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Belknap Commission pitchesits budget proposalin Tilton, first of 11 stops

TILTON — John Thomas, chairman of the Belknap County Commission, pitched the commissioner's 2014 county budget proposal to the Board of Selectmen yesterday, kicking off a campaign that will take the commissioners to all 11 municipalities in the county in the coming weeks.

Recalling the struggle between the commission and Belknap County Convention over the 2013 budget, Thomas told the selectmen that he anticipated "the process will be very tough" again this year.

Thomas said that in a series work sessions the commissioners trimmed appropriations to $26.6 million, an increase of 0.7 percent, while limiting the increase in the amount to be raised by taxes to 4 percent. "We eliminated all capital projects but one," he said, "but we could not pare it down more than that." He stressed that "taking good, hard-working people and putting them on the street is the last thing we want to do in this economic climate."

Personnel costs, Thomas said, have risen in all county departments. He explained that the budget includes a 1.6 percent cost-of-living adjustment and a 3 percent step raise for eligible employees. At the same time, the cost of health insurance premiums will rise 13 percent while the employee contribution will remain at 5 percent or 6 percent.
County administrator Debra Shackett said that negotiations with the union representing county employees, who are currently working without a contract, are underway.

Noting that the Department of Corrections is "understaffed as it is," Thomas said that the commissioners scrapped plans to add three correctional officers. One part-time position in the restorative justice program was converted to full-time, he said in anticipation of limiting the growth or reducing the size of the inmate population to address rising costs, particularly the expenses incurred in transporting prisoners to other county jails.

At the nursing home, Shackett said that the commissioners decided against filling four positions, two — a nurse and a cook — that have been vacant for some time and two in the activities program opened by recent resignations. She emphasized that the reduction in staff would not impact the quality of care, explaining that the facility has gone without two of the positions for most of the year with no adverse effects. two of the positions have been . "We've done without two of the positions for most of the year.

Pat Consentino, who chairs the Selectboard, reminded Thomas that the appropriation for the Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid Association (LRMFAA), which was $553,463 in 2013, has been stripped from the 2014 county budget. Consequently, she said that the actual increase in both the operating budget and tax commitment is greater than represented.

Moreover, Scott Davis, a Tilton resident, pointed out that since the LRMFAA will bill the 11 municipalities in the county directly, using a formula that includes both their property value and total population, Tilton's share will increase by more than $4,000.

Selectman Katherine Dawson asked about the progress of planning a new jail. Thomas said that the commissioners, together with a jail planning committee, were continuing the planning process, but indicated that no major proposal was in the offing. Instead, the commission is preparing a request to $3.5 million to address immediate needs, including $1.6 million for a temporary housing unit of 48 beds and $1 million to replace the HVAC system, which was eliminated from the budget. Another $500,000 would be applied to a schematic design of a new facility.

Last night the commission met with the New Hampton Selectboard and next week will visit Belmont, Gilmanton and Gilford.

Last Updated on Friday, 13 December 2013 02:25

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Gilmanton teachers will get raises but pick up more of health insurance costs under terms of new deal

GILMANTON — A new collective bargaining agreement with teachers was one of the key budget items on the minds of town Budget Committee Wednesday night when it got its first look at the proposed 2014-2015 School District budget.

The negotiated contract with the Gilmanton Teachers Association is a three-year deal that will add an estimated $26,777 to the bottom line in 2014-15, $55,562 to the budget in 2015-16, and $72,825 more to the budget in 2016-17.

Significant, at least to Budget Committee member Richard Bakos, is the compromise reached whereby over the three years of the contract teachers will begin paying for a portion of the premiums for their health insurance.

"We heard loud and clear that health care was a concern," said board member Renee Kordas, recalling Bakos's statements about health insurance costs last year.

She said one change in the 2015-2017 contract — the money portions of which will be voted on by the electorate at during the ballot portion of the annual School District meeting — is leaving the Local Government Center for health insurance and joining with School Care, which is managed by Cigna.

Key to the new plan is the elimination of the $1 three-month mail-away prescription program said Kordas — a program that Kordas said was something many teachers used and that was critical to the negotiations.

For the first time, teachers who have a single-person plan will start paying a portion of the premiums for their health coverage. In the first year of the contract single plan holders will contribute 5 percent, two-person plan holders will contribute 20 percent, and family-plan holders will contribute 25 percent.

Kordas explained that the teacher contributions to the health insurance plan will adjust annually so that by the third year every one who participates in health insurance will be paying at least 15 percent of the premium.

