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After work sessions, 2014 county budget stands at +2.4%

LACONIA — In three days of workshops, the Belknap County Commission undertook what chairman John Thomas of Belmont called "the first cut" of the 2014 county budget, trimming the various department's requested appropriations by nearly $2.5-million.

County departments requested appropriations totaling $29,442,231, which the commissioners reduced to $27,013,237. The commissioners reduced proposed expenditures on capital projects by $2.1-million, from $2,260,000 to $160,000, $60,000 to replace windows at the Belknap County Superior Court and $100,000 for a surveillance system at the county complex.

County Administrator Debra Shackett said that the remainder of the cuts fell on discretionary items like travel, training, office supplies and the like, across all departments. "The commissioners went through line by line and back and forth," she said.

The budget includes a 1.6-percent cost-of-living adjustment and three-percent "step" increase for eligible employees. The commissioners also funded bonuses for unused sick days and length of service as well as the increase in the employer share of health insurance premiums, all of which are contractual obligations prescribed by the collective bargaining agreement negotiated with the union representing county employees. The Belknap County Convention struck funding for both bonuses and increased health insurance premiums from the 2013 budget, but the commission paid the bills anyway by shuffling monies within departmental budgets.

The total appropriations of $27-million represent an increase of $628,621, or 2.4-percent, over the current budget, but are $2.7-million, or 9.1-percent less than was budgeted in 2008 and $2.0-million, or 6.8-percvent less than was budgeted in 2009. Total appropriations in 2010, 2011 and 2012 were supplemented by federal funds distributed through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Thomas emphasized that the commission has not completed its recommended budget. "We've still got work to do," he said. "We will present a fair, economical and responsible budget."

Last Updated on Friday, 08 November 2013 01:45

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Commissioners accused of neglecting county jail

LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners took it on the chin last night as the Executive Committee of the County Convention rejected two of the three requests for fund transfers the commissioners had sought, and a member of the public accused commissioners of neglecting the maintenance at the Belknap County House of Correction in order to force the county to build a new jail.
''They're leaving it a mess to force a new jail on us,'' charged David DeVoy of Sanbornton, who was joined in his criticism of the three-member commission by other members of the public, as well as members of the County Convention, for their handling of the jail situation.
One member of the audience asked why the County Commissioners weren't at the County Convention meeting, which followed on the heels of the Executive Committee meeting, which was attended by one member of the commission, Chairman John Thomas of Belmont.
County Administrator Debra Shackett of Belmont said that members of the commission weren't aware until Monday morning that the agenda for the County Convention meeting had been changed from the one the county website which said that the meeting was called to hear a request from the Gunstock Mountain Resort for a revue anticipation note to include new items, including a discussion of the ongoing battle over control of line items in the county budget and a discussion of the jail situation.
''They had no knowledge that the convention was going beyond the Gunstock request. We didn't find out until eight o'clock Monday morning what items had been added to the agenda,'' said Shackett, who pointed out that the commissioners didn't have sufficient time in which to post a public notice that they would be meeting as a public body Monday night.
''They couldn't be here because they didn't know,'' said Shackett.
One woman in the audience asked if there was a process to unseat the commissioners and Rep. Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) suggested she look at state statues which would allow her to petition for their removal.
The public's criticisms of the commissioners came after members of the convention, a dozen of whom had toured the Belknap County House of Corrections earlier in the day, talked about their impressions of the facility and the process followed by the commissioners in coming up with a proposal they have received from consultants for a new $42.5 million Community Corrections facility.
Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) talked about the history of the jail planning process and said that convention members had agreed to a $160,000 supplemental appropriation in 2012 with the thought that there would be a plan for a new facility.
''They got the best in the country and they cost the best too,'' said Tilton, who said that the Ricci Greene consulting firm came up with a plan which had two options, both for new construction, but nothing that was anywhere close to a final design and had ruled out options for use of the current facility.
Rep. Robert Greemore (R-Meredith), said that he saw a lot of deficiencies when he toured the jail two years ago which have since been corrected and that he was hopeful that a solution could be devised which would provide for better maintenance of the current facility and and the creation of new program space.
Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) said that any addition or renovations which increased the current jail size by 15 percent would trigger a requirement that all of its systems be brought up to current code, which would be extremely expensive.
Delegation Chairman Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith) said that she didn't think money had been spent wisely in the past, including what she said was $500,000 for an addition to the Belknap County complex which included the meeting room used by the convention and offices for the commissioners, and said the money should have been spent on repairs to the jail.
Rep. Lisa DiMartino (D-Gilford) said that the county needed to do things correctly when it came to the jail situation and wondered what role convention members could play in jail planning. Rep. Burchell proposed having a subcommittee, but Rep. Tilton said that wasn't the role of the convention and that the commissioners already had a jail planning committee.
County Administrator Shackett said that the committee has been working hard to develop a plan and is studying six different options, including contracting with another county, and would welcome public input from members of the convention and others.
Greemore said that he had been invited to take part in some of the jail planning meetings and had attended a few, but thought they were too heavily weighted with members of the corrections community and didn't have much in the way of general public input, including from contractors and construction people.
He joked that since ''we are bad people doing bad things'' he might take an interest in attending some future jail planning committee meetings.
His comment about ''bad people'' came from a comment made by Belknap County Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia) at a recent Belknap County Democratic Party picnic at which Philpot criticized the Republican majority of the County Convention.
Philpot was re-elected to a second term on the commission in 2012, defeating Dave DeVoy, the man who charged last night that commissioners were neglecting the jail.
The transfer requests defeated by the Executive Committee, which met prior to the Convention meeting, involved $4,500 for the County Convention, defeated 6-0 with one abstention, and $5,500 for the Finance Department for an employee change in health coverage, by a 4-3 vote.
Approved by a 4-3 vote was the transfer of $5,500 to Corrections Department salary account. The commission had requested a $10,500 transfer.

