LACONIA — One of the most closely watched races in Belknap County on Tuesday will be the contest between Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) and Dave Pollak (D-Laconia) for the District One (Laconia, Sanbornton, New Hampton) seat on the Belknap County Commission currently held by Ed Philpot (D-Laconia.)
The winner of the race will determine the balance of power on the three-member commission, which sets policy for the county, and which will have only one incumbent member, Commissioner Steve Nedeau (R-Meredith), who has been closely aligned with Philpot on most issues, including building a new county jail and fully funding the county's share of employee health insurance plans.
Nedeau wil almost certainlyl be joined on the commission by Rep. Dick Burchell (R-Gilmanton), who defeated commission chairman John Thomas (R-Belmont), who was also aligned with Philpot, in the Republican primary and faces no opposition in the general election.
Burchell has been a vocal critic of policies proposed by the current commission and a champion of the county convention's side in a nearly two-year long battle over line item authority in the budget. The convention recently won a preliminary court injunction which prohibits the commission from making budget transfers greater than $300 without the approval of the convention's executive committee.
DeVoy, who calls himself a limited government fiscal conservative, is making his second run for the commission, having lost in 2012 to Philpot by 701 votes, 5,320 to 4,619. DeVoy carried Sanbornton and New Hampton as well as Ward 1 in Laconia, but could not overcome Philpot's margins in the other five wards.
A retired colonel in the United States Army Reserve, where he served for 30 years, DeVoy owns and operates three convenience stores — the Mobil Mart in Gilford and the Bosco Bell Store and Blueberry Station in Barnstead. He graduated from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and earned his Master of Science degree at the United States Army War College and Master of Business Administration at Plymouth State University. He is married and has two children.
He says that if elected he will ''follow the rule of law'' and work with the Belknap County Convention by developing strong personal relationships of mutual trust and respect with its members. He said that he supports hiring a professional negotiator for the county to handle contract negotiations with the four unions representing county employees, something which Burchell has proposed, and supports fully funding employee health care premiums as provided in their contracts.
DeVoy has been critical of the current commission, having charged at one point that commissioners were deliberately neglecting the county jail in order to foist an expensive new jail on the county. He also said that a recent notice sent to workers informing them that they might be liable for the county's share of their individual health insurance premiums for the remainder of the year unless the county convention approved budget transfers was the wrong thing to do. "It was totally unnecessary to frighten county employees,'' he says.
DeVoy was highly praised by Burchell in a letter which appeared in Thursday's Laconia Daily Sun and is seen as a potential Burchell ally on the commission.
He has offered his own plan for fixing problems at the county jail and says that as far as he is concerned it can be done without constructing an expensive new jail. A $2 million plan he introduced months ago calls for replacing the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, expanding the bracelet program and establishing a treatment center and a women's wing in what is now the administrative wing of the Belknap County Complex and moving the commissioner's offices to the Belknap County Courthouse.
More recently, he set a limit of $7 million on what he says should be spent on the jail, acknowledging that his plan doesn't yet have wide support and that he might have to compromise in order to reach a consensus which would allow a jail improvement program to move forward.
Dave Pollak, a professor at Lakes Region Community College for the last 10 years, is making his first run for public office. A graduate of George Washington University with a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a Master's degree in education from Antioch University New England, he is a member of the liberal arts faculty and teaches a variety of courses in the social sciences, including psychology, government and ethics. He is married with four children.
Before moving to New Hampshire, he practiced law for five years and spent about a decade before that in the construction industry as a project manager rehabbing apartment complexes in New York City.
Pollak said that he has followed the often contentious course of county government during the past several years closely and would seek "to dial down the rhetoric and find consensus." Noting that the future of the county jail is the overriding issue facing both the commission and the Belknap County Convention, he said, "I am coming to that with an open mind." He says that he has taught classes at the jail and is familiar with conditions at the facility.
"I am not an expert," Pollak said, "but I am a good listener and a good learner." He said that he "admires people with strongly held principles" and finds "if you start from a place of respect, you get to a good outcome."
He says ''I'm not in favor of spending $42 million dollars for a new jail. I am in favor of a deliberative process to find the right solution which will meet federal and state standards, will satisfy our safety and correctional needs, will work to reduce recidivism, and that has the smallest possible effect on the county tax rate.''
He has visited several county jails in the state which were recently built or had additions and says that he sees value engineering of current plans as a way of reducing projected costs to $20 million or less.
Pollak has been critical of the actions of the county convention and it's executive committee, maintaining that the convention has pursued a deliberate strategy of trying to force the commission to breach contracts with county workers by refusing to fund increases required to pay the county's share of health insurance costs.
