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County jail planners remain loyal to program component outlined by consultant

LACONIA — Members of the Belknap County Jail Planning Committee, meeting one night after their proposed plan for a borrowing $2.96 million was rejected by the Belknap County Convention, took aim at what they said were misconceptions of the plan by critics and decided to stick with the community corrections concept of their proposed plan while embarking on an educational campaign to build support for it.

"We're going to have make some programatic and growth compromises to get the price down,'' said Committee Chairman Ed Philpot (D-Laconia). But he said that the real question for the committee was whether or not they still believed in the community corrections model.
And the answer from committee members was that they did.
County Corrections Superintendent Daniel Ward said that he believed that the Ricci Greene consulting firm that the county hired produced the right plan and the committee should not abandon it. ''I support them and I support their findings. The program design is right. To throw it away and go to somebody else is foolhardy.''
"The price is the problem,'' said County Administrator Debra Shackett, who said she that she thought it odd that critics of the estimated $42.6 million price tag were willing to make comparisons to Wilkes County, North Carolina, where a jail is being built for $10.63 million, but not to other counties in New Hampshire, where the most recent jail project, a 150-bed facility in Grafton County, was completed two years ago at a cost of $31,245,605.
Members of the committee have in recent months been working to reduce the price tag of the proposed 94,000-square-foot, 180-bed facility to less than $30 million and had hoped to achieve that with a schematic design which would have cost $360,000 but was rejected by the convention along with $1 million for a new HVAC system for the current jail and $1.6 million for the three-year lease of a 48-bed temporary housing unit.
Shackett said that she had been in contact with the Ricci Greene firm and said that they were eager to return to the city to help the committee work though its current difficulties. ''They said when they first presented the plan that it never goes through the first time.'' She was instructed by the committee to talk with them again and set up a meeting with the committee, which will hold off on its twice-monthly meetings until they can meet with the consultants.
Sheriff Craig Wiggin said that the committee will have to wait until January and a new convention has been elected. ''We're wasting our energy with this audience,'' said Wiggin, who along with other committee members were highly critical of alternatives raised by opponents of the committee's plan, including County Convention Chair Colette Worsman (R-Meredith) who has supported sending the entire population of the county jail to other counties.
"Closing the jail and moving them elsewhere is not sustainable economically,'' said Wiggin, who said Worsman had no idea of the long-term prisoner transportation problems that would create.
He also questioned how the local police departments would be affected by having no county jail to take prisoners to and having their police officers have to drive those they arrested all the way to Dover in the middle of the night while leaving the town without police protection.
Ward said that he had held discussions with all police departments in the county and developed charts showing how expensive it would be.
Committee member Alida Millham of Gilford said those numbers should be shared with the public so that they would know it was not a viable plan to ship prisoners out of the county.
Also criticized was a plan championed by Dave DeVoy of Sanbornton, who is a candidate for the Republican nomination for the county commsssion seat currently held by Philpot, to move women prisoners out of the current jail and house them in the administrative wing of the Belknap County Complex.
Commission Chairman John Thomas (R-Belmont) said it would be tremendously expensive to rework that wing and that the reality was that it could not be used as a hail.
Wiggin said he had huge security concerns about that proposal and that it was ''as stupid as taking all the prisoners out of the county.''

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 June 2014 01:29

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Jail planning debate again exposes lack of much common ground

LACONIA — Skeptical of the recommendations of the Jail Planning Committee, the Belknap County Convention this week refused to authorize borrowing almost $3-million to improve conditions at the county jail and fund planning for a new facility.

The Beknap County Commission the commission requested $2,960,000, of which $1-million would be invested in replacing the HVAC system at the existing jail, components of which could be incorporated into a newly constructed facility. The $1.6-million would be applied to a three-year lease for a temporary housing unit with capacity for 48 inmates. The remaining $360,000 would fund a schematic design for a new county jail, without which the cost of the project cannot be accurately estimated.

County administrator Debra Shackett distributed a spread sheet to lawmakers showing that the debt service on the borrowing would add four cents to the property tax rate in the city of Laconia and nine towns and three cents to the tax rate in Belmont.

Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), who chairs the convention, ruled that the convention could not vote on the three elements of the request separately, but must consider the request in its entirety. Her ruling was challenged.

After nearly three hours of discussion, the motion to approve the request, which required a two-thirds majority or 12 of the 16 members present and voting to succeed, failed by a vote of seven in favor and nine against.

Speaking to the request Dan Ward, Superintendent of the Department of Corrections, explained that the jail consisted of four separate buildings, each constructed in different years between 1890 and 1987 and each with a separate air handling system. "There is no air circulation in parts of all four buildings," he said, noting that the systems had been removed or are impaired. "I don't think there is any question about the air quality," he said. "These are safety issues we're talking about."

Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) questioned the cost of the project and the portability of the system. Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia) said that the $1-million estimate was based on similar work at the Belknap County Superior Court and acknowledged that while the major components of the system could be used in a new facility the duct work could not. Vadney agreed that the jail is "close, muggy and smelly," but called for "a cheap temporary job" rather than a significant investment to address the problem.

Ward said that the temporary housing unit would limit the liability to the county of housing women in the attic, where there is only one means of access and egress as well as increase capacity to ease over crowding and recover classroom space used to house inmates. He assured the convention that no additional personnel would be required to manage the 48 inmates, who would simply be moved from one area to another.

Brian Gallagher, a Republican candidate for the House of Representatives from Sanbornton, was in the audience and he was troubled by the prospect of borrowing for a term of 10 years to fund the three-year lease on the housing unit, noting that the county would be paying for seven years for what it was use for only three. Tilton questioned the very legality of borrowing to finance a temporary structure, citing a state statute that restricts the borrowing authority of municipalities and counties to "public works or improvements of a permanent nature." He said "you can't do it legally."

Philpot assured the convention that the request had been reviewed by bond counsel, who expressed no reservations.

Ward said that without a schematic design, the cost of a new facility could not be estimated. "If you want to know if its a $10-million, $15-million, $20-million or $30-million building," he said, "you have to take the next step."

When Rep. Bob Greemore (R-Meredith) suggested setting a fixed cost and asking what could be built for that amount, Ward replied "you're asking me to throw out the four years of experience and knowledge of all the people who know about this," stressing that the design would be based on the need.

Tilton, presumed that the design was based on the report by Ricci-Greene Associates of New York, which proposed a 94,000-square-foot facility with 180 beds costing $42.6 million. "What have you changed in the scope of the project?" He asked. Gary Goudreau =, an architect advising the Jail Planning Committee, said that one housing unit had been eliminated, which he said could spare $10-million in costs. However, without a schematic design, he said "we don't know that for sure."

Vadney noted that Ricci-Greene projected that the facility would require 25 additional personnel to operate, emphasizing that "we can't just look at this as a building, but must consider both the cost of the building and its operating costs."

Attorney Mark Sisiti reminded the convention that Belknap County and Coos County are the only two among the state's 10 that "have not taken a good hard look at their jails." The other eight, he continued, have built new jails. Merrimack County, he noted, "built two jails by trying to keep it cheap."

"I've had the wonderful opportunity of going in and out of the jail for 35 years," Sisti continued. Describing conditions in the facility as "despicable," he said "this facility falls far short of any facility in the state. It's trouble," he warned. "Inevitably you're going to have to build and you don't want the federal court telling you you have to construct a new jail. And you haven't got a lot of time," he remarked, adding sooner rather than later the county will be faced with a lawsuit. "I'm not here to be a fearmonger," he said, "but there's a group that's going to sue and they should."

Echoing Sisti, Sheriff Craig Wiggin said that he county would lose control of day-to-day operation of the jail if there were a "federal takeover" and warned that "the costs will much greater than if we take ownership of this now."

David Devoy of Sanbornton, who is running for the seat on the commission opened by Philpot's retirement, told the convention that "the commission could radically change in the next few months," urging the members to continue their discussion after the election. He repeated his plan to move the women from the jail to space now occupied by administration at the county complex and expand the numbers of inmates kept on electronic bracelets.

Worsman reminded the convention that it would be less expensive for the county to place as many as 150 of its inmates in the Strafford County Jail and transport them back and forth from Laconia for court appearances than to operate its own jail. Rep. David Huot (D-Laconia) countered that "we can't order other counties to accept our prisoners. Not for $50 a day."

