Schools will cut 2 1/2 positions to meet council's budget goal

LACONIA — The School Board's Budget and Personnel Committee met last night and concluded they will recommend to the City Council the elimination of one full-time position at the Middle School, one half-time position in the elementary schools and the technology initiative that will affect the entire district.

The cuts will equal the $100,000 the City Council asked the school district to evaluate before its final budget for Fiscal Year 2016 is set. A brief letter addressing the cuts will be sent to the City Council.

"They have said they (council members) would (make the cut), but remember, they asked from where so they could understand the impact," said Business Administrator Ed Emond, who added that the city is asking the same from it's portion of the budget meaning both the city and the school have equal amounts of skin in the game.

At the June 22 meeting of the City Council, councilors suggested a $100,000 reduction from the operating budget or a $150,000 reduction if the money was going to come from contributions to any of the reserve or capital funds.

Emond said, and the committee members agreed, that $100,000 was better than $150,000 — not necessarily from the viewpoint of this year's budget that began on July 1, but for budgets in the future because the cut erodes the base of the property tax cap and limits the ability of the city to raise money through local revenue in the future.

He and Chair Scott Vachon noted that the future problem will be particularly acute because there is currently a zero inflation rate, which translates to about one-half of the value of next year's cap increase and causes a negative "multiplier effect" that will continue into future years.

As to programming itself, all three members — Vachon, Chris Guilmet, and Mike Persson — said the cuts for this year will hurt. While the two positions are currently vacant, the $20,000 to $30,000 for technology means at best a delay in the introduction of the one-to-one computer program that is designed to give every student first-hand access to a computer. Technology is also a big part of the recently accepted strategic plan.

"We need to have (our students) know how to use a computer for everything we do," said Vachon, adding that not teaching computer skills in the schools is a disservice to the students.

Guilmet's concern was the idea that the City Council was trying to micromanage the school budget by dictating where the cuts would be made. He said why don't we just say we'll cut $100,000 from our budget and tell them the School Board will decide where.

"That won't give them the right to cut one program as opposed to another," he said.

Emond said the school budget is a bottom line budget and the School Board has the authority to spend it where ever it decides.

"At what point do we make the case that our district has a growing low-income population which means more kids need more services," said Persson. " this so they can save (each taxpayer) two cups of coffee?"

Persson asked about the athletic budget and wanted to know why the administration didn't look harder at it. He said he supports all sports but the mandate of the school is to educate the students.

"If this (trend) continues and we can't meet the needs of all the students, that's where we'll be forced to look next," said Vachon, recommending the sports programs be evaluated beginning in the fall.

All expressed concern about Fiscal Year 2017 because all three teacher contracts expire on June 30, 2016 and must be renegotiated this year. In addition, Emond said the payroll is about $12 million so if the employees get a 3-percent raise that adds up to $360,000. He said the average increase in health insurance is 6 percent annually which is $150,000, and the increase in retirements contributions is another concern.

"If our CPIU (Consumer Price Index-Urban) is zero, the $100,000 this year would make up some of those increases in the next year," Emond said.

All members agreed that the property tax cap, enacted in 2005,  has made the city and the school better, but they also said they school district has abided by the terms of the cap and how it works because that's what the voters wanted.

"Continued cuts below the tax cap have long term effects," Emond said.


Indictment charges Northfield man with selling fentanyl-laced heroin that killed 21-year-old

TILTON — A Belknap County grand jury has indicted a Northfield man for a single count of sale of a controlled drug — death resulting, for allegedly selling the fentanyl-laced heroin that killed a 21-year-old Tilton man on April 2.

Brian Watson, 51, of 212 Hodgdon Road was also indicted for one count of sales of a controlled drug and a separate count of possession of heroin.

According to police affidavits supporting Watson's arrest and obtained from the 6th Circuit Court, Franklin Division after being sealed for 30 days by Judge Edward "Ned" Gordon, Seth Tilton-Fogg bought some fentanyl-laced heroin from Watson late in the evening of April 1 before his mother found him dead in his bedroom early the next morning.

