Hard choice - Union workers at nursing home may have to choose between health plan, raises

By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Unionized employees of the Belknap County Nursing Home will be asked to make a choice between switching their health insurance provider to a lower-cost plan and qualify for pay raises, or sticking with the current HMO plan and passing up pay raises. Belknap County Commissioners voted two to one Wednesday morning to approach the union representing employees with that choice.
Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) said that the recent rejection of a proposed contract by a 33-14 vote of the union members seemed to be centered on the $3,000 deductible for family plans in the new health insurance plan in the contract. He said employees would have gotten an increase in compensation due to the raises in pay and wellness benefits and reduced health insurance costs over the two years of the contract and that those increases are far more beneficial to employees than sticking with the current HMO plan.
A letter to the editor in yesterday's Laconia Daily Sun maintained that average earnings for employees of the bargaining unit would increase, as well as their retirement benefits, and that "the certain pluses outweigh the dollar risks" and that "if the status quo continues, everyone loses."
The letter, which was signed by Taylor and fellow members of the county's negotiating team – Commission Chairman David DeVoy (R-Sanbornton); Roger Grey, a member of the public from Sanbornton; and County Administrator Debra Shackett – noted that 23 employees who would be covered by the contract are not entitled to vote because they do not pay union dues.
The commission's offer mirrored the collective bargaining agreements negotiated with Teamsters Local 633 representing managerial and administrative employees and the State Employees Association representing corrections officers, which have been ratified by the members of both unions and approved by the Belknap County Delegation.
The two-year agreement includes a 1.4 percent cost-of-living adjustment for year one and 2 percent in the second year, as well as step increases of 3 percent a year. In addition, the county would have paid the full cost of the site-of-service health plan and employees would receive a a $1,000 bonus for changing their health insurance plan. Currently, employees pay 5 percent of the HMO health insurance plan, which amounts to $1,315 a year for a family plan.

Top price for new county corrections: $7.3M

By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — The Belknap County Jail Planning Committee Wednesday received assurances from Andre Kloetz of Bauen Construction of Meredith, construction manager for the 18,000-square-foot, 64-bed community corrections facility that the county will soon break ground on, will have a guaranteed not-to-exceed maximum price of $7.3 million.
Kloetz said that he is "absolutely confident" about the $7.3 million figure and is looking to have everything in place so that ground can be broken on May 30 for site work for the project. But he said the document guaranteeing that price won't be prepared until mid-June as construction documents needed to meet requirements set by attorneys for the county and the construction firm are still in the process of being finalized.
Belknap County Commission Chairman David DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) told the committee that commissioners on Wednesday morning approved a $4 million bond anticipation note with Century Bank at a 0.83 percent interest rate that will provide the funds needed for this year's work on the project.
Plans call for the project, which includes renovations to the existing county jail, to be completed in September 2017.
Project manager Anthony Mento of Sheer, McCrystal, Palson Architecture Inc. of Concord observed that the guaranteed number is for construction only and does not include furniture and fixtures.
The Belknap County Delegation last November unanimously approved an $8 million bond for building the community corrections center and renovation of parts of the current county jail, which will have 60 beds.
DeVoy said they hope to be able to repurpose some of the bond funds above the $7.3 million guaranteed number in order to repair the roof the Belknap County Nursing Home and adjacent Belknap County complex, which has been estimated to cost $550,000 for a metal roof and $750,000 for a shingled roof.
Using the bond funds will require that the Belknap County Delegation repurpose the bond issue to include the roof project. DeVoy said the commission won't know for certain how much of that money will be available until later this year, and tried to convince the delegation to use $605,000 from the county's fund balance for the roof project rather than using it to reduce taxes.
The delegation declined to go along with that proposal when it finalized the county budget in March, opting instead to use some of the fund balance to reduce taxes.

Alton School Board snubs two of its members

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

ALTON — The rift on the School Board widened this week when three of its members — Steve Miller, Sandy Wyatt and Terri Noyes — agreed to reconvene the meeting that was recessed on April 4 on Monday, April 25 without consulting the other two members of the board — Peter Leavitt and Michael Ball — neither of whom will be able to attend.

The earlier meeting was recessed when the four members present reached a stalemate in seeking to elect a chairperson. With Noyes absent, Wyatt nominated Miller, the outgoing chairperson, for another term while Ball nominated Leavitt. The board divided evenly, prompting Superintendent Maureen Ward, who is authorized to conduct the election then surrender the chair to the newly elected chairperson, to abruptly recess the meeting.

The following week the Alton Teachers Association hosted a public meeting and called on parents and residents to urge the board to schedule a meeting and elect Leavitt to the chair as soon as possible.

Leavitt said yesterday that he learned by a voice mail on April 18 that the meeting will reconvened on April 25, the first day of the school vacation week. The agenda includes election of a chairperson, approving some hires, accepting some resignations and "a couple of non-public items." He said that he consulted an attorney with the New Hampshire School Boards Association who advised him that by communicating to schedule the meeting the three board members held a meeting in violation of the Right-to-Know Law (RSA 91-A).

Leavitt said that he asked Ward why neither he nor Ball, both of whom were elected to the board in March, were not contacted about scheduling the meeting. He said that she told him that "once a quorum is reached, the meeting is set and there is no need to contact all the members." He added that he asked to meet with Miller and Wyatt, but has received no reply.

Ward did not return calls Wednesday and Miller could not be reached.

Leavitt, a firefighter scheduled to work a shift on April 25 while Ball has booked a trip to Florida with his daughter, who recently underwent medical treatment.

Leavitt said he expected that when the three members of the board meet next week they will re-elect Miller chairperson, which will harden dissension among the members. He said that he has spoken to officials at the New Hampshire Department of Education who advised him that the matter was for local officials to resolve.

Controversy pitting parents and teachers on the one hand against the school board and superintendent on the other has escalated since February when more than 250 petitioners expressed no confidence in the superintendent and her administration and presented seven other demands. The board has yet to respond to the petition.