Last Updated on Thursday, 07 November 2013 03:12

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Chris Guilmett takes over as chairman of Laconia School Board

LACONIA — Chris Guilmett was elected chairman of the Laconia School Board last night.
Guilmett, of Ward 4, was unanimously elected by the board's six other members. Guilmett succeeds Joe Cormier who remains on the board representing Ward 6. Stacie Sirois was unanimously elected vice chairman.
The election of officers followed the swearing in of Scott Vachon and Beth Aresenault who were re-elected to the board in Tuesday's municipal elections. Both ran unopposed.
Much of the board's 45-minute meeting was taken up with a presentation on the Community Engagement Program at Woodland Heights School. Principal Dennis Dobe and Student Services Coordinator Marcy Kelley told the board how the program strives to involve parents and other community members in an effort to help students at the elementary school succeed, not only academically, but behaviorally.
"Social learning is as important as academic learning," Dobe told the board.
He explained that the program at Woodland Heights utilizes the Common Core academic standards, as well as basic learning requirements in basic studies, such as reading, writing and mathematics.
Vachon said he was pleased that the Woodland Heights' program is addressing what many educators nationally say is the need for a more comprehensive approach to early childhood education.
"It's nice to see we're already ahead of the research," Vachon said.
At-large board member Michael Persson said the program's use of community partnerships was important and he hoped that the school would tap even more community resources.
NOTES: Guilmett said that the board and the board's Budget Committee would meet again on Nov. 19. At that time the committee is expected to take up plans to undertake further improvements at Laconia High School. The School Board is looking for support for a $1,828,000 federal, interest-free bond to fund the project. The Laconia City Council has scheduled a public hearing on the bond request for next Tuesday and is expected to give the proposal a second reading after the hearing. . . . . . Superintendent Terri Forsten reported that 228 students had received various items from the Care Closet at Laconia Middle School. The items, which are issued to students from disadvantaged families, include personal care items, clothes and backpacks. The Care Closet has received 66 bags of donated items so far this year, she said.

Last Updated on Thursday, 07 November 2013 03:10

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Development of Strafford County jail followed exact opposite pattern as here

LACONIA — In the course of planning a new county jail and community corrections program, the Belknap County Commissioners have taken the facility and programs introduced in Strafford County (Rochester) as a model.

Ray Bower, Strafford County Administrator, said that a new jail with 65 beds was built in 1985 with the expectation it would serve the county for 20 years. "It lasted three years," he said, "and by the 1990s was housing more than 100 inmates in overcrowded conditions.

The county commissioners, Bowers said, contacted the National Institute of Corrections (NIC), a federal agency that provides training and technical assistance to state and local correctional institutions. He said that the county commission decided to build what he called "our father's jail," by expanding the existing facility at a cost of $12.5 million.

Bowers said that the commissioners tailored the proposal to what they believed the county convention would accept — the least expensive alternative. However, the convention rejected the plan by a convincing margin of 28 to 7. Instead, the representatives directed the commissioners to design an integrated criminal justice program; that is, a new facility complemented by therapeutic and educational programming designed control long-term operating costs of incarceration by addressing recidivism and managing the inmate population.

A year later the commissioners presented the plan, which bore a $25 million price tag. Bowers said the convention approved the proposal by the same vote, 28 to 7, with which it rejected the first proposal.

Bowers said that the facility, with 500 beds, houses about 150 inmates from Strafford County and another 150 "boarders," placed there by federal and state agencies as well as other counties in New Hampshire. Since 2004, when the jail opened, the county has received $42.7 million in revenue from housing inmates from federal agencies and other jurisdictions. "That is 200-percent of the cost of the facility," Bowers said.

Meanwhile, Bowers said that with the programming provided at the facility the population of inmates from Strafford County has "remained flat." In addition, the county corrections department manages some 400 inmates in the community, 80-percent of whom would otherwise be incarcerated without the programming to return them to the community.

Last Updated on Thursday, 07 November 2013 03:03

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