The teachers also negotiated a 6.09 percent pay increase over the three years of the contract — much of which for many will be offset in terms of take-home pay by the restructured health insurance plan.

Right now the School District pays 100 percent of the insurance premiums for a basic single-person plan and the rest of the teacher contributions are based on a scale that is conditioned by which plan they choose and how many people are insured under it.

Kordas also said the new School Care contract has three plans from which to choose as opposed to the "many" plans offered by the Local Government Center.

Bakos applauded the School District for "making great strides", saying that Gilmanton town employees pay 20-percent of the premiums for their health insurance and those in the private sector average paying around 35 percent.

Kordas said the new health insurance plan will save the district $23,000 in the first year, however she said she would be reluctant to guess at the savings for years two and three because it's too hard to predict that far out in time.

Bakos also wanted to know if the newly negotiated plan was "Obama-mandated", meaning it meets the parameters of the Affordable Care Act and Kordas said it was.

Superintendent John Fauci said yesterday that the para-educators who are not unionized typically "don't get as rich of a plan" as do the teachers. He said the rest of the school's employees vary but the administration usually takes plans similar to the union's.

Last Updated on Friday, 13 December 2013 02:04

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Police sweep nets 13 suspects charged with drug crimes

LACONIA — Police charged 13 people with various counts of sales of illegal drugs in a second annual round-up staged yesterday morning.

Capt. Bill Clary, who heads the city Bureau of Criminal Investigations or detective bureau said four detectives, four patrol officers, himself and Lt. Al Lessard got warrants and simultaneously arrested eight people in eight separate addresses early Thursday morning.

A ninth alleged drug dealer was taken into custody by Gilford Police and handed over to the Laconia Police. Four of those charged yesterday are already in the Belknap County House of Corrections.

He said most if not all of yesterday's arrests are for alleged drug sales that occurred over the past nine months. He said most of those arrested had no idea what was happening because it was something they had allegedly done months or weeks ago.

"They were all completely dumbfounded and flabbergasted," said Clary, who noted that the surprise raids are deliberately timed to occur around 6 a.m. or just after dawn.

"I'm happy with the way it turned out," Clary said. "Nobody got hurt."

This is the second drug arrest sweep in the city in less than a year. In February, city police working with other area police departments rounded up 13 different people in four different communities charging them all with a variety of drug sales.

Clary said that it's been 18 months since the Laconia City Council added a police officer position to the department for the sole purpose of investigating and curtailing drug activity in the city.

"We want it to be very clear that this kind of action (drug dealing) isn't going to be tolerated," Clary said.

He said the sales charges against each person involved a variety of drugs ranging from marijuana to cocaine, heroin, and oxycodone.

Charged this morning were Melissa M. Sylvia, 34, of 31 Merrimac St. — four counts of sales of narcotics; Joshua E. Shoemaker, 35, of 54 A Spring Street — two counts of sales of narcotics; Sheila Berube, 45, of 1 Gilford Place #219 — two counts of sales of narcotics; John Woodbury, 19, of 44 Taylor St. — one count of sale of narcotics; Ryan Sheedy, 32, of 177 Gold St. — one count of possession of narcotics; Paul A. Young, 46, of 18 Fair St. — two counts of sales of narcotics; Joshua Burley, 26, two counts of sales of narcotics; Tyler Olisky, 17, of 11 Clay St — resisting arrest and sales of controlled drug; David Paul Jr., 29, of 45 Fair St. #1 — one count of possession of narcotics; Nicholas Murray, 25, of the Belknap County House of Corrections — one count of sales of a narcotic; Joseph Desbien, 41, of the Belknap County HOC — one count of sales of a narcotic; Joseph Morrissette, 24, of the Belknap County HOC — one count of sales of narcotics; and Albert Rama, 29, of the Belknap County HOC — one count of sales of narcotics.

Last Updated on Friday, 13 December 2013 01:44

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Momentum building for city putting $400,000 into second phase of WOW Trail but details of TIF spending on riverwalk still up in air

LACONIA — After weighing the recommendations of the Downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District Advisory Board for the eighth time at a special meeting this week, the City Council inched closer to approving a borrowing to finance construction of stretches of the WOW Trail and downtown riverwalk.

After winnowing its original proposal to five projects, the board recommends investing $400,000 to extend the WOW Trail between Main Street and Fair Street, $25,000 to add signage and kiosks to the riverwalk and WOW Trail, $181,000 to connect the Main Street Bridge to the riverwalk behind the Landmark Inn, $121,800 to extend the riverwalk through the adjuacent Walgreen's property, and $300,000 to carry the riverwalk from behind the old police station (now Binnie Media) up to the Church Street bridge.