Autopsy reports indicated he died accidentally of "acute fentanyl intoxication".

Police said that next to Tilton-Fogg's body was his cell phone that was still listed in his father's name. The father turned it over voluntarily to the investigating Tilton Police detectives. A warrant to search it was granted by Judge Edward "Ned" Gordon.

The cell phone contained a series of e-mail to and from Tilton-Fogg and Watson from April 1. Continuing all day, the last e-mails occurred from 10:03 p.m. to 10:14 p.m. when the two were allegedly planning to meet. Earlier e-mails indicated Fogg had arranged to buy some heroin from Watson, saying he was looking to buy two grams for $240.

The last texts exchanged that night between them and released by police were Watson telling Fogg he was "just weighing yours and other customers stuff out." Fogg replied he was walking toward Tilton from Hannaford's Supermarket in Franklin and he had the money.

Police said Smitty's video footage showed Tilton-Fogg at the cinema around 10 p.m. that night and the manager who knew him said he was there. His mother said the last time she saw him was 11:30 p.m., when he went to bed.

Affidavits indicated that police took the phone to Verizon for a phone dump and were able to recover a number of text messages between the two. They also obtained text messages between Watson and his girlfriend who was someone Tilton-Fogg knew from high school.

On April 6, the woman sent Watson a text at 2:26 p.m. that said "OMG. Bee our (expletive) killed someone."

Her frantic texts continued and he texted her to "say nothing to no one."

Text messages between the woman and Tilton-Fogg show that she reached out to him on Facebook when she learned he was "doin" (drugs).

She told him she was "good" and that the heroin she had was "beyond fire". She also said if he helped her "get rid" of some of her stuff she could work with him to get a discount. It appeared that during this Internet conversation she was "re-upping" or using some drug at the time.

She also asked him how he ingested his heroin — "sniff, smoke, shoot?" and warned him that if he injected heroin he should use much less than usual, saying the heroin she had was laced with "phetenoyl (fentanyl)."

Watson was ordered held on $10,000 cash-only bail. He is not listed as being incarcerated in the Belknap County Jail. No date has been set for his trial.

Selectmen skeptical of state's plan to build fuel depot just off Rte. 106

BELMONT —  Selectmen gave an engineer representing the N.H. Department of Transportation an earful last night when he returned to the board to further discuss putting a state refueling station off Brown Hill Road, near the intersection of Rte. 106.

While the board member's comments were not directed at Ron Grandmaison personally, he listened while they expressed dismay at the way the Belmont section of Rte. 106 — especially the intersections at Brown Hill Road and Seavey Road — were being handled.

"We are the center (between the speedway and Laconia) and we're being avoided," said Selectman's Chair Ruth Mooney.

"They promise us this, they promise us that and then we get put on the 20-year transportation plan," said Selectman Jon Pike, referring to the decision to place the rebuild of the Seavey Road intersection on the 20-year plan rather than doing it right away, as previously promised.

The project is part of the DOT's effort to replace all of its underground storage tanks in the state. In May, Grandmaison told the board that the state needs to replace 30 underground tanks in 19 locations before 2017. The Belmont location is on a 1.4-acre site owned by the state and will replace the underground tanks and fueling station at the intersection of Lily Pond Road and Rte. 11 in Gilford and the one in Loudon.

Mooney told Grandmaison that the site was formerly a swamp and inappropriate for a fuel facility. But her real concern was that the proposed Rte. 106 fuel station would mean additional traffic to on the roadway at an intersection that is already not well maintained by the DOT.

"There's no shoulders," said Mooney, who along with Pike said that the one inch coat of asphalt recently put on Rte. 106 would be gone by winter's end. Additional traffic, especially by heavy diesel and gasoline tankers, would only add to the degradation of the intersection.

Pike said since the intersections of Seavey Road and Rte. 106 and Brown Road and Rte. 106 are within an eighth of a mile of each other they should rebuild both intersections and Rte. 106.