''At the same time the convention wants the workers to pay a higher percentage of their health insurance costs, they denied them that 1.5 percent wage increase which would have been the first raise in many years. It may only be a coincidence but the full time jobs at the nursing home are very very hard to fill with positions remaining open for months,'' Pollak recently wrote in a letter published in The Daily Sun.
He said that what is being overlooked is that the convention's efforts to reduce county health insurance costs is actually a pay cut for county workers, especially those with the most experience who are at the top of the wage scale and won't get pay increases that match the increases in their health insurance premiums.
Pollak says that he would like better relations between the commissioners and the convention and that one of the first things he would do if elected is to invite legislators to attend a retreat ''where we can sit down and talk to each other.''
He would also like to see the county involved in strategic planning which would help all communities work together to achieve efficiencies through sharing resources. He says that reviving the former welfare office position at the county level is something which should be explored more fully.
''We're in a unique position at the county level to look at ways to take advantage of economies of scale,'' says Pollak, adding that former Laconia Mayor Mike Seymour has agreed to work with him on that effort.
Last Updated on Thursday, 30 October 2014 11:50
BELMONT — Police are investigating a burglary at Muller Landscaping at 242 Union Road that happened sometime Monday night into Tuesday morning.
Police said someone forced their way into the building and stole a red 2000 Ford pickup and some tools and equipment.
The truck has Muller Landscaping decals on both sides and has a New Hampshire license plate that reads MLL-3.
Anyone with any information is asked to call the Belmont Police at 267-8350.
Last Updated on Thursday, 30 October 2014 01:18
By Thomas P. Caldwell
DANBURY — Superintendent Stacy Buckley and Business Administrator Michael Limanni reviewed the preliminary Newfound Area School District FY 2015-2016 budget with the district's budget committee last week, elaborating on some points and describing the adjustments to come in order to present a proposal that will fall within the property tax cap.
Buckley noted that Newfound is one of only two or three school districts in the state that have tax caps, apart from those like Franklin that work under a city-wide cap. She said the problem with Newfound is that past budgets have not included planned maintenance and she would like to get such plans in place; but doing so creates the need to reduce other areas of spending to avoid exceeding the tax cap.
Limanni said working on a budget at this time of year is hampered by the uncertainty of many sources of revenue, such as state adequacy aid. Normally, school districts can work with estimates when the actual numbers are unknown but, because of the tax cap, Newfound needs to be much more exact. With revenues in the range of $8.5 million, and a tax cap that limits the school district assessment to a two percent increase, minor fluctuations in income categories can create major problems for a tax cap district.
The budget committee was interested in finding out how the newly negotiated teachers' union agreement and the possibility of implementing full-day kindergarten fit into the central office's budget proposal. Buckley noted that the teachers' contract will appear in a separate warrant article, so the budget will need to be adjusted down to make room for the $305,620 in cost items associated with the first year of the contract. As for all-day kindergarten, she explained that the Newfound Area School Board will be taking up that topic at its next meeting.
"We have three schools that could potentially move to full-day kindergarten," she said, "but to do that at Bristol Elementary School would require one and a half more teachers."
As she did when presenting the budget to the school board earlier this month, Buckley went through her list of staffing adjustments, saying that, as much as possible, she is "trying to be creative when positions open up to see how we can be more efficient and more effective". As an example, she noted that, with a reduced population at the middle school, she reduced a secretary's position from full-time to part-time when the previous secretary left the district. There are other instances where she was able to replace aides with a paraprofessional to consolidate services.
In discussing the maintenance of facilities, Buckley corrected statements that had surfaced during the discussions about closing the middle school. "There is no problem with water in the basement," she said. While there had been problems in the past with water seeping into the building, in recent years the building has remained dry. The only problem had been a year ago when unusually warm and humid weather had caused a mold problem; but she noted the high school also had problems with mold that year.
The reason for wanting to replace the electronic fire panel at the middle school is that the current one, while in working order, only identifies that there is a problem, not what the problem is. A modern fire panel identifies exactly what needs to be done, Limanni explained.
In the area of technology, one of the proposals is to install Microsoft Office on all computers. Since the school board asked the district to migrate from Macintoshes to PCs, only some administrators have Office software; other staff members are using software that is incompatible, so they cannot "talk" with each other. Even those with Office have different versions of the software. The plan is to install the same version on all computers to make them more functional.
Likewise, the telephone system at the schools is antiquated with no replacements available, and classroom teachers lack the ability to communicate except by cell phones with unreliable reception. Buckley said that, as well as being inconvenient, it poses a safety concern, should an intruder make it into the schools.
