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County Commissioners defy convention, transfer within departments

LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners Thursday afternoon agreed to a number of line item transfers within departmental budgets in an an effort to deal with the impact of an $850,000 cut made by the Belknap County Convention to their proposed $26.57 million 2014 county budget.
The commissioners followed the same course as they did last year in dealing with a budget cut and again defied the convention's assertion of line item control over the entire budget, fortifying their case by releasing a letter from their attorney which supported their position.
''No statutory authority exists to suggest that an individual county delegation can make appropriations for the detailed sub accounts listed in the working budget,'' read the the letter from Attorney Sharon Cuddy Somers of the law firm of Donahue, Tucker and Ciandella, the county's legal counsel.
She also noted that case law clearly indicates the delegation does not possess the same ''legislative powers'' as they are used to exercising as state legislators and do not have the right to pass ''legislative judgment'' on the costs of programs submitted for funding, including such items as the wages of non-elected officials.
When the Convention passed its budget it also passed a motion by Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) which required that the commissioners obtain approval from the convention's Executive Committee for all line item budget transfers. But Somers said that the statute that Tilton cited, RSA 24:14, authorizes restrictions on appropriations, not line items, and that therefore authority to restrict transfers must tie in with appropriations as listed on the MS-42 form filed with the Division of Revenue Administration.
She said that the commissioners have the obligation to comply with the vote on transfers, but only insofar as its involves transfers between departments,
Somers also said the commission could make transfers within the funding of each department in order to carry out their mandated duties, including the contractual obligations of providing health insurance.
To date commissioners have cut four positions all at the nursing home, none were direct care positions and two were part-time.
County Administrator Shackett said that the process of making the transfers within departments involved all of the department heads and a careful weighing of the impact of each transfer.
She said a reduction in the projected health insurance increase for county employees to about half of the estimated 13.42 percent was one bit of good news but that it was due more to the overall performance of the Local Government Center insurance group than Belknap County's performance.
Departments taking major hits were the Corrections and Sheriff's Department.
The Sheriff's Department saw part-time wages for deputies cut from $70,000 to $40,000, while part-time court security was cut from $175,000 to $145,000. It's vehicle lease was cut from a requested $41,000 to $21,000 by the convention but the commissioners increased the vehicle maintenance from $9,000 to $25,701.
Sheriff Craig Wiggin said that it would have cost the county less if they had stuck with the original plan to lease four new cruisers. ''Just last week I had to put a new $3,300 transmission in one of the old cruisers,'' said Wiggin, who said that he would do the best he could with the reduced allocation for court security.
The Corrections Department will not be hiring the two planned additional officers authorized by the County Convention, at least not early in the year and may be faced with requesting a supplemental appropriation later in the year if the inmate population spikes like it did last summer.

Last Updated on Friday, 28 March 2014 12:56

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Contract gives county nursing home workers first raise in 2 years

LACONIA — Belknap County Nursing Home workers have voted to approve a tentative one-year collective bargaining agreement with the county which provides for a 1.5 percent pay increase.
The agreement, which would provide the first pay hike for nursing home workers in the last two years, was approved by a vast majority of workers Wednesday night according to Ricky Nedeau, a member of the SEA/SEIU Local 1984 bargaining unit.
''We haven't had a cost of living increase in two years, while the cost of everything else increases, but it moves us in the right direction,'' said Nedeau.
The agreement also mandates that all nursing home workers will be required to participate in wellness activities designed to make them healthier and more informed about their personal health.
"It's become clear that we need to think outside the box to help lower health insurance costs,'' said Tanya Phillips, treasurer of the Nursing Home union chapter.
The contract will go next to the county commissioners for their approval. If they approve it the contract will then go the Belknap County Convention, where a supplemental appropriation for 2014 would be needed to cover its costs.
County Administrator Debra Shackett says that the commissioners will take up the contract when they hold their regularly scheduled meeting on April 2 at 5:30 p.m. at the Belknap County complex.
''We understand that the delegation has been concerned with the administration of the budget,'' said Nedeau. ''We get that. But we don't want to get caught in the middle. With this supplemental appropriation the delegation has the opportunity to pinpoint the flow of funds to the lowest paid workers in the county.''
''We take care of one our county's most vulnerable populations. We care for them with full commitment and respect. We just want the delegation to show us the came consideration,'' said Phillips, who expressed hope that people in the community would make an expression of support for nursing home workers to their legislators.

