BELMONT – Selectmen last night were taken aback by a $3,657,578 estimate for work necessary to convert the Belmont Mill into town offices.
All three selectmen, meeting before a large crown at the Corner Meeting House, said they were surprised by the price tag of the project but felt it should proceed to the Budget Committee and then to voters on the town warrant.
"This is not just a monetary but a tremendous political issue," said selectman Jon Pike, noting that the decisions made by the board, the Budget Committee and the voters in 2015 will have repercussions for the next 20 years.
The historic Belmont Mill was repaired 17 years ago by the town using a combination of tax dollars, historic renovation money and a grant from a Community Development Block Grant. The amount of the grant is forgiven as long as the building is used for middle-to-low income purposes – such as the day care, the doctors' office, and the senior center currently found in the building.
About two years ago, selectmen learned there were some structural problems with the fourth floor. At the time, the Lakes Region Community College was renting the entire floor for its culinary arts program, which has since relocated to Shaker Village in Canterbury.
"The fourth floor is condemned at this point. It's unusable," said Ruth Mooney, chair of the selectboard.
Since then the town has learned the daycare center has outgrown its space in the basement and is looking to relocate. Mooney said she had heard the doctors' office was also looking for a different space, which would leave the building nearly empty.
The decision faced by the selectmen is to fix it or let it fall down, said Mooney.
Selectmen decided to get an estimate from Bonnette, Page and Stone to see how much it could cost to fix it and turn it into town offices.
In the course of that process, and at the recommendation of resident Mark Mooney, BP&S hired a masonry expert to examine the exterior of the brick portion of the building to see if it made sense to fix it. After an examination, selectmen learned that the bricks in the area where a fire in 1992 burned the hottest were compromised and should be replaced. The brick work in the other three walls was determined to be sound.
The additional masonry work was estimated to cost $800,000.
Keith McBey of BP&S said the maximum amount of $3.6-million is a "turn key" price for everything – including all of the soft costs such as engineering and furniture for a town hall.
Selectmen also mentioned that the town has just over $500,000 in a building maintenance capital reserve fund and could realize an additional $500,000 in savings in the proposed 2015 budget by shifting some items around and reducing the proposed road maintenance budget.
Not everyone at the meeting was sold, especially when they heard the road maintenance budget could be reduced by as much as $300,000.
Former Selectman Donna Cilley said the town agreed to spend about $800,000 annually on the roads because of a plan developed by the town a number of years ago.
When Selectman Ron Cormier attempted to explain their reasoning, Cilley kept talking, leading the two to exchange some harsh words.
Cilley, who is also the Town Welfare Officer, said that she didn't like the idea that other town budgets could be reduced to fund the mill conversion program.
"To skim from other departments is wrong," she said.
Cilley also said she wanted the entire cost of the project, and not one reduced by a half-million dollars from other departments to be put before the voters so they could decide.
When Selectman Jon Pike noted that because of the recent recession, many road projects came in at lower than expected bids and the town was able to fix more roads then they had planned, Cilley said her point is that she doesn't want to see the town fall behind in road maintenance.
"And we won't," said Pike.
Pike said much of the problems the town is seeing today stem from shoddy construction work done 17 years ago when the mill was originally restored. He noted that the taxpayers have spent at least $250,000 on items that should have been done during the restoration.
Because all of the companies have since gone out of business, the town, said Pike, was left without any recourse.
Others were concerned with what would happen to the rest of the town buildings – including the former Northway Bank building taxpayers bought at a special town meeting a few years ago.
One woman said she was under the impression that the bank building was going to be used for town offices but selectmen said it wasn't big enough. Mooney said she would like to see it torn down and used for green space or parking.
Ken Knowlton spoke in support of the mill renovation project.
He said the mill is what makes Belmont the town that it is, noting the village project has made the town much more attractive.
Knowlton acknowledged that the mill has been a "thorn in the side of many residents," but said he always suspected that once the CDBG block grant time limit of 20 years was satisfied, the town would use it for municipal offices.
"This is an investment in our heritage," Knowlton said.
Taking it all in was Budget Committee Chairman Ron Mitchell who told selectmen toward the end of the meeting that it was "going to be a hard sell."
When asked directly by Pike if he would support it, Mitchell said he would but only if the entire amount – minus some money from the building maintenance fund - was bonded. Fortunately, he said, Belmont carries very little debt load as compared to other communities and the bond rates are low right now.
"If the bond fails and no one's in it, we can lock it up," Mitchell said.
Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin said she and the engineers would be reviewing the project for places where savings could be had and would report the final not-to-exceed price to selectmen for the January 5 meeting.
Because of the schedule for annual town meeting, the Budget Committee has until the second week of January to act on the selectman's recommendation after which there will be a public hearing.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 December 2014 01:31
LACONIA — Members of the Belknap County Convention's Executive committee will meet this afternoon or Wednesday afternoon to take up a request from the Belknap County Commissioners to transfer $64,670 from several accounts in order for the county to be able to meet the payroll for the nursing home which must be paid by the end of the week.
Commissioners made the request at an emergency meeting held Monday afternoon at the Belknap County complex at which Belknap County Finance Director Glenn Waring said that the transfers were needed due to incorrect payroll projections.
''About 10 days ago we found that wages in some departments for the rest of the year are understated. We made a request for a meeting with the Executive Committee which has not yet been finalized. We've had no response from the committee and we're still trying to set something up.'' said Waring.
That prompted commissioners yesterday to call the Executive Committee's Vice Chairman Herb Vadney (R-Meredith), who is in charge of the committee due to absence of Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), the committee's chairman.
''Given the way they've looked at these in the past it shouldn't be a problem,'' said Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia), who said that the only alternative to the transfer is to send the nurses home for the rest of the week.
