MeredithMay2017

Could hike in city's motor vehicle registration fee provide budget relief?

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — As the city manager and City Council wrestle with building another challenging budget, a little known fee, which municipalities are authorized but not required to tack onto most motor vehicle registrations, could offer some relief.

Since 1997, state law has authorized municipalities to add up to a maximum of $5 to motor vehicle registration fees to support a transportation improvement fund. The proceeds of the fund must be applied solely to the cost of engineering and undertaking a wide variety of projects to enhance public transportation, including the repair and construction of roads, bridges, and parking facilities as well as investments in public transportation
The city currently levies a fee of $1.50 per vehicle. City Clerk Mary Reynolds said that in 2016 the city collected $30,077 from 20,718 transactions. If the city had charged the maximum of $5, it would have collected $103,590.

Last week the Municipal and County Government Committee of the New Hampshire House of Representatives endorsed House Bill 121, which would double the maximum fee municipalities could collect from $5 to $10. Supporters of the bill, which included local officials, regional planning commissions and transit organizations, told the committee that raising the maximum would restore the original purchasing power of the fee, which has been eroded by inflation during the past 20 years. A representative of the New Hampshire Municipal Association, which counts the bill among its priorities, stressed that it offered municipalities the option of funding improvements to their transportation networks with a user fee rather than property taxes. After the committee voted 19 to 1 to recommend the bill ought to pass it was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

No one spoke against the bill. However, despite widespread support and a favorable recommendation from the committee, the House roundly rejected a similar bill by a voice vote a year ago.

If the Legislature enacts and the governor endorses the bill, it would take effect on July 1, the beginning of the city's next fiscal year.

City Manager Scott Myers said that he has not raised the issue in the past, but may suggest increasing the fee when the council tackles the 2017-2018 budget in March. He said on Monday that he anticipates revenues from sources other than property taxes, including transfers of funds from the state, to be flat while expenses, particularly the contribution to the New Hampshire Retirement System and share of the cost of health insurance premiums, to increase sharply. "I'll give the council some options," Myers said.

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Wrestling with cost of health insurance a focus of Inter-Lakes board

By DAVID CARKHUFF

MEREDITH — Inter-Lakes School Board members forwarded a $24,317,116 general fund operating budget for the 2017-2018 school year to voters Tuesday, including a health insurance increase of $405,762 tied to rising health-care plan costs.
At 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 8, voters can review the budget and warrant articles at the school district meeting, to be held at Inter-Lakes High School.
The health insurance guaranteed maximum rate increase is 12.6 percent, more than triple last year's 5.3 percent hike, district officials reported. Cost of this increase is $405,762 in the operating budget, which is up overall $377,928 or 1.58 percent from the previous year's budget of $23,939,188.
"There are certain things we cannot control. One is the rate of increase for the cost of health care," said school board member Mark Billings.
"We're a lot farther along than our peer communities. We're already down to 87 percent that the district pays," he said.
Throughout this budget season, school districts across Belknap County have tried to absorb what are often double-digit increases in the cost of health insurance. In Meredith, the district's share of the cost is declining in the proposed collective bargaining agreements with support staff and teachers.
"We'll always fight the health care battle," Billings said, noting the district formed a health care committee and hired a consultant.
Inter-Lakes School District Superintendent Mary Moriarty said, "We have looked at some different options in terms of choices for people."
Moriarty agreed that the school district faced "limitations" in the availability of health insurance plans and ways to curb their costs.
"We did have a health insurance committee to look at various options, so within both contracts there are some changes to the options being provided to help address what we're finding to be ever-increasing costs," she said.
"It's exploring what options are available within the state. The committee tried to do that," Moriarty said.
Based on the proposed collective bargaining agreement with teachers, the district's 112 teachers increased their cost share of health insurance by 1 percent in the first year, 1.5 percent in the second year and 1.5 percent in the third year of the proposed contract. These health changes will save the district $76,095 in the first year, $30,846 in the second year and $30,846 in the third year, according to district officials. Total cost savings from changes in the health insurance coverage for teachers is $137,787, district officials reported.
For the teachers' contract, the district projects an increase in cost of $1,023,737 over three years of the contract, and $320,073 for next year, 2017-2018.
Full-time support staff increased their cost share of premiums and will have four health plan options provided through HealthTrust, district officials reported. Plan changes will save the district $3,707 in the first year, $542 in the second year, $542 in the third year and $1,085 in the fourth year of the support staff agreement, the district reported. Total cost savings from changes in the health insurance coverage for support staff is $5,876, the district reported.
For the support staff contract, the district projects a $534,757 increase over four years of the contract and $189,513 for next year, 2017-2018.
The school board tried to tackle cost-sharing with teachers, Billings said. He said the teachers' contract will bring down the district's share of health insurance costs to 83 percent at the end of the contract.