"If you're going to do it, do it right," he said.

Selectman Ron Cormier, who sat silent for the first 15 minutes of the meeting, suggested that if the town really wanted the two intersections fixed they should encourage the DOT to build the fuel facility and in a few years, when the highway was rendered impassable largely because of the additional traffic, it would be forced to fix it immediately and not as part of the 20-year-plan.

Mooney told Grandmaison that she wanted it in writing that in five years, the state wouldn't to come back to Belmont and tell it to fix the town portion of the Brown Hill Road intersection.

County leaks? Burchell says man should never have been target of closed-door meeting

LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioner Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton), who was censured by his fellow commissioners at a meeting in early June for allegedly leaking information from a non-public session in February to a county employee, has defended his actions in a second incident of alleged leaks of information, which led to the commission majority to call for a legal investigation.
In a letter published in Saturday's edition of The Daily Sun, Burchell maintained that the second incident involved a non-public session at which complaints by a county employee that he/she felt threatened by the remarks of a private citizen of the county were discussed.
He maintained that the meeting, which in addition to commissioners also involved Belknap County Sheriff Craig Wiggin and Belknap County Attorney Melissa C. Guldbrandsen, was an improper use of the law permitting non-public sessions.

Burchell says that after he asked the county attorney if the citizen in question had committed a chargeable offense and she answered "no", that he then said that the board ''had nothing before it''. He said he also defended the free speech rights of the individual.
Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) and Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) have said that Wiggin later received a phone call from the person who was the subject of the second meeting and they concluded that Burchell had informed the man that his comments had been the subject of the closed-door meeting of the commission.
Burchell said that he wrote the letter to the newspaper after waiting in vain for some time for either the Belknap County Attorney's office or the N.H. Attorney General's Office to contact him as part of an investigation and decided that it was time for him to publicly answer the charges.
Burchell declined to say whether he had provided the subject of the second meeting with information but did say that his fellow commissioners ''know bloody well who told him.''

DeVoy defended the non-public meeting as being permitted by state law.
DeVoy said that his recollection of the second meeting differs sharply with Burchell's and maintains that the objections Burchell claims to have made at the closed-door proceedings are not accurate.
''He never said that during the meeting,'' said DeVoy, who says that he's embarrassed by ''all the drama happening in the county.''
He said that as far as he's concerned when it comes to non-public sessions ''there should be enough trust and respect so that's what said during the meeting stays in the room. These leaks are designed to produce drama, which hurts the county."
DeVoy also takes issue with Burchell's account of the February meeting which is discussed in his letter.
The meeting took place while Burchell was still chairman of the commission.
Burchell wrote that he left the meeting which was called to discuss a grievance filed by a county department head after he determined that the other commissioners had reached a conclusion with which he did not agree. He claimed to have filed a minority report with the county employee and told him that he would submit it in writing and did so the next day both with the county administrative assistant and the employee.
DeVoy said at no time during the February meeting did Burchell ever say that he was going to write a report and that when he spoke with the department head immediately after the meeting that Burchell had already relayed the commission's decision to that person.
'You left the meeting and went right to the employee, where sensitive information was leaked out,'' DeVoy said to Burchell at the June 18 meeting of the commissioners.
DeVoy said that it was Burchell's behavior at the February meeting that marked ''the beginning of the end for him as chairman".'
Burchell was replaced as chairman of the commission at a March 2 meeting at which he presided and tried to block motions made by DeVoy and Taylor by repeatedly rapping the gavel and declaring that they were out of order.
He filed a lawsuit in Belknap County Superior Court in an attempt to overturn his ouster but that move was denied by Judge James O'Neill III.
Burchell said in his letter that that he disagrees with the decision in the case, calling it ''an egregious example of judicial activism''.
DeVoy said Burchell's comment on the ruling shows how difficult it is for his fellow commissioners to deal with a person who won't accept a view that differs from his own.