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Timeline presented to panel shows new jail up & running by fall '17

LACONIA — A timeline prepared for the Belknap County Jail Planning Committee eyes completion of a new county corrections facility in May of 2017, with the facility being occupied and fully operational by September of that same year.
The timeline was presented to the committee by Belknap County Administrator Debra Shackett and had been prepared at the suggestion of Rep. David Huot (D-Laconia), who along with other Democrats on the Belknap County Convention have been showing up lately at meetings of the jail planning group.
Shackett said the committee is currently in the fifth stage of the nine-phase facility development process, the design phase, which will take up to a year and require the development of schematic designs, followed by the design of development documents and then construction documents.
That work cannot proceed without approval of more funds by the Belknap County Convention and the committee is looking to present a proposal for a $3.5 million bond issue to the convention early next year which would provide $500,000 for a schematic design for a new facility, as well $1 million for replacing the HVAC system at the current jail and $1.8 million for the three-year rental of 48-bed temporary housing facility.
The convention has not appropriated any funds for the jail planning process since the summer of 2011, when it approved a $160,000 supplemental appropriation sought by the commissioners, by a single vote. The funds were used to hire Ricci Greene Associates, a New York consulting firm which earlier this year presented a conceptual plan for a two-story, 94,450-square-foot facility it estimated to cost $42.5 million. It would have 180 beds, plus five for inmates requiring medical care. A third of the beds — 44 for men and 16 for women — would be reserved for inmates awaiting trial, on work release, undergoing treatment or on electronic monitoring, the so-called community corrections part of the facility. The remaining 120 beds — 88 for men and 32 for women — would be allotted to maximum, medium, and minimum security inmates as well as those with special needs.
The plan was endorsed by the commissioners but was not well received by the convention and the Laconia City Council, which called on the commissioners to rethink the plan in terms of what was affordable for county taxpayers.
County Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia), chairman of the Jail Planning Committee, says that he expects that the costs of the proposed facility can be substantially reduced but defends the process the committee has taken to this point.
''We took the experts' recommendations to heart,'' Philpot told new members of the jail planning group's advisory committee at Tuesday night's meeting.
He said that the community corrections part of the proposal represents the best way to have programs in place which reduce recidivism and that having an adequate facility is the key to the entire process.
''The building is really a program location, not just a facility for housing inmates,'' said Philpot.
Belknap County Corrections Superintendent Dan Ward said that even with all of the crowding problems at the current jail there are programs which have been offered in the past which had great success and which could be expanded in a new facility.
''I'm confident that we can make these programs work if we have space,'' Ward told members of the committee, pointing out that a GED program offered over the last four years had seen 83 inmates earn a high school degree with only a 17 percent recidivism rate, compared to 50-60 percent for other inmates, and a zero percent recidivism rate for the 30 inmates who took part in a parenting program.
''We will be able to gain support by demonstrating the success of these programs,'' said Ward.
Ward said that there are currently 140 inmates in the county facility, which is designed for 120, and that the 17 women inmates are housed in the gymnasium, which keeps that part of the facility from being used for recreation during the months when outside recreation is limited.
''We've been sending upwards of 30 people away (to facilities in other counties) during recent months. If we install a temporary facility we get all of the prisoners back and get the use of the gymnasium back as well as have some program space,'' Ward says.
He said that the land where the temporary facility would be located is level and located just to the right (west) of the current jail and that all power, water and sewer lines can be connected directly on site and no changes would be needed to the road which serves the jail.
Ward said that the 50 foot by 100 foot temporary unit provides both fixed cells as well as dorm space and is divided by a middle wall which would allow male and female prisoners to be housed on different sides of the same structure.
"We have 50 employees and 130 inmates and can't continue to operate the facility this way" said Ward.
He said that the county could be put in a position where it would need as many as four more temporary structures during construction of a facility if it involves extensive renovation or repairs of the current structure.
The county will also need to make major changes in the way it handles its inmate population in order to comply with new federal standards which will take effect at the start of 2014.
Ward said that those standards, developed as a result of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which was passed in 2003 with unanimous support from both parties in Congress, cover all prisons, as well as local jails, police lockup and juvenile facilities.
He said that were the standards were in place today there is no way that the county facility could meet all of them, particularly a requirement that juvenile inmates be separated by sight and sound from the general inmate population and that they be offered the same level of programs as other inmates.
He said that some of the provisions of the law which require administrative actions such as staff training, naming a PREA coordinator and providing informational material about sexual assaults to inmates can be met. But other areas are problematic due to the configuration of the facility which does not allow line of sight supervision in all areas.

