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Inter-Lakes school district floats $377,928 budget hike


MEREDITH — Rising health insurance rates and a shift in the cost of retirement pay factor into a 1.58 percent increase, for $377,928 more in the budget, for Inter-Lakes Cooperative School District, officials report.
A public hearing on the 2017-2018 budget will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 8, at 6 p.m. in the Inter-Lakes Community Auditorium. The deliberative session for Inter-Lakes School District's annual School District Meeting will be held on Wednesday, March 8, at 7 p.m. in the Robert F. Pottle Gymnasium at Inter-Lakes High School.
The school district has budgeted $24,317,116 for the general fund operational budget, which represents an increase of $377,928 or 1.58 percent from the previous year's budget of $23,939,188, according to the budget.
The health insurance guaranteed maximum rate increase is 12.6 percent, more than triple last year's 5.3 percent hike (the school district budgeted for a 5.76 percent increase last year). Cost of this increase is $405,762.
"That seems to be the trend. Health insurance costs are significant," said Superintendent Mary Moriarty.
"The New Hampshire Retirement System withholding percentage for teachers has increased from 15.67 percent to 17.36 percent and for employees from 11.17 percent to 11.38 percent," the district explained in an online guide (http://www.inter-lakes.k12.nh.us/images/stories/documents/district/schoolboard/Inter-lakes_2017-2018_Budget_Hearing_Packet.pdf). "This accounts for an overall increase of $162,927 or 10.17 percent. Five retirement incentives included in the budget for three teachers and two administrators for a total of $251,984."
Health insurance and the retirement cost shift "are two factors that influence your overall bottom line," Moriarty said.
On the revenue side of the ledger, declining enrollment in parts of the district will affect property tax appropriations.
Enrollment has dropped in a decade from 1,251 students to 1,016 students, the district reported. Enrollment is a component of average daily membership and residence, a factor along with property assessments behind the property taxes assessed to district residents.
"Like many New Hampshire communities, we continue to experience a change in our enrollment," Moriarty said.
Center Harbor's net assessment dropped by $237,768 for 2017-2018.
For the owner of $200,000 in assessed valuation, taxes will decrease by $92.52 in Center Harbor; increase by $133.70 in Meredith; and increase by $32.20 in Sandwich, according to the district budget.
Enrollment declines are nothing new. Two years ago, officials at Sandwich Central School reported a 15-year drop from 99 students to 60 students by 2012-2013. In 2014-2015, the school rebounded to an enrollment of 79 students, but enrollment remains an issue today.
A decade ago, in 2006-2007, the numbers in average daily membership were 141.21 in Center Harbor; 908.58 in Meredith; and 145.69 in Sandwich, according to state numbers. By October 2016, Center Harbor average daily membership and residence was 92.47; Meredith's was 812.69; and Sandwich's was 119.95. A year earlier, the average daily membership and residence was 104.85 in Center Harbor; 774.86 in Meredith; and 129.68 in Sandwich, according to state figures.
As a partial factor behind property taxes, average daily membership fluctuations mean varying levels of taxation in the district.
In 2014-2015, Center Harbor's net assessment was $2,812,344; Meredith's net assessment was $15,699,356; and Sandwich's net assessment was $2,981,718. In 2017-2018, those figures changed to $2,639,697 in Center Harbor; $17,079,205 in Meredith; and $3,100,311 in Sandwich, according to the budget.
Articles in the Inter-Lakes School District include Article 3, the collective bargaining agreement between the Inter‐Lakes School Board and the Inter‐Lakes Support Staff Association, which calls for the increases in salaries and benefits at the current staffing levels as follows: 2017‐2018: $189,513; 2018‐2019: $108,627; 2019‐2020: $114,939; and 2020‐2021: $121,679. The article also seeks to raise and appropriate $189,513 for the 2017‐2018 fiscal year in the additional costs attributable to the increase in salaries and benefits. The association represents 74 people, six full‐time and 68 part‐time. Over four years, through 2021, cumulative salary and fixed costs will be $511,372; stipends and fixed costs will total $21,261; health insurance savings will be $5,876; and professional improvement costs will be $8,000, for a total cost of $534,757, according to the budget.
Article 5 is the collective bargaining agreement between the Inter‐Lakes School Board and the Inter‐Lakes Education Association which calls for increases in salaries and benefits at the current staffing levels as follows: 2017‐2018: $320,073; 2018‐2019: $350,525; and 2019‐2020: $353,139; The article also seeks to raise and appropriate $320,073 for the 2017‐2018 fiscal year in additional costs attributable to the increase in salaries and benefits. The salary schedule was increased by 2.5 percent on the base wage, with average increases of $2,642 in year 1; $2,704 in year 2; and $2,723 in year 3, the budget reports.
On health insurance, teachers increased their cost share by 1 percent in the first year, 1.5 percent in the second year and 1.5 percent in the third year. Projected savings to the district are $76,095 in year 1; $30,846 in year 2; and $30,846 in year 3, according to the budget.
The district is increasing professional development for coursework to $3,000 from $2,400 to encourage staff to pursue master's degrees. The district is also increasing other professional improvement to $1,000 from $750, capping the dollar amount at $100,000. Over three years, salary and fixed costs are expected to total $1.137 million; health insurance savings are expected to total $137,787; professional improvement costs are expected to total $25,000; and the total cost is projected to reach $1.024 million, according to the budget.