"We're not a third world country," said Rep. Bob Luther (R-Laconia). "We need to do something now. It's got my vote."

The nine opposed, all Republicans, were Reps. Richard Burchell of Gilmanton, Guy Comtois of Barnstead, Charles Fink and Michael Sylvia of Belmont, Greemore, Vadney and Worsman of Meredith, Stephen Holmes of Alton and Tilton of Laconia.

Four of the five Democrats on the convention were present and all — Reps. Lisa DiMartino of Gilford, Ruth Gulick of New Hampton, Huot of Laconia and Ian Raymond of Sanbornton — voted to approve the borrowing. They were joined by three Republicans — Dennis Fields of Sanbornton and Don Flanders and Luther of Laconia.

Beth Arsenault, a Democrat representing Laconia and Belmont, was absent and did not vote.

Rep. Jane Cormier (R-Alton) resigned her seat on May 28, leaving the convention with 17 members.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 June 2014 01:17

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Eight teenagers arrested at Gunstock Beach party

GILFORD - Eight teens including one 17-year-old were arrested early Sunday morning after an under-aged drinking party became too rowdy.

Police were first called at 12:41 a.m. about a noisy party somewhere outside however the caller didn't know the location and police were unable to locate the party.

A second call came to police at 1:30 a.m. and they were told the party was at Gunstock Beach at the Samoset Condominiums on Route 11.

"They were being extremely loud," said Lt. James Leach. "Nobody could sleep."

He said there were 10 people at the party, seven of whom were between the ages of 18 and 20. One girl was 17 and none of the teens were local.

Leach said they were all brought to the Gilford Police Department where they were charged with internal possession of alcohol. He said all were released to their parents or other adults.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 June 2014 01:04

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Got Lunch! Launches fourth year of summer food program for children

LACONIA — Got Lunch! Laconia launched its fourth year of delivering summer meal makings to Laconia families Monday morning as volunteers gathered at the Laconia Congregational Church to bag the peanut butter jelly, bread and fresh fruit and vegetables which were distributed to 543 families.
John Walker, who along with the Rev. Paula Gile of the Congregational Church of Laconia, UCC, helped start the now widely emulated program which distributes food during summer months to children who are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches, said that volunteers from as far away as North Carolina were on hand to help bag the groceries. Those volunteers included representatives from the New Hampshire Food Bank, where 40 percent of the food which is distributed in the program is purchased.
Lily Chanthasak, 16, a student at Laconia High School where she is a member of both the Key Club and the local chapter of the National Honor Society, said that this is her third year as volunteer.
She was helping to supervise activity at one of the tables filled with groceries and showing first-year volunteer Troy Harper, another Laconia High School student who is also a Key Club member and is on the honor society.
''I just wanted to volunteer, to help out,'' said Harper, who sat across the table from other first-time volunteers Lucas Beane, 10, his sister, Kathryn, 7, and their mother, Heather.
Beane said that it was a special day for her son, Lucas, who was celebrating his 10th birthday. ''It's our first time, and we wanted to give back to the community,'' she said.
Guest baggers included Laconia Mayor Ed Engler, who thanked the volunteers on behalf of the city and told them they could really be proud of their effort, Laconia Superintendent of Schools Terry Fostern and Bill Irwin of Irwin Marine, a corporate partner of the Got Lunch! program whose firm has donated a 2014 Sea-Doo Spark 3up (3 seater) personal watercraft and trailer to be used a summer raffle prize for the program.
Raffle tickets are priced at $10 each (three for $20) are now on sale and the drawing will be held on Aug. 4.
Another raffle prize will be four tickets to a Red Sox-Orioles game in early September which have been donated by Davis & Towle Insurance.
Gile of the Congregational Church of Laconia, UCC, said it costs about $110 to provide enough food for one recipient in the program, which runs for 10 weeks. This year's fund-raising goal is $66,000, she said.
She said that volunteers are still being sought for this year's program, including drivers and food deliverers.
She said anyone who would like to get involved should visit the website www.gotlunchlaconia.org or contact Volunteer Coordinator, John Walker, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 June 2014 12:34

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