In August, the council agreed to spend $275,000 improving the area at the foot of Main Street, in order to ensure that the improvements were incorporated into the design for reconstructing the Main Street Bridge. In October the council approved spending $35,000 to extend a 10 inch water main from Main Street to Veteran's Square to service the former Evangelical Baptist Church, which is being converted to a restaurant.

Altogether the estimated cost of the seven projects is $1,337,800. They would be funded by borrowing $1,350,000 against the annual revenue to the TIF account at an estimated interest rate of four-percent over 20 years. The TIF account has a current balance of $311,353 and projected revenue of $173,687 in 2014 and an additional amount each year thereafter for a total of $4,250,212 during the next 20 years. City Manager Scott Myers has assured the council that the revenue accruing to the TIF fund is sufficient to service the proposed debt and, within a reasonable time, support another borrowing.

The council deferred its decision on what projects to approve and expenditures to authorize, but agreed to revisit the issue when it meets on December 23. Although the projects may be approved by simple majority vote, a two-thirds majority vote will be required to authorize the borrowing to finance them.

At the special meeting this week, Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4) questioned investing in the WOW Trail while Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) suggested that the riverwalk along the north bank should be completed before beginning work on the stretch on the south bank.

Although Baer expressed her support for the WOW Trail, she doubted that it would contribute to revitalizing downtown, which is the purpose of the TIF fund. Warren Murphy, past chairman of the Planning Board and resident of South Down Shores, also said that while he favored the trail, he advised against applying public funds to the project.

Public investment at an unprecedented level would lend an additional measure of momentum and legitimacy to the project, the next phase of which is planned to cross the western shore of Paugus Bay, where many property owners at South Down Shores are set on resisting it.

On the other hand, the Belknap Economic Development Council, which prepared a study projecting that once complete the WOW Trail would bring $1.8-million a year to the city, and the Main Street Initiative urged the council to fund the project.

Alan Beetle, president of the WOW Trail, told the council that the private WOW Trail board has raised $300,000 and with $400,000 in municipal funding could raise the additional $200,000 required to construct the second phase of the trail, from Main Street to the Belmont town line, in 2014. Without the city's contribution, he said that the project could take between four and six years.

Lipman proposed deferring expenditure for the segment of the riverwalk running through the Walgreen's property on the south bank of the river, explaining that it "doesn't go anywhere" because those to either side of it are not yet on the construction schedule. His view was shared by the Main Street Initiative, which in a written statement called for completing the riverwalk on the the north bank before investing any TIF funds on the south bank.

However, Planning Director Shanna Saunders said that she since easements on two adjacent privately owned lots are being negotiated and the city owns the Meredith Bridge Cemetery the riverwalk along the south bank could be completed to Fair Street Bridge relatively soon.

The Main Street Initiative repeated its request to complete the section of the riverwalk connecting Beacon Street West (the former Allen-Rogers property) to Main Street, intended to cross the mouth of the Perley Canal near the Main Street Bridge, which the advisory board did not include on its list. Saunders explained that the project was omitted because the original plan for the crossing was a "concept" and an alternate route was later chosen.

Saunders said that Chinburg Builders, the developer of Beacon Street West, originally intended to reconstruct a building over the canal that collapsed under a snowload and incorporate the riverwalk in the project as a cantilevered walkway over the water. However, the firm abandoned it plan to rebuild and chose to convert the large commercial building on the property to apartments. As part of its site plan, Chinburg proposed an alternate route for the riverwalk, which the Planning Board approved in 2008. Instead of following the riverbank, the pathway will pass through the residential complex to join Beacon Street West significantly north of the bridge.

John Moriarty, president of the Main Street Initiative, said that he learned that the route had been changed in advance of this week's meeting but chose to present the recommendation in hopes that the original route will ultimately be followed.

Jack Terrill, a resident of the Beacon Street West condominiums, told the council that the segment of the riverwalk bordering the development should be fenced on the north side. "We have a trespassing issue until we establish a perimeter," he said, adding that with a fence "we (residents) would have a backyard of our own."

Saunders and Kevin Dunleavy, who chairs the advisory board, were surprised by the request. Dunleavy told the council that in designing the riverwalk fencing on the side away from the water was not anticipated. Beacon Street West is only one of a number of privately owned properties on both banks of the river where easements have accommodated the riverwalk.

Last Updated on Friday, 13 December 2013 01:40

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