturday, 18 January 2014 01:27
ALTON — The U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task force has arrested a former Pittsfield man who city police believe was involved in the theft of some landscaping equipment from the Union Cemetery in June of 2013.
Jeffrey Nickerson, 29, is charged with one count of theft from a building, one count of burglary, and one count of theft of a motor vehicle — a motorcycle.
Nickerson, who was wanted on outstanding warrants from Pittsfield and Barnstead, was found Thursday night hiding behind a bureau in a Main Street apartment in Alton.
He was apprehended by the U.S. Marshal's Fugitive Task Force with the assistance of the Alton Police Department.
He appeared by video in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division yesterday and was ordered held on $5,000 cash on the Laconia charges. Nickerson is being held in the Merrimack County House of Corrections.
Police affidavits regarding the Laconia charges said police detectives interviewed Nickerson on October 31 and said he admitted to several thefts in the area, including the thefts and burglary at the Union Cemetery.
He told the investigator that he and another person he declined to identify went to the cemetery at 5:30 a.m. on June 2 posing as landscapers. He said they stole two high-end lawnmowers, blowers, chainsaws and backpacks and brought them to a friend's house on Bay Street.
Information from a second Laconia affidavit stated that on July 31, a different Laconia officer took a statement from Nickerson in which he confessed to stealing a Harley-Davidson Road King from an employee at Granite State Glass on South Main Street on July 5. He said he drove the motorcycle to a Jefferson Street house where he got a couple of grams of methamphetamine and $300. He said he wasn't completely sure what he got for the motorcycle.
Affidavits also indicate Nickerson told police he stole things to support his drug habit.
Captain Bill Clary said yesterday they were holding off on arresting Nickerson because they were hoping to get more information from him about who his accomplices were and where they could recover the lawn equipment and the motorcycle. He said the lawn equipment has not been recovered. The Daily Sun has no information about the motorcycle.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Jeffrey White said Nickerson had contacted investigators on numerous occasions and had indicated his willingness to turn himself in. When he missed repeated opportunities to surrender and the task force learned he was in Alton, they went to get him.
Nickerson also faces outstanding warrants in Barnstead and Pittsfield.
Sgt. Joseph McDowell said police had information that Nickerson — who was convicted of three counts of sexual assault in Massachusetts — was living in Barnstead between the dates of June 1 and June 12 and failed to report his address to police. They got a warrant for his arrest.
Pittsfield Sgt. Richard Walter said Nickerson was wanted on two outstanding warrants for failing to register in his community. Police also had a warrant for his arrest for one count of burglary, one count of theft of a motor vehicle, and one count of escape — he allegedly ran from Pittsfield Police while he was in their custody.
Last Updated on Saturday, 18 January 2014 01:17
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- Warren Bailey installed as new president of Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce
- Boothby outspending Kenney by 4 to 1
- Force used during only 2.5% of arrests made by Laconia police
- Proposed Shaker budget up just half percent
- BNH CEO Primeau sounds warning on state's economy