Simply wow! WOW Trail nears completion

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Tony Roy of Stoneage Stone Works fits in the last bricks on a new section of paved walkway. (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)


LACONIA — With the second phase of the Winnipesaukee-Opechee-Winnisquam (WOW) Trail nearing completion, Allan Beetle, president of the WOW Trail Committee said this week that he has begun to think of scheduling a ribbon-cutting ceremony and to turn his attention toward construction of the next phase.

"We have a lot, a lot of thank yous to give for all those who made this happen," Beetle said.

Wow Bricks 18Oct16294876The second phase of the trail begins at the Laconia Public Library and runs for nearly a mile to the Belmont town line, where it joins the Winnisquam Scenic Trail, which opened in September. The trail runs alongside the railway for virtually its entire length. After swinging around a pair of historic railway sheds between New Salem Street and Water Street, it crosses the property at the corner of Water Street and Fair Street to join the Fair Street Bridge. Crossing the bridge, the trail rejoins the railway, crosses Bay Street and runs past the foot of Keasor Court toward Bartlett Beach, where a boardwalk carries it over a wetland. Then a bridge takes the trail over Durkee Brook from where it will parallel the railroad track and Court Street to join the Winnisquam Scenic Trail in Belmont. Altogether there will be 4 miles of continuous paved trail, suited to running, walking and cycling, stretching from Lakeport Square nearly to Mosquito Bridge.

Beetle praised the work of John H. Lyman & Sons, Inc. of Gilford, the general contractor, and Jim Bobotas Custom Builder of Gilford, who built the boardwalk and bridge — the first of each on the trail — who together have undertaken the project on schedule and under budget. He remarked that when the project began there was not enough cash in hand to meet the budget, but thanks to the general contractor, the committee did not have to draw a penny from its line of credit.

Beetle said a few finishing touches remain, including a pair of utility poles still standing in the middle of the trail, one near Pitman's Freight Room and another on Water Street, some brick work downtown and a stretch of fencing, all of which he expected would be completed in the next couple of weeks.

The budget for the second phase of the trail was $876,000, of which the city contributed funded by the Downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District and the balance was raised by fundraising events sponsored by the WOW Trail Committee and private donations.

The third phase of trail is planned to stretch from Lakeport Square to The Weirs, following the railroad right-of-way along the shore of Paugus Bay.

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Middle photo, above, Phase 2 of the Wow Trail was nearing completion Tuesday on the brick walkway at the Laconia Railroad Station. Just above, Tom Bobotas and Allan Bishop of James Bobotas Custom Builders finish up work on the Durkee Brook Bridge Wednesday afternoon nearing the completion of Phase 2 for the Wow Trail.(Karen Bobotas/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

$98K cut - Laconia schools forced to find ways to make up for state aid reduction


LACONIA — The Laconia School District will forego another $98,443 in state aid during the current school year, in addition to the reduction of $455,335 in state aid, which contributed to significant cuts last spring to bring the school district budget into compliance with the tax cap.

"We will try to find the extra revenue to make up the shortfall within our budget by saving on expenses during the the course of the year," said School Superintendent Brendan Minnihan. "The real challenge will be in the next school year." He explained that preparing the 2017-18 budget will start from a point more than $500,000 below what the School Board considers appropriate with the prospect of further reductions in state aid, which may not be able to be offset within the limits of the tax cap.

The most recent reduction in state aid reflects the revision of the school enrollment the New Hampshire Department of Education projected last November, which served as the basis for calculating state aid and preparing the school district budget for 2016-2017. Last month, the department adjusted the enrollment to more accurately measure the number of students enrolled at the beginning of the school year.

The formula for distributing state aid provides $3,561.27 in aid for each student, which multiplied by the number of students represents the base aid. At the same time, the state provides an additional $1,780.63 for each student eligible for free or reduced lunch and also provides additional aid for students with special needs, learning English as a second language and third-graders deficient in reading.