Last Updated on Friday, 06 December 2013 02:07

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Laconia Fire 'running short' on rare occassions; union says 'safety' at issue

LACONIA — Although the Fire Department increases its staff by four firefighters this year, Chief Ken Erickson said this week that he has chosen to "run short," or not necessarily fill every vacancy on daytime shifts, during September, October, November April and May, which experience indicates are the slowest months of the year, in an effort to manage the cost of overtime.
Earlier this year the department received a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant of $642,028 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to fund four additional firefighters for two years. The grant is intended to shorten call response times and expand fire suppression capability while reducing the risk of injury to firefighters by increasing the personnel on each shift from eight to nine.
Erickson said that the decision to "run short" was "my prerogative," and stressed that the department would operate at full strength, with nine firefighters per shift, at night and on weekends as well as around the clock during the busiest months of the year. He said that since introducing the practice, only four shifts have run short. However, he noted that contrary to expectations, November was a very busy month with 354 calls for service, including a rash of suspicious fires, compared to 262 calls in the same month a year ago, which led to so called "recalls" of personnel.
"I don't like running down," Erickson said. "If I tell you I need nine; I need nine all the time." With a full shift, he explained, three trucks can easily be on the street at the same time.
The chief said that since the additional firefighters enabled him to increase each shift from eight to nine, response times have improved 20 percent, recalls have decreased significantly and the number of injuries have been reduced. "We're doing better work," he said.
Nevertheless, Captain Chris Shipp, who in July became president of the Laconia Professional Firefighters, expressed concern about running short while insisting that "as far as staffing goes, the chief and I are on the same page."
"It's a big deal for us," Shipp said. "When somebody is out they need to be replaced. It's a safety issue — the safety of the public and the safety of the firefighters." In particular, Shipp said that when a shift is trimmed from nine to eight, its ability to handle multiple calls for service is diminished. With five firefighters at Central Station and three at the Weirs Beach Station, he said that a severe medical call requiring four firefighters would leave only one to respond to the next call.
Shipp emphasized that the purpose of the SAFER grant is to ensure adequate staffing, not to reduce overtime. "In my opinion, using the grant to cut overtime would be a misuse of the funds."
City Manager Scott Myers agreed that the purpose of the grant was not to reduce overtime, but said that Erickson's decision to run short reflected his best judgement of how to manage the resources and budget of his department. He recalled that a year ago, when there were eight firefighters on each shift, running short led to "brown outs" — with equipment idle for want of personnel to operate it.
Last year, Municipal Resources, Inc. of Meredith undertook a comprehensive review of the department's operations, facilities and apparatus — with special emphasis on its scheduling practices, overtime staffing and shift coverage — and recommended the city hire eight additional firefighters during the next three years. The call volume and workload, MRI found, "is steadily increasing," indicating that "the level of staffing is not adequate."
Overtime pay is incurred whenever someone misses a shift and special events and significant emergencies require addition personnel be brought in while they are officially off duty. MRI calculated the annual cost of overtime was approximately $460,000, of which $200,000 is defrayed with revenue provided by LRGHealthcare. In 2012, overtime was required to cover 561 of 730 shifts, or 77 percent of the time.

MRI recommended hiring four firefighters in fiscal year 2014 to fill float positions on each platoon to reduce overtime and suggested three options for deploying the additional personnel, which would spare between 47 percent and 92 percent of the increased cost by trimming overtime.

Last Updated on Friday, 06 December 2013 03:07

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Gilford accepts responsibility for Area Road

GILFORD — Selectmen voted unanimously last night to accept the portion of Area Road that goes to the Gunstock Mountain Resort gate as a public way after getting a verbal assurance from Gunstock Commissioner Bob Durfee that the resort would either reimburse the town or work with the Public Works director for the work that needs to be done.

