Burchell again odd man out during county government discussions

LACONIA — The familiar fault line which has dominated the meetings of the Belknap County Commissioners for the last two months were plainly in evidence again Wednesday morning as Commissioner Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton), whose ouster as chairman of the commission in early March was upheld yesterday in Belknap County Superior Court, continued to differ with his colleagues.
The commission voted to hire an accounting manager to supervise the Finance Department and to seek approval from the Belknap County Convention's Executive Committee to use $100,000 from a personnel management reserve fund in the 2015 county budget to fund the position.
The decision comes in the wake of the county's assistant finance director Marie Mora submitting her resignation, which followed shortly on the heels of the resignation last month of Finance Director Glen Waring to take a position with a school district in southern New Hampshire.
''It's an an unfortunate situation. This should never have happened,'' said Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton)'', who added that the county must move quickly to fill the position.
Commissioner Burchell disagreed, saying that he thought it would be ''an opportunity to go to the private sector'', a suggestion which Taylor rejected, saying ''we have a problem we need to address and address right now.''
Taylor said ''nobody uses privatization at the county level'' and said that Burchell's call for privatization would result in a lot of duplication of effort as any private firm would have to br fully knowledgeable about county budget procedures, which would require an inordinate amount of staff effort on the county's part.
Burchell had earlier this year, following Waring's resignation, suggested that he had confidence in Mora being able to take on many of Waring's responsibilities. But Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) said that Burchell had already outlined a plan of his own to reorganize the county and that people were concerned about losing their jobs and what he was reporting they had said should be taken with a grain of salt.
Another discussion of a vacancy also pitted Burchell against his colleagues as he championed an effort by Belknap County Nursing Administrator Mathew Logue to fill a position which Logue said had been vacant for a year.

The person that Logue wants to replace is currently on leave but was recently reinstated to her position following resolution of a court case. Burchell questioned Logue about the impact the reinstated person would have on the county home and Logue's response led to a discussion as to whether the commission should be discussing the matter in public.
DeVoy objected to the direction that the conversation was taking, saying to Burchell, ''you have crossed the line. This person is on Workmen's Compensation,'' which led to a move by Burchell to discuss the situation in a non-public session. County Administrator Debra Shackett told the commissioners that if they were to discuss an employee in private that person would have the right to be present and have a representative present as well.

Burchell said ''we're not discussing terminating her'' and suggested the employee would not have to be present.
But he received no support from the other commissioners for a non-public session.
DeVoy said that the position has not been filled in a year and that the employee was on leave for six more weeks, which mean there was no urgency.
''We won't hire another person,'' he said, which prompted Burchell to say, ''then the problem is not solved,''
Burchell also differed with his colleagues on the status of a new labor union composed of 20 mid-level mangers at the county, which was last year certified as bargaining unit by the state Public Employee Labor Relations Board.
He suggested that the commissioners hire a lawyer with a background in labor relations as a first step towards a possible decertification of the union, which he said was ''cobbled together'' and lacked a commonality of interest.
Last week the convention unanimously rejected a three-year contract with the new union, The deal with Teamsters Local Union 633 had been approved by the previous county commissioners as one of their last acts in office in late December.
Burchell's point of view was opposed by Commissioner Taylor, who pointed out that ''the burden is on the employer to overturn certification,'' indicating it could be a long, costly process.
He said that there was no crisis at the current time which required such action and said that he would rather negotiate a new agreement with the union than mount a legal challenge to its existence.
In other action the commissioners received proposals for health insurance from two providers, Health Trust and New Hampshire Interlocal Trust; approved a request for proposals from architectural firms for design of a community corrections facility and received a written proposal for changes in rule making authority for the county.