Once a refugee, now a law enforcer

02-18 Seifu Ragassa

 Seifu Ragassa of Gilford prepares for the next step in his career and will be the new chief of the Department of Probation and Parole in Carroll County. (Gail Ober/Laconia Daily Sun)

Seifu Ragassa promoted to chief of Parole and Probation in Carroll County


LACONIA — Belknap county's loss is Carroll County's gain as probation and parole officer Seifu Ragassa readies to take over as chief of the Ossipee office next week.

Ragassa has been a New Hampshire Department of Probation and Parole officer in the Laconia office for seven years. Prior to his joining Probation and Parole, he was a sergeant at the now-closed Lakes Region State Correctional Facility.

"I never thought I would be here right now," he said Tuesday while sitting at his desk for his final days in the Laconia office. "And in law enforcement."

Ragassa is an Ethiopian refugee who was a freelance journalist in the late 1990s who fled to Kenya after has name was listed by the Ethiopian government as someone they wanted to kill.

He said during his time growing up in Ethiopia, the police were the people who tried to kill him for speaking out against the government, and that's why he never imagined he would work in law enforcement.

During his stay in Kenya, Ragassa was able to stay out of the refugee camps by working with American Embassy personnel who were investigating the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. He still assists U.S. counterintelligence agents when he can.

"It was those Americans who kept me and my younger brother safe," Ragassa said.

When it was time for him to go to Australia as a refugee, he said one of his close American friends who was an FBI agent in Nairobi asked him if he wanted to go to America instead. He did.

Ragassa settled in the Laconia area and began working with community-based organizations and law enforcement to help make the transition for other refugees easier.

His degree counted for only one year in American colleges, so he continued his studies, eventually earning a bachelor's degree in business administration, and two master's degrees in business and criminal justice.
Despite his pending work move to Ossipee, Ragassa said he will continue his work with the Laconia Human Relations Committee, the Lakes Region Leadership Group, Genesis, and the Laconia Refugee Connections Committee.

Ragassa said he is grateful to the law enforcement community in Belknap County, especially its judges, Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen, the lead attorney for the state Public Defender's Office Jesse Friedman, his supervisor Serene Eastman, and Jacqui Abikoff, who he calls the backbone of the community, of Horizons Counseling Center.

Ragassa, his wife and children live in Gilford.

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Gilmanton to see contested town, school races


GILMANTON — On the town ballot, challenger Don Guarino and incumbent Marshall Bishop are running for a three-year seat on the board of selectmen; while a pair of three-year school board terms drew three candidates, Michelle (Smithers) Heyman, Michael Teunessen and incumbent Frank Weeks, according to the final list of people who filed to run for office.
Deadline to file was Friday, Feb. 3. The ballot election for town and school offices will be held on Tuesday, March 14, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., upstairs at the Gilmanton Academy Building.
For town offices, three people filed to run for two three-year terms on Budget Committee: Deborah Fletcher, incumbent Brian Forst and Grace Sisti. Incumbent John L. Dickey was sole filer for a three-year seat on the cemetery board. Dickey and Robert E. Richards filed for re-election to two, three-year terms as trustees of trust funds. Incumbent Martha Levesque was sole filer for a three-year seat on the library board. Michelle Descoteaux, Bambi Benton and Nancy MacArthur — all appointees to the supervisor of the checklist — filed for three positions on that board of varying terms. Incumbent Debra A. Cornett was sole filer for a three-year term of town clerk/tax collector. Incumbent Glen Waring will face challenger Joseph Haas in a bid for treasurer, after Haas filed to run late Friday, just prior to closing.
School candidate papers filed with the school clerk at the SAU office included the following candidates: Deborah Wheeler, seeking re-election to school treasurer (one-year term); Mark Sisti, seeking re-election to moderator (one-year term); Rachel Frechette Hatch, seeking re-election to school district clerk (one-year term); and Heyman, Teunessen and Weeks vying for two three-year school board terms.