That works includes building a cul-de-sac for plow turnaround, filling two potholes and two fixing minor washout spots.

While the plan for that portion of the road to become a town road has been in the works for about a year and was approved by the Belknap County Commissioners earlier this week, some nearby residents still had reservations mostly about easements, maintenance, and speed.

Public Works Director Sheldon Morgan made note that while the proposed cul-de-sac for plowing was not exactly as he would like it, he said his department could work with the Gunstock proposal. He noted also that the two potholes and two washouts must be fixed "almost immediately" but, other than that, he was generally satisfied with current condition of the road.

"In a perfect world, I'd ask for an overlay," Morgan said, adding his crews would "make do with what we've got."

Last night's vote means that officially the town of Gilford owns the now-designated Class V road and is responsible for its maintenance and upkeep.

Technically, said Town Administrator Scott Dunn, the paperwork filing will take some time, but once the vote was made, the town accepted responsibility. The only additional costs to the town would be in salt and sand and future road repairs beyond what was agreed to last night.

Although Gilford now owns the road, Gunstock will maintain an easement that would allow them to plow it in an emergency and to unlock the gate for letting people out during big events. Police and Fire will have the keys to the locked gate for emergencies.

Selectmen needed some explanation from Dunn about why Gunstock would still have an easement if the town owns the road and agreed to take the vote after he assured them that the town has the power and full authority to regulate it.

Selectmen also suggested to the Gunstock Commissioners that they should rename only entrance road to the resort to eliminate confusion for emergency responders.

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 December 2013 02:01

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Stand Up Laconia head calls for parents to get more involved in effort to curb alcohol & drug use

LACONIA — "I cannot emphasize enough what trouble our state is in," began Tym Rourke, addressing the annual meeting of Better Together this week. "We are terrible," he continued. "Our young adults have among the highest rates of (drug & alcohol) addiction in the country."

This year Better Together celebrated Stand Up Laconia, the coalition of adults and youth who live, learn or work in the city who come together to curb alcohol and drug use among young people and encourage positive, healthy relationships within families and peer groups. "We're empowering our youth to make good, healthy choices," said Clare Perrson, who chairs the coalition.

Rourke, the director of the substance abuse program of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, noted that although New Hampshire is often ranked among the healthiest states in the union, the percentage of those aged between 18 and 25 levels misusing alcohol and drugs, both prescription medications and illicit drugs, exceed regional and national averages. "Substance abuse is a young person's disease," he said, adding that last year more New Hampshire residents died of drug overdoses than in traffic accidents, on of the very few states where that is the case.

While New Hampshire ranks high in the incidence of substance abuse, only Texas offers treatment to a smaller share of those requiring it. "We're next to last," Rourke said, explaining that less than 6 percent of those in need of treatment receive it. "Residential treatment, outpatient treatment, inpatient treatment," he said, "we lack all of them."

The cost to the community, Rourke said, is extraordinary. He cite one study that measured the cost of alcohol abuse among adult men that concluded it costs the state $1.15 billion annually. The cost is much greater when other forms of substance abuse are included in the mix. As an example, Rourke pointed to David Kwiatkowski, the technician at Exeter Hospital whose drug addiction led to infecting 45 people in at least eight states with hepatitis C.

Substance abuse, Rourke described as "ultimately a community issue. It's no one's fault," he remarked, "but it's everyone's responsibility."

Perrson said that Stand Up Laconia was the very kind of community initiative Rourke envisioned. She stressed that since the coalition came together virtually all sections of the community — the schools, businesses, civic organizations, service clubs, and municipal departments — have become engaged in the initiative.

However, turning to parents, she admitted "that's the part that really seems to be missing. "We're not going to sit back and let the kids figure it out by themselves," she continued. "They show up for all the plays, concerts and sporting events, but we need to start showing up for our kids and hearing what they have to say."

"We really need lots of hands," Perrson said, urging parents to visit the coalition's website — standuplaconia.com — and participate.

"Addiction," Rourke called "a disease of belonging" that must be addressed by "collective action with collective impacts" by community coalitions like Stand Up Laconia pursuing a strategy to affect change.

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 December 2013 01:51

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