Commission Chairman John Thomas (R-Belmont) said the commission finds itself in a situation in which no matter what it does it will be wrong. ''If we pay the workers without getting Executive Committee approval, we violate the court order. But if we don't pay them the Department of Labor will be after us,'' he said.
He went on to say ''this is a perfect example of decisions made without any knowledge of how the county business operates'' and faulted the county convention for the temporary injunction it had obtained in Belknap County Superior Court which limits the authority of the commissioners to make transfers of greater than $300 between line items in the budget approved by the convention in March.
He also criticized the ruling issued by Judge James O'Neil III in the case.
''They're the ones who created this problem,'' said Thomas, who said that ''the convention wants all of the authority but none of the responsibility."
Commissioner Steve Nedeau (R-Meredith) said that the conversation with the Executive Committee about the need for the transfers started before Christmas. ''We've been trying to get a meeting for 10 days but Vadney hasn't called one,'' said Nedeau, who is resigning as commissioner effective January 1.
During the call to Vadney, which was heard by the commissioner on a speakerphone from Philpot's phone, Philpot explained that it was a major emergency and prompt action was needed to avoid overspending the budget or closing the nursing home.
Vadney at first wanted to advertise the meeting dates but was told by Philpot ads weren't necessary for an emergency meeting.
Vadney said that he would be in contact with other members of the committee and would schedule a meeting for either December 30 or December 31 at 2 p.m.
Commissioners are seeking transfers of $50,000 from full-time wages in the corrections department, $5,000 from the Sheriff's Department retirement, $1,200 from Finance Department retirement; $4,000 from full-time wages in the County ttorney's Office and $4,450 from part-time deputies in the Sheriff's Department for a total transfer of $64,760.
The bulk of the funds would go to full-time RNs, $18,129; full-time LNAs, $16,364; nursing overtime $6,541; Dietary wages $4,511; Nursing retirement $4,141 and Nursing payroll tax, $3,112.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 December 2014 01:55
GILFORD — Police arrested a Laconia man on Christmas Eve following an investigation into the chance discovery of a cache of pills in the safe of a local business in October.
John F. Swain, 33, of 1487 Old North Main Street is charged with three counts of possession of controlled drugs, a class B felony. After his arrest he was released on personal recognizance bail and is scheduled to be arraigned in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division on February 19.
Shortly after 11 p.m. on October 28, firefighters from both Gilford and Laconia responded to a fire alarm activation at the offices of JCS Enterprises at 143 Lakes Street, Suite 16, Gilford. Although firefighters found only a candle burning in the empty office, they saw a large number of pills inside an open safe and notified the Gilford police, who obtained a search warrant. The safe and pills were seized.
Altogether more than 100 pills were seized. Some contained buprenorphine, a semi-synthetic opiate prescribed to treat addiction, and two other types of pills containing amphetamine/dextroamphetamine, a stimulant prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 December 2014 01:49
LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners voted unanimously yesterday afternoon to turn down a request from the director of nursing at the Belknap County Nursing Home to reinstate Mathew Logue as administrator of the nursing home.
''Somebody else is going to have to do that,'' said outgoing commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia), who said that commissioners think they had good reasons to terminate Logue in late August and recently filed an appeal with the New Hampshire Supreme Court of his reinstatement by the county convention's Personnel Committee.
Last week Beknap County Nursing Home Nursing Director Diane Roberts asked the commission to reinstate Logue as soon as as possible, maintaining that it is only a matter of time before he is reinstated by the new commissioners when they take office next month and that not having an administrator puts the nursing home at risk.
She made her plea shortly after Belknap County Administrator Debra Shackett said that the state Department of Health and Human Services called her office recently to verify who the administrator at the home is. She said that she told the state that Logue is currently listed as the administrator and is on leave ''but will likely be back.''
Three weeks ago the commissioners filed an appeal with the New Hampshire Supreme Court of the Belknap Convention's Personnel Committee's decision to reinstate Logue as administrator of the Belknap County Nursing Home.
The appeal, filed on Dec. 11, maintains that the Personnel Committee, which at the time of its decision in October to reinstate Logue was composed of Rep. Coltette Worsman (R-Meredith), Rep. Robert Greemore (R-Meredith) and Rep. Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) ''ignored limits on its statutory authority as well as overwhelming and uncontroverted evidence,'' which the commission had introduced at a hearing held by the committee on Logue's appeal of his dismissal.
The filing of the appeal took place despite the expressed intention of incoming County Commissioners Burchell and Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) to pull the plug on an appeal of the Logue personnel matter. The pair will take office on January 7 and will constitute a new majority.
Logue is currently on administrative leave, with pay, pending the outcome of an appeal of the committee's decision.
Commissioner Nedeau, who earlier this month announced his decision to resign effective Jan. 1, said he was not impressed with Logue's work since he was first hired by the commission late last year.
''With all respect to car salesmen, we don't need a car salesman for a director.'' said Nedeau.
In late August the commission terminated Logue for what it termed willful insubordination, lack of cooperation and inability to perform his duties in a timely manner, claiming that he was "untruthful and unreliable'' in dealing with county officials. Logue appealed his termination to the Personnel Committee, which held a day-long public hearing on October 6, at which attorney Mark Broth of Manchester presented the case against Logue and Logue spoke in own defense.
Four days later the committee voted unanimously to reinstate Logue, after finding his defense of the charges against him to be "credible and persuasive.''
A motion for a rehearing filed by attorney Broth was denied by the Personnel Committee.
The appeal to the Supreme Court will add to the legal bills faced by the county, which were the subject of much discussion by the county convention's Executive Committee when it met two weeks ago week to take up requests for budget transfers and turned down a request by the commission for $33,000 to pay unpaid legal bills.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 December 2014 02:08
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