Bus drivers say they'll strike First Student

By BEA LEWIS

LACONIA — School bus drivers are threatening to strike amid contract disputes between Teamsters Union Local No. 633 and First Student – the company that transports students throughout the Lakes Region.

Two weeks ago, Local 633 based in Manchester, that represents the 850 workers employed in New Hampshire by First Student, issued a strikenotice. The union and bus company have locked horns over retirementfunding issues during contract negotiations.

With the prospects of area school bus drivers leaving the driver'sseat and heading to the picket line, city educators are among those developing contingency plans in the event student transportation isdisrupted.

Were a strike to occur, affected school districts would most likely head to Superior Court and file an emergency injunction request asking a judge to order that the buses keep rolling until the labor dispute is resolved. But students might still find themselves having to find their own ride to school for a day or two until court action could be
taken.

First Student Inc., headquartered in Cincinnati provides busing for students in Alton, Belmont, Canterbury, Center Harbor, Gilford, Gilmanton, Laconia, Meredith, Moultonborough and Sandwich. It also employs other workers at its bus maintenance facilities in Belmont, Tilton and Moultonborough.

The (Mancheter) Union Leader reported that First Student employees at the Belmont facility are the only ones in the state currently in negotiations because their contract expired in June. Buses, drivers, mechanics and dispatchers who work out of the Belmont facility provide transportation for schools in Alton, Gilford, Gilmanton, Laconia and for the Shaker Regional District

While the union and the busing contractor have in years past publicly announced their inability to hammer out a new contract, and strike talk has often loomed, recent court filings show the divide between them has deepened for apparent cause.

News that the two sides were at odds broke on Sept. 9, when a civil suit was filed in U.S. District Court alleging that First Student has shorted payments to a savings and investment plan for Teamsters members in New England.

The suit alleges that First Students failed to pay more than $77,000 in matching contributions to help fund 401K retirement benefits.

New England Teamsters Savings and Investment Plan is a multi-employer profit sharing plan governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Under the terms of collective bargaining agreements with several New England-based Teamsters Union Locals, First Student became a contributing employer to the plan.

First Student is obligated to pay matching employer contributions, by certain percentages and up to certain annual maximums, and elective deferrals (pre-tax contributions) made by First Student employees.

In June, the suit claims both the plan management and First Student were aware that the busing company had failed to pay matching contributions it owed for many of its employees. First Student signed an agreement that same month, pledging to make its matching contributions on a quarterly basis, and to pay off the accrued employer matching contributions.

Following a self-audit by First Student, the company reported that it had failed to make required matching contributions totaling $27,961.84 on behalf of 110 covered employees. It also reported that it had misdirected $34,535.28 in employee elective deferrals into a First Student-sponsored plan rather than the Teamsters Plan.

The plaintiffs charge that despite repeated requests, First Student has failed and refused to make the employer matching contributions it owned through June 30, 2015; to make the employer matching contributions it owned for the period of July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016; and to reimburse the Plan for the elective deferrals erroneously diverted to the company sponsored plan.

On Oct. 24, First Student called for a 21-day cooling off period in the wake of the strike notice. As a result, no workers can strike until after that period expires in mid-November.

 

(CAPTION) Students board First Student buses at Inter-Lakes Elementary School in Meredith on Thursday. Teamsters Union Local 633 which represents some 850 First Student employees in the state is threatening to strike over a contract dispute. (Bea Lewis Photo/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

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Sportsmen's Club agrees to pay $191,000 for 9.3 acres of surplus airport land

GILFORD — Following months of anxious waiting for the official appraisal, the Belknap County Sportsman's Club and the Laconia Airport Authority have agreed to a sales price of $191,000 for 9.3 acres of a larger parcel the club has been leasing at a bargain rate for decades.

The club has been leasing a parcel approximately 50 acres in size for $100 a year but the lease is scheduled to end on March 31, 2017. The airport authority has agreed to extend the lease for one year now that the purchase and sales agreement has been signed.

The Laconia City Council approved the agreement on October 24 but it must still be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which now insists the land cannot be sold or leased again for less than full "market value."

The parcel at 182 Lily Pond Road is across the the roadway and surplus to the airport and was never going to be used for  aviation purposes, said authority chairman and Laconia Mayor Edward Engler.

He said the money from the sale will be used by the airport authority as the airport's match for a nearly $3 million federal capital improvement grant that it will be applying for in 2017 for construction in 2018.

Engler said grant will be used to build a new taxiway "Echo," which will allow Emerson Aviation to construct a 12,000 square-foot hangar that will be large enough for jet aircraft.

"Right now, we don't have a hangar large enough to accommodate a jet," said Engler.

He said the other fixed-base operator at the airport, Sky Bright, is also planning to build a similar sized hangar but already has acceptable taxiway/runway access.

The Belknap County Sportsman Club is a 501(c)(3) that promotes hunting, fishing, archery and other outdoor activities enjoyed by those in central New Hampshire.

The club is known for its annual youth fishing derby, its contributions to local scholarship funds and for promoting and hosting training sessions for local youth to understand and appreciate the safe use of firearms.

The agreement inked by both sides specifies that the sportsman club must secure a loan for a minimum of $161,000 for no more than five percent and for a term no longer than 20 years.

