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Detailed review of fire department overtime expense draws no reaction from City Council

LACONIA — For some timem the cost of overtime at the Fire Department has puzzled and concerned the City Council, especially Councilors Henry Lipman (Ward 3), who chairs the Finance Committee, and Bob Hamel (Ward 5). But when Fire Chief Ken Erickson broke down the cost of overtime for the councilors on Monday night, no one questioned his presentation.

Overtime at the Fire Department fell into seven categories — holiday pay, Motorcycle Week, time-off, extra duty, required training, ambulance staffing and billable details — the cost of which is shared between the city and LRGHealthcare according to their agreement for staffing and operating the ambulance service.

The total ran to nearly $600,000 in calendar year 2013; $435,610 without holiday pay and Bike Week included in the total. The city's share of the second number totaled up to $248,685.

Holiday pay, Erickson explained, is not for routine shift coverage. Since firefighters, unlike most city employees, must work all holidays, each union employee receives ten hours holiday pay for the day off with pay while those employees who work receive an additional five hours pay. In 2013 holiday pay amounted to $116,365, of which LRGH contributed $16,714.

During Motorcycle Week the city provides one extra firefighter, primarily on both weekends. Throughout the ten days of the rally LRGH provides two extra firefighters, staffing one ambulance at The Weirs for 18 shifts. On both weekends LRGH provides for one paramedic assigned to the ATV on Lakeside Avenue and another in a staff car. During the last weekend an additional ambulance is in service and one more EMT is added to each of three embulances. The cost of overtime during the rally was $45,589, of which LRGH paid $22,137.

Erickson said that the single largest component of overtime is keeping each station fully staffed 365 days a year. In 2013 there was coverage for 290 vacation shifts at $118,736, 114 personnel shifts at $45,837, 71 sick shifts at $57,469, and 87 injury shifts at $30,761, which altogether amounted to $242,743. Injury time is reimbursed by Woprker's Compensation at a rate of 34-percent, or $10,500 last year, and LRGH paid another $42,980.

The cost of extra duty, including recalls, fires, storms and distant transports, was $68,585, of which LRGH contributed $23,538. Both EMT-Advanced and EMT-Paramedic require semi-annual training for recertification while firefighters also require off-site training. Covering the stations for crews out-of-service cost $52,680. LRGH met the cost of $38,304 for training EMTs. LRGH pays the $51,282 to provide peak staffing Monday through Saturday as well as to put an ambulance in service on major summer holidays, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

Finally, the $20,321 incurred in providing special details for the circus, fireworks and some training exercises, was remibursed.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 April 2014 01:10

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Sanbornton man fined for leaving unattended rifle by the side of P

SANBORNTON — Police said they have issued a violation to a man who left a rifle laying on the side of the road.

Chief Stephen Hankard said they got a call from a resident who saw the rifle propped up on a kayak at the end of Perley Hill Road. Both were unattended.

He said that the gun was legally owed and the owner intended to sell it, both of which are within his rights to do, but Hankard said his objection was that the rifle was unattended and anyone could have driven by and taken it.

He said the man was fined for improper storage of a firearm.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 April 2014 01:07

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Lafond defense seeks to have drug & traffic charges severed from trial on manslaughter & negligent homicide counts

LACONIA — With Amy Lafond scheduled to stand trial in June on charges that her reckless and negligent driving caused the death of one teenage girl and severely injured another on Messer Street last year, both the defense and prosecution are seeking to define the scope of the proceedings and nature of the evidence.

Lafond, 53, is charged with manslaughter and two counts of negligent homicide (alternative theories) arising from an incident on April 19 when she allegedly drove into two teenage girls on the sidewalk bordering the Messer Street Bridge, killing Lilyanna Johnson and seriously injuring Allyssa Miner. She is also charged with several drug offenses and traffic violations.
Although Belknap County Attorney Melissa C. Guldbrandsen has said that toxicology tests found elevated levels of Oxycodone and the presence of Gabapentin, both prescription drugs, in LaFond's bloodstream, she has not been charged with driving while impaired. However, when Lafond was arraigned, Guldbrandsen said, "we are alleging that the accident occurred after she consumed drugs."
Attorney Mark Sisti, who represents Lafond, has asked the court to sever the charges for drug and traffic offenses from those for manslaughter and negligent homicide, claiming that the first set of charges is not related to the second. He cited an opinion of the New Hampshire Supreme Court holding that related offenses must be based on "a common plan," that is, "a definite prior design which included doing the charged acts as part of its consummation."

It is not sufficient, Sisti claimed, to contend that a sequence of actions "resembles a design." Instead "the prior conduct must be intertwined with what follows, such that the charged acts are mutually dependent," he said.
Sisti insisted there is "no interdependence among the charges" against Lafond. He noted in deciding whether charges should be severed, the Supreme Court held that courts should consider whether "in view of the number of offenses charged and the complexity of the evidence to be offered, the trier of fact will be able to distinguish the evidence and apply the law intelligently to each offense." In this case, Sisti concluded, "the jury will run a considerable risk of confusing the evidence the state will offer to support the manslaughter and negligent homicide charges from the drug charges" and "be hard pressed not to consider the alleged presence of contraband as evidence in the other charges."