Asked about the impact of tuition from Hill, should that school district choose to realign with Newfound, Buckley said there is no way to estimate that at the moment, as Hill has not even decided whether to choose Newfound and, once it does, the two sides would have to negotiate a tuition agreement.
Limanni said Newfound has proposed using Franklin's tuition formula, adjusted for Newfound expenses, but that there are a number of other factors that go into an agreement. "It might be a 10-year agreement, and we have no idea what will happen with the school population over that time period," he said. "We would need to build in variables to account for those changes, and there might be building constraints." While saying Hill students could be accommodated at present without additional staff at Newfound, Limanni added, "You wouldn't want to set up an agreement that, with the variables, makes you miss out on a million dollars. In a business, you'd never make a decision that way."
At the start of the meeting, the budget committee took up an issue Skip Reilly of Alexandria had raised last month: Limanni's requirement that budget committee members submit proof of eligibility to work in the United States and their Social Security numbers before receiving their school district stipends. Limanni said that, under Internal Revenue Service regulations, all those who receive money from the school district are "employees" who must submit the forms.
On Oct. 22, Limanni said he had checked with the N.H. Department of Labor which does not view elected officials as employees, in conflict with the IRS. When he asked for a letter from the Department of Labor stating that the district is exempt from IRS rules, the department refused to do so, he said.
Reilly tried to make the case that, if they are employees, they should have Workers' Compensation benefits; but Limanni said Workers' Comp falls under the jurisdiction of the Labor Department which does not consider them employees.
The budget committee resolved the issue by voting to discontinue its $100-a-year stipend, established to compensate members for their traveling expenses during budget season.
No one offered to second Reilly's motion to ask the school district to contact the N.H. School Boards Association to find out if the issue had ever been raised there and, if so, what the outcome had been. The motion called for the district to seek a legal opinion from the NHSBA attorney if the issue had not come up before.
The budget committee will meet next at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 13, at Newfound Memorial Middle School. At that time, the group will decide whether to publicly support the new teachers' contract and submit a letter to newspapers.
Last Updated on Thursday, 30 October 2014 01:12
GILFORD — The Zoning Board of Adjustment voted unanimously Tuesday night not to consider an appeal of a Planning Board decision to deny a request from Inns and Motels of the Lakes Region to erect 370 solar panels at 16 Kimball Road because the appeal was filed late.
ZBA attorney Laura Spector-Morgan advised the board that by it's own ordinance, appeals of Planning Board decisions must be made within 30 days.
"There is nothing in the rules of procedure that allows the board to waive the 30 days," Spector-Morgan said.
The town contends the Planning Board decision to deny the proposal was made on August 17 and Inns and Motels of the Lakes Region was represented at that meeting by attorney Phil Brouillard. The notice of the decision was issued on September 5 but Brouillard did not file appeal of the decision until October 16.
"He could have filed something and amended it later," Spector-Morgan said.
Brouillard said that state law provides a "reasonable" amount of time to file an appeal and that he was also under the impression that the decision made by the Planning Board was not the final decision.
He said the written decision was not issued until about four or five days before the filing deadline for the ZBA meeting in September and he was under the impression that it would be okay with the town to file for the October. Brouillard said he was only just notified that his appeal could be rejected because of timeliness.
He said all parties, including the town planner, the town's attorneys, himself and the property owner have been working on the project since March when it was first proposed and he was operating under the premise that there was some ambiguity in the town ordinance that needed to be addressed — specifically that the town ordinance doesn't mention solar farms. They are neither allowed nor prohibited.
"There was no clarity," he said.
Brouillard noted that Town Planner John Ayer did not attend the August 17 meeting because he was on a planned vacation. At that meeting, board members noted Ayers absence and said they were going to deny the decision anyway because, in their opinion, the proposal was not a reasonable use of the 1.4-acre parcel.
Sixteen Kimball Road is owned by Willard Drew and is the piece of property across Kimball Road from his Lakes Region Cafe and Tavern nightclub.
Drew, through a different attorney, David Bownes, and in an unrelated matter, recently filed suit against the town of Gilford for actions it took in the 2011 drug raid of the former Mardi Gras North which at the time was operating independently on Drew's nightclub property.
When Drew reapplied for his local exotic dancing license in October of 2013, he claims the town maliciously "caused to be published" false and defamatory statements about the property at 15 Kimball Road, including that it had "the elements of a methamphetamine lab," was used for "manufacturing, possession, use, sale and distribution of illegal drugs, and had repeatedly violated liquor laws. As a result Drew "suffered a loss to his reputation and good standing in the community."
Last Updated on Thursday, 30 October 2014 01:05
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