Young adults urged to get involved in local issues, advocate

LACONIA — Fusion, a multi-generational networking group working to develop future leaders, encourage civic involvement and contribute in the communities it serves, hosted a panel discussion on local government at Lakes Region Community College Tuesday evening.
Fusion President Jaimie Sousa said that the event, billed as the ''Thought Faucet" was the first session in a new education series that will focus on leadership and civic involvement.
She said that the organization, which was first known as the Lakes Region Young Professionals group and was a committee of the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, decided nearly two years ago that it needed to rebrand itself in order to establish its own identity.
Sousa said that promoting the Lakes Region as a fantastic place to live and work and play, Fusion works closely with organizations like the Belknap Economic Development Council on a key initiative to attract and retain young talent in the Lakes Region area. The organization will be presenting its first annual Impact Awards in May at Laconia Country Club.
The panel discussion, which was moderated by Kate Bishop Hamel of Community Matters, included Chase Hagaman, New England Regional Director of The Concord Coalition; Laconia Mayor Ed Engler, Laconia City Manager Scott Myers, and Rebecca Perkins, founding member of the 603 Initiative, which works to promote New Hampshire as a great place for young professionals.
Asked where people can have the most impact, panelists generally agreed that it would be serving as advocates at the local level because there is a large void that needs to be filled by people who are willing to become involved and inform themselves so that they can be effective.
Mayor Engler said that Laconia is suffering a ''generational crisis'' which in the long-term is not sustainable and that advocacy on the part of young people is needed.
He said that a recent gathering on Re-Imagining Laconia drew about 100 people, most of whom were in their 60s and 70s and no one under 30 was present. He said that during the last four years there have been more deaths than births in Belknap County and that the number of students in the Laconia school system qualifying for free and reduced lunches has gone from 30 percent to 60 percent in the last 10 years.
''We're in desperate need of younger, more prosperous people. I see ideal families in the city who have done everything right and raised their families and got their kids in college. But they're not being replaced,'' said Engler.
Scott Myers said that one of the big challenges he faces as city manager is getting people involved at the local level. He said that one of the best opportunities for young people is to get involved at he local level where there actions can actually make a difference,
''One challenge is trying to engage our citizens. Having a meaningful dialogue about this is a challenge we all face,'' said Myers, who suggested involvement in a number of civic projects can be an avenue to becoming an active participant in the life of a community.
Perkins urged young people in the audience to take steps to get involved at the local level and not hesitate while Hagaman noted there was definitely a void in volunteerism and urged people to identify their passions and find their way to become involved.

Caption for fusion faucet

Laconia Mayor Ed Engler, Rebecca Perkins, president of the 603 Initiative; Scott Myers, Laconia City Manager; Chase Hagaman, New England Regional Director of the Concord Coalition and moderator Kate Hamel, at the Fusion Thought Faucet event held at Lakes Region Community College Tuesday evening. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

The epidemic by the numbers

CONCORD — The New Hampshire Drug Monitoring Initiative, a project of Information and Analysis Center of the Department of Safety, yesterday issued its report on opiate use, treatment and overdoses for January and February 2015, offering a statistical profile of what many are calling an epidemic.

During the first two months of 2015 heroin use accounted for 73 visits to emergency departments, nearly one quarter of the number of visits the year before and significantly more than in the same months in the three prior years. The authors of the report note that the numbers mirror the trend of the two earlier years, which began with fewer visits then posted a spike in the summer months followed by a steeper rise in the fourth quarter.

The two most populous counties — Hillsborough and Rockingham — recorded the most heroin use visits to emergency departments in the past three months, 41 and 35 respectively, followed by Belknap County with 11. During the same period admissions to treatment programs for heroin and prescription opiate use were 201 in Hillsborough County, 64 in Strafford County, 55 in Rockingham County, 44 in Grafton County and 32 in Belknap County.

Narcan was administered to 276 persons in December, 207 persons in January an 209 persons in February, tracking the decline in emergency department visits and treatment admissions from their peak in the last months of 2014. In Belknap County 34 persons were treated with Narcan in the three-month period. Laconia ranked among the top ten municipalities for the number of Narcan administrations in 2011 and 2012 and ranks in sixth place so far in 2015. During the same period, Laconia placed second in 2011 and 2012 and third in 2013 among municipalities ranked by the number of Narcan administrations per 1,000 residents.

The number of deaths from drug overdoses has risen from 177 in 2010 to 300 in 2014 and jumped 55 percent, from 193 to 300 from 2013 to 2014. Deaths related to heroin have risen from 19 in 2010 to 96 in 2014 and rose 152 percent — from 38 to 96 — between 2012 and 2014. Deaths from fentanyl, a synthetic opiate 15 to 20 times more potent than heroin, rose from the teens between 2010 and 2013 to 128 in 2014, an increase of 611 percent.

There were 14 deaths from overdoses in Belknap County in 2014, ten of them in Laconia, where two people died from overdoses in the first two months of 2015.

Little more than half those visiting emergency departments for heroin use in the first three months of this year were aged 20 to 29 while those aged 30 to 39 represented a quarter of the total and nearly three-quarters were men. Of the 300 who died from overdoses in 2014, 68 were aged 20 to 29, 60 aged 30 to 39, 48 aged 40 to 49 and 62 aged 50 to 59 while 58 percent were men.