"That does not end the discussion," he added.
Uncertainty over the fate of the federal Affordable Care Act and volatility in the marketplace, as insurers bow out of the ACA, could leave school boards struggling with a new set of challenges, he said.
In the last go-around of negotiations, the school board and teachers settled on a two-year contract to avoid what was then a 2018 "Cadillac Tax" assessment under the ACA, Billings said.
"There was no way that we could allow that 40 percent tax, and most if not all health plans out there were Cadillac plans," he said.
The federal government subsequently pushed out the "Cadillac Tax" assessment to 2020, so school districts have a few more years to avoid that tax. Billings noted that by then, the ACA or at least the tax may be gone.

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City looking into legislative remedy that would allow it to continue to maintain 'problematic' streets

LACONIA — The City Council on Monday night assured residents living on so-called "problematic" streets that it will do all it can, including seeking a legislative remedy, to resolve the issues surrounding them without adversely affecting the interests of property owners.

"We are going to make every effort to rectify this situation in the next two years," declared Mayor Ed Engler. At the same time, City Manager Scott Myers explained that the discussions are underway with the city attorney as well as public officials and legal counsels from other municipalities that find themselves in similar straits with an eye to drafting legislation what would be introduced in 2018. In the meantime, he said that the city would continue to provide the same level of maintenance and services to the streets in questions as it has in the past.

The "problematic" streets, some 40 of them representing seven miles of roadway, are those that cannot be documented as having ever been formally accepted as class 4 and 5 public highways. State law stipulates that only class 4 and 5 public highways — and not private roads — can be maintained and improved at public expense. Moreover, Primex, the city's insurance carrier, has advised city officials that it considers these streets private roads. By plowing and maintain these streets in violation of state law, Primex claims that the city has forfeited its sovereign immunity as well as its coverage for any personal injury or property damage arising from its presence on them.

The council, on Monday, formally designated six streets as "emergency lanes," which state law entitles the city to maintain, not for the sole benefit of the abutters, but to serve a public purpose by providing timely access to other city streets or facilities. As "emergency lanes," Bell Street Extension between Franklin Terrace and Franklin Street and Crossover Street between Durkee Street and Addison Street will enable plow trucks to travel continuous, uninterrupted routes. Likewise, Lane Road and Pickerel Pond Road from Meredith Center Road and Parade Road represent efficient plow routes that reduce reducing the time and cost of snow removal. Channel Lane and Hillcrest Drive both provide access to city sewer pump stations.

A number of residents of Hillcrest Drive attended the meeting, several of whom expressed concern that designation as an "emergency lane" rather than a public highway could impair the value of their properties. Hillcrest Drive was built in three phases, but only the first section was apparently ever accepted as a city street. Those who purchased homes in the second and third phase of the subdivision, located off White Oaks road, said that they were not informed of the status of the roadway and assumed that their properties were on a city street. Two said that had they known they would not have bought property on Hillcrest Drive.

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