Meanwhile, Guldbrandsen has objected to Sisti's earlier motion to exclude the results of blood tests taken after the accident. He claimed that because Lafond was not advised that the results could be used against her at trial, her consent to the blood draw was "not fully knowing." Nor he argued should the results of a second mandatory blood draw, required by law of drivers involved in fatal accidents provided there is probable cause to believe the driver caused the collision, be admitted as evidence.
The Attorney General, Sisti explained, has acknowledged that because the law does not require either a warrant or probable cause to believe the driver was impaired, it is not clear that the test results can be introduced as evidence in criminal proceedings. Consequently, the Attorney General advises "wherever possible, officers should document any facts supporting a finding of probable cause to believe that the driver is impaired." But, the officer who spoke with Lafond and requested the blood draw reported that "there was no reason or probable cause for me to believe that she was impaired by drugs or alcohol."
Guldbrandsen countered that Lafond signed a "Consent to Search" form, which provides notification of her right to withhold her consent, in the presence of both a police officer and her husband, Marc. "The fact that the defendant was not told that the blood could be used at trial," she argues, "does not vitiate her consent."
Moreover, Guldbrandsen referred to the statute bearing on confidential communications between physicians and patients, which does not apply to the release of blood drawn and test results taken from a person for purposes of diagnosis and treatment in connection with an incident leading to an investigation for driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. She said that a detective obtained a search warrant for the results of the blood test, which the defense has not challenged. In light of Lafond's consent and the search warrant, Guldbrandsen concluded that Sisti's challenge to the second, mandatory blood test is "misplaced."
Guldbrandsen filed a motion asking the court to allow "computer-generated accident reconstruction animations" to be introduced in evidence. The animations, she said, were created by Carl Lakowicz of Northpoint Collision Consultants from measurements and data collected by the Belknap Regional Accident Investigation Team and would offer a "visual illustration" of the sequence of events, including the collision, to supplement the testimony of expert witnesses. Altogether she asked to introduce eight animations, including three of the collision from different angles.

Anticipating that Marc Lafond, the defendant's husband, would appear as a hostile witness, Guldbrandsen also asked the court to rule that his criminal record could be used to impeach his credibility should he testify on his wife's behalf. Court rules permit the introduction of evidence that a witness has been convicted of a felony or crime of dishonesty within the past 10 years. Marc Lafond pled guilty to two counts of possession of a narcotic in August,  2005, a month after being convicted of theft of services, a misdemeanor.
Guldbrandsen acknowledged that animations were excluded from a case in 2009 when the judge ruled that there was insufficient evidence that the data used to construct them would ensure "a fair and accurate representation of the accident." She said that while the case law was limited, the decision to admit the animations was "within the discretion of the court."
Finally Sisiti has sought permission from the judge to question potential jurors to ensure that those who are seated to hear the case are sufficiently impartial. State statute entitles attorneys to conduct so-called "voir dire" — French for "to speak the truth" — in civil but not criminal cases. On the strength of the constitutional right to a fair trial Sisti remarked that "implicit in the Legislative enactment is the unconstitutional premise that criminal defendants are not entitled to the same procedures to ensure that criminal trial juries are equally impartial."
Sisti referred to studies that indicate "voir dire" conducted by attorneys provide defendants with greater protection of a fair trial than those conducted by judges. Because the case has attracted "a great of media attention" and so many of the witnesses are local residents, Sisti emphasized the importance of selecting an impartial jury. The trial, he explained, "may touch emotions and personally held beliefs as there are references to careless operation of a motor vehicle,possible drug use and the infliction of injuries and death upon very young children."
Justice James D. O'Neill, III will hear oral arguments of pre-trial motions at a hearing on Wednesday, May 14 beginning at 1:30 p.m. The trial, which is expected to last three weeks, is scheduled to begin on Monday, June 9.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 April 2014 01:00

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Effort to adjust compensation for elected county officials fails

LACONIA — The Executive Committee of the Belknap County Convention yesterday voted unanimously to recommend the convention maintain the compensation of elected county officials at their current rates, but only after attempts to raise the salary of the Registrar of Deeds and lower the salary of the County Attorney failed.

Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), proposed raising the salary of the registrar by $3,000 for two years, from $68,415 to $71,415, to compensate Barbara Luther, the incumbent, for legal costs she incurred in 2012 when the Belknap County Commission took her to court for declining to implement operational changes recommended by the independent auditors.

The issue has been a bone of contention between the convention and the commission for the past two years. After the commission settled its dispute with Luther in August 2012, she requested the county pay the cost of her defense, which amounted to $5,200. The commission refused. At Tilton's urging the convention added an appropriation to the 2013 county budget, but the commission, still declining to pay the fees, assigned the funds to another purpose.

Calling his motion "very simple," Tilton asked the Executive Committee to reduce the salary of each of three county commissioners by $1,000 a year to fund the increase for the registrar. He added that if he is still serving on the convention after two years, he would support curtailing the raise and returning the registrar's salary to $68,415.

Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), who chairs the convention, agreed that the registrar has not been treated properly, but noted that her salary is relatively high compared to registrars in other counties, who, with the exception of those in Merrimack and Rockingham counties, earn between $18,000 and $10,000 less. She said that she had intended to propose lowering the registrar's salary.

When the committee deadlocked on a 3-3 tie, Tilton's motion failed. Tilton, together with Reps. Herb Vadney and Bob Greemore, both Republicans of Meredith, voted in favor, while Worsman was joined by Reps. Guy Comtois (R-Barnstead) and Jane Cormnier (R-Alton) in opposition.

Worsman proposed trimming the salary of County Attorney Melissa C. Guldbrandsen from $89,164 to $85,000, explaining that only her counterpart in Merrimack County earned more. Tilton warned, "It's hard to get county attorneys" and reducing the salary would be "very much a disincentive."

Vadney said, "We shouldn't be playing with personalities" and "It's wrong to lower salaries." The question, he continued, is "how did they get this high in the first place?" Conceding that the convention could not reverse what occurred in the past, he said, "We can stop it."

With that Worsman withdrew her motion and the committee agreed not to change the salary schedule.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 April 2014 12:53

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