Last Updated on Friday, 28 March 2014 12:46

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Local man charged with failing to register as sex offender

LACONIA — A local man was ordered held on $15,000 cash-only bail after allegedly failing to register as a sex offender with the Police Department.

Michael D'Amore, 45, of 192 Union Ave. is also accused of failing to register a change of address with the Laconia Police, as it required of all Class III sex offenders.

In 1989, D'Amore was convicted on one count of aggravated felonious sexual assault on a victim who was younger than 16-years-old. He is required to register his address with local police four times a year.

Police affidavits filed with the court said on March 5, Parole Officer Seifu Ragassa went to D'Amore's address and learned that he hadn't been living there since February.
Ragussa called the Laconia Police to see if D'Amore had registered a change of address with them and learned he hadn't.

Affidavits said D'Amore's wife said she hadn't seen him but told police that he wasn't "doing very well" and was likely using drugs again.

Ragassa said he and Laconia Police heard D'Amore was hiding out in a friend's apartment on Strafford Street and on Wednesday night Ragassa, members of the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Joint Task Force, and the Laconia Police went to that address and arrested him.

In court yesterday, D'Amore's attorney waived a bail argument reserving it for a date to be determined later.

Last Updated on Friday, 28 March 2014 12:43

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Steen outlines new programs in ‘State of University’ address

PLYMOUTH — Noting this week that the "higher education landscape is shifting," Plymouth State University President Sara Jayne Steen asserted that the University is "nimble enough to make significant decisions" in order to deliver on the promise of its historic mission to New Hampshire. PSU has the talent and the resources to make innovative and enduring efforts in providing access to excellent educational opportunities, on campus and online, for a diverse population of students who seek to be successful in the global marketplace.

Steen's remarks came during her annual "State of the University" address on Wednesday afternoon.

"PSU offers outstanding undergraduate and graduate programs," she told an audience of faculty, staff, students and visitors. "That means hands-on learning with exciting research and creative opportunities that often involve service and engagement with our wider communities."

According to the National Study of Student Engagement (NSSE), a higher rate of PSU students have professional experiences as an element of their education compared with their peers (94 percent to 86 percent) as evidenced, Steen said, by the more than 800 PSU students who participated in internships or a program capstone experience last year with regional businesses and community agencies. She also noted that more than 560 course sections from across the University involve service learning. "The region should be better for PSU's presence."

Steen reminded the audience that PSU's regional impact is central to its mission, and that PSU has a direct impact on the economic health and cultural opportunities in the White Mountains and Lakes Region and throughout rural New Hampshire. She noted several strategic partnerships that leverage university resources to promote community growth and investment while at the same time providing increased engagement for students. These include joining with the Mount Washington Observatory to sponsor a professor who will lead Meteorology students in research projects using observatory data. Students in the Department of Language and Linguistics assisted local agencies in creating a Tourism Development toolkit to make them more welcoming and to entice Québécois visitors to stay longer in northern New Hampshire. The Enterprise Center at Plymouth is now open, with the College of Business Administration (COBA) students and the Grafton County Economic Development Council assisting 18 firms in the building and others through online programming. And the Museum of the White Mountains continues to attract visitors as its board and staff work with researchers and residents alike to preserve and promote the history, culture and legacy of the region.
New academic programs also reflect the region's priorities. A nursing program was added two years ago in response to a pressing need for health care professionals. The first Doctor of Education graduates from 2012 are now having an impact as leaders in local schools. And construction begins this spring on ALLWell-North, a multi-use health science facility that will provide much needed space for recreation and athletics as well as additional classroom and research space for several health and wellness disciplines.

"These initiatives sound diverse, but they are focused in mission," Steen said. "They reflect both short-term and long-term strategic thinking." Each contributes substantively to the future success and growth of the University. The future, however, is not without its challenges. Some of the shifts in the higher education landscape include increased financial pressures on students in a difficult economy, potential shifts in federal funding guidelines and a projected long-term demographic decline of high school graduates throughout New England, unlike other areas of the country and globe.
"Those institutions that will thrive by staying ahead of the confluence of these current challenges in higher education are thinking in focused, strategic ways with data-driven goals. Our PSU colleagues have been and are moving forward in an integrated manner to meet those challenges."

Last Updated on Friday, 28 March 2014 12:36

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