A $5,000 retainer is required and will be put into escrow. Each side has 60 days to terminate the agreement once it is signed.

 

Linda Harvey to retire from position at the helm of Community Land Trust

LACONIA — After 24 years as the first and only executive director of the Laconia Area Community Land Trust, Linda Harvey announced this week that she will retire in May.

During Harvey's tenure the trust has invested $87 million in developing 277 units of permanently affordable housing in four municipalities — Laconia, Meredith, Tilton and Wolfeboro — that together have housed 1,660 people and she is leaving a legacy of another 89 units in the pipeline. At the same time, thousands of residents of the Lakes Region have taken part in the financial literacy and homebuyer education programs, offered by the trust without charge, many of whom have become homeowners.

Harvey said that apart from spending more time with family and friends and ultimately returning to Maine, where she was born and raised, she has no specific plans for her retirement.

Although Harvey and the trust have earned dozens of awards over the years, she has worked out of the limelight, never becoming a household name, but few have left a bolder stamp on the Lakes Region community or given a helping hand to so many of its residents.

In a prepared statement Jason Hicks, who chairs the trust's board of trustees, expressed the gratitude of the trustees for Harvey's "remarkable service." He recalled that "as a sole employee starting with a borrowed folding chair, she grew the organization into a nationally recognized success story." Harvey, he continued, "engaged local communities to recognize a need for affordable housing for its citizens and helped them provide it. She developed a vast network of committed stakeholders to create permanently affordable community assets. She assembled a team of highly skilled staff to provide programs of excellence and impact to thousands of Lakes Region residents. We will be forever mindful and proud of her achievements and stewardship. It is with mixed emotions that wish her well in her future endeavors, and we transition to new leadership."

A native of Rockport, Maine, Harvey came to New Hampshire 34 years ago with degrees in social work from the University of Connecticut. She said that the more she worked in providing mental health and social services the more she realized that the welfare of many of her clients was compromised by the lack suitable housing. She was not alone in sensing the need and by the late 1980s a diverse group began meeting in the basement of the Congregational Church, where they wrestled with addressing the poor condition and high cost of much of the housing stock in the city. Harvey said the most pressing need was for family housing, units with three or more bedrooms, which were in especially scarce supply.

"We chose the land trust model," Harvey said, explaining that it ensured both that the program would be controlled by local citizens and the housing it provided would be forever affordable. The trust was established in 1993. Harvey said that before building homes the first step was to "build a foundation of friendships and partnerships" among city officials, local bankers, civic organizations, church groups and the like. "The saying was that whenever two or more people got together," Harvey remarked, "Linda Harvey was there talking about the Laconia Area Community Land Trust."

Harvey said the first project undertaken by the trust was the rehabilitation of 10 duplexes scattered about the city, including some properties donated by local banks, which acquired them through foreclosure in the recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The trust identified three neighborhoods with the most substandard housing stock then those properties most in need of repair. Altogether 32 units, mostly in duplexes, and another 10 units in two buildings, were rehabilitated to become permanently affordable housing. "Once they were rehabbed," she said, "there was a ripple effect and other landlords and homeowners in the neighborhood improved their properties."

Soon afterwards, in 1994, residents of the Avery Hill neighborhood in Laconia approached the trust. "That was our first big project," Harvey said, explaining that the trust acquired a number of buildings, which were demolished or rebuilt, and developed 14 residential units in seven buildings in their place along with green space and a playground. "It was a $1 million project financed with 14 different funding sources," she said. Three years later, the trust rehabilitated 18 family units in nine buildings in the Pine Hill neighborhood. And in 2001 another 19 units in seven buildings, including the Batchelder Street School, were completed in the "hospital hill" area.

In 2012 the trust was chosen by Neighbor Works America for its portfolio strengthening program, which along with support from the the New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority provided technical assistance and financial resources to upgrade 60 of the earliest units the trust developed.

The trust redeveloped the site of the former Vernitron factory on Union Avenue in 2004, where tons of contaminated soil threatening the Winnipesaukee River were removed. What became Millview consists of 18 units divided among five colonial buildings overlooking the river and Belknap and Busiel mills and Avery Dam. Two years later, the Mechanic Street School in Lakeport was converted to house four one bedroom and two two bedroom apartments,

Meanwhile, the trust began hearing from towns in the region about their need for affordable rental housing. In Meredith, the trust acquired property on Boynton Road where it developed Pinecrest Apartments, 32 one, two and three bedroom units, and Frances Court Manufactured Housing Park with six two and three bedroom units. The trust built 48 apartments at Harriman Hill in Wolfeboro and another 47 at Lochmere Meadows in Tilton.

This year, after working outside the city for a decade, the trust opened River's Edge, a three-story with 700 feet of frontage on the Winnipesaukee River and 32 apartments, a dozen one-bedroom units and a score of two-bedroom units. River's Edge is also home to Community Infant Daycare, operated by Lakes Region Child Care Services, and an office of HOMEteam, which offers information and counsel about buying, renting and maintaining a home.

Harvey said that she is especially proud that the trust has paid some $3 million in property taxes on the properties it has developed, which on top of direct investments in permanently affordable housing units and counseling programs to foster home ownership, represents a contribution of more than $90 million to the communities served by the trust.

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