Last November, the projected enrollment in the Laconia School District for 2016-2017 was 1,819 students, 95 fewer than the year before. Last month this projection was revised upward to 1,849 students. However, the projected number of students eligible for free or reduced lunch was revised downward from 1,098 to 995. As a result, the base aid to the district increased from $6.6 million to $6.5 million, or by $100,839. But, with the decline in the number of students eligible for free or reduced lunch, the amount of additional aid fell from $2 million to $1.8 million, or by $183,689. The net effect of these adjustments was to reduce the total amount of state aid by $82,850.

Other categories of state aid also underwent minor adjustments. And the so-called "stabilization grant," an amount to hold municipalities harmless from decreases in the aid received in fiscal year 2011, was reduced 4 percent as the first step toward eliminating it altogether. The end result was to reduce the total amount of state to the school district by $98,443, from the $6,052,278 projected last November to $5,953,835.


The cost of growing old - County hopes to save money by keeping aging citizens in their homes


LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners, reacting to a looming crisis in licensed nursing home costs borne by county taxpayers, agreed Wednesday morning to form a committee to look into programs that will allow senior citizens to remain in their homes longer as they age.
Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) pointed out that 44 percent of the $13,837,174 raised from Belknap County taxpayers in 2015, or $6,149,554, was paid to the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services as the county's share of a statutory requirement mandated by the legislature that the state's 10 counties pay the bulk of the 50 percent non-federal share of Medicaid costs for needy seniors who reside in a licensed nursing home or who receive in-home care. Those funds are separate from what the county pays for the Belknap County Nursing Home, which has 94 residents, and is funded in a different line in the county budget.
"Unless an unexpected change in financing elder care occurs, the non-federal Medicaid share will continue to be paid for through county taxes as a component of the local property tax. Thus a significant need exists to better control the cost of elder care," Taylor wrote in a letter to his fellow commissioners.
Taylor wrote that recent invoices paid by Belknap County show that the county is currently paying the non-federal Medicaid share on an average of 366 Belknap County seniors – 219 for nursing home care and 147 for in-home care," wrote Taylor. "The average monthly cost per person is $2,098.61 for nursing home care, $780.44 for in-home care. Based on these numbers a shift of 25 from nursing home care to in-home care would produce an annual savings of almost $400,000. A three-year delay in institutional care for our hypothetical 25 results in a $1.2 million savings."
The committee will include representatives from Community Action Program for Belknap-Merrimack Counties, Visiting Nurses, Genesis Behavioral Health, LRG Healthcare, Belknap County Nursing Home administrator in training Shelley Richardson, County Administrator Debra Shackett and Lori Shibinette, Merrimack County Nursing Home administrator, who has led a similar study for Merrimack County, as well as a representative from DHHS.
"It's vital that we be able to keep people in their homes longer," Taylor said, adding that programs like the Community Action Program provide the kind of services the elderly need such as meals on wheels, senior companion and transportation.
He said that supplementing current Medicaid services with non-Medicaid services should be considered. "The feasibility of such programs as house handyman service, grocery shopping and delivery, laundry service and adult day care should be considered. Clearly spending a little on the non-Medicaid side to save a lot on the Medicaid side would be worthwhile. Spending $100,000 to save $400,000 makes a lot of sense to me."
Commissioner Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) said that he liked the idea of doing a study and asked whether Taylor favored reducing the number of beds in the Belknap County Nursing Home, which currently is licensed for 94 residents and is funded in a separate line item in the county budget.
Taylor said that reducing the number of county nursing home beds in light of the projections of the elderly population more than doubling over the next 25 years didn't seem to be a good idea and observed that the county currently loses about a half million a year on the nursing home, which is much lower than the costs it bears for those in private nursing homes.
The committee is expected to come back to the county commission by early next summer with recommendations on programs and policies designed to keep elderly people living longer in their own homes.