Budget battle - Gilford School Board threatened with legal action over determination of default budget

GILFORD — When Budget Committee member Norman Silber threatened to ask for a criminal investigation into the school district's default budget, he said it was because the budget was presented and sworn as accurate and then signed by the members of the School Board under penalties of perjury. Now the district has called an emergency meeting to address the accusations.

Calling the default budget "false" and "misleading," Silber said if the one-time expenditures identified by the Budget Committee are not remedied, or removed from the budget, he would ask the state Attorney General's Office and/or the Belknap County Attorney's Office to look into it.

His possible criminal allegations are based on state law RSA 641, which defines "unsworn falsification" and provides penalties for it.

Silber, an attorney and member of the New Hampshire and Florida Bar Associations, made his statements near the end of the Jan. 14 Budget Committee's public hearing for the town budget and not during the committee's public hearing for the Gilford School District that was held on Jan. 12.

Gilford School District Superintendent Kent Hemingway responded to Silber's threat yesterday, saying the School Board would be meeting on Monday at 6 p.m. at the elementary school to "consider" the default budget.

Hemingway said at the end of the final Budget Committee meeting on Jan. 7, he and Budget Administrator Scott Isabelle spent an hour after everyone else had left, other than committee members, while Chairman Kevin Leandro and member David Horvath Sr. repeatedly demanded that Isabelle go back and change the default budget.

Hemingway went on to say that the Budget Committee agreed to establish a co-committee with the School Board to work on future default budgets.

"My first point of business on Jan. 25 will be to request a motion that the School Board approve joining the committee," Hemingway said. He also said he and Isabelle will present a 10-year history of how default budgets have been prepared since the adoption of  the Official Ballot Law, commonly called SB2.

Silber said the Budget Committee asked in writing if all one-time expenditures have been removed from the default budget and was told they were. He said he and other members of the committee have questioned about $300,000 in line items that they believe were one-time expenditures and not removed during the default budget preparation.

One of the biggest single items questioned by the Budget Committee has been the $100,000 "seed" money for the destruction and rebuild of the Imagination Station at the elementary school.

Hemingway said that money is designated as a continuing pool of money for "special projects" and is in every budget, not a one-time expense. For example, he said, three school years ago the seats in the high school auditorium were replaced with that money and two years ago the elementary school parking lot was paved with the same special projects line. Last year, it was Imagination Station. He said that all special projects are selected from the capital improvement plan.

A default budget is basically last year's budget, increased by items like contracts and health insurance costs, and decreased by the amount of one-time expenses. The default budget was determined to be higher than the district's proposed operating budget, spurring the concerns, and would go into effect if voters do not approve the proposed budget. The default budget was set this year at $25,688,824, while the proposed budget is $25,667,251, a difference of $21,573.

Timber Hill Farm decision delayed again - Howes submit a brand new site plan; legal name of business creates confusion for Gilford Planning Board

GILFORD – A standing-room only crowd was on hand at Tuesday night at the Planning Board meeting for 2 ½ hours, only to hear that the site plan review for an agritourism proposal from Andy and Martina Howe of Timber Hill Farm will be delayed for at least two weeks for legal reasons.

Member Norman Silber said he didn't believe the application was complete because many of its documents referenced Timber Hill Farm LLC, which is not a company owned or operated by the Howe but an administratively dissolved limited liability company from Deerfield.

While the Howes have filed paperwork with the N.H. Secretary of State, Department of Corporations for a trademark registration for the name Timber Hill Farm, they do not operate Timber Hill Farm LLC.

The Howes' attorneys, Patrick and Ethan Wood, said the application for site plan review was requested by Andrew and Martina Howe and not by Timber Hill Farm LLC; however, board members unanimously agreed they would rather be careful than wrong and agreed to contact the town attorney for advice.

According to Town Planner John Ayer, who spoke to the Sun yesterday on the telephone, the application was submitted by the Howe's as individual people however the site plan review and the request for "farm-to-table" events were submitted on or about October 1 under the name of Timber Hill Farm LLC.

Last night, Ethan Wood handed out a site plan review that was dated Jan. 19, 2016, and listed Andrew Howe as the applicant. Ayer said the site plan review was delivered by email to his computer at 4:58 p.m. and he didn't get to review it until the meeting, which started at 7 p.m.

Within that packet were two documents with Timber Hill Farm LLC as the protagonist. One is signed by Isaac Howe and says he is the permittee that can have a bonfire and was issued by the N.H. Department of Resources and Development. The other is a bill from United Safety Services LLC that billed Timber Hill Farm LLC for some safety work done at 300 Gunstock Hill Road.

The packet all includes a permit to operate a place of assembly issued jointly to Timber Hill Farm and Great American Dining, Common Man Family – the third party company that actually caters the events at 285 Gunstock Hill Road. It is signed by Deputy Fire Chief Brad Ober.

Since the Board of Selectmen have ordered the Planning Board to review the site plan request within 30 days of the selectmen's last meeting, the Planning Board announced it would review the site plan at its next meeting on Feb. 8 and still be within the mandates of the selectboard.

As of yesterday at 5 p.m., the town attorney had not given an opinion to the Planning Director or Town Administrator.

Privatizing county nursing home gets thumbs down from commission

LACONIA — A majority of the Belknap County Commission yesterday turned thumbs down on a proposal that the county look at managed care organizations to take over the operation of the Belknap County Nursing Home.
Commissioner Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton), who last week met with members of the state Department of Health and Human Services about Medicaid rate setting, said that he knew of two private companies who have submitted ideas about managing the nursing home.
At the commission's last meeting Burchell, said that managing the nursing home "doesn't have to be a county function," and suggested that nonprofit entities should be encouraged to look at taking over the nursing home.
But Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) said the nursing home "plays a unique role which cannot be filled by a private company. It's a home of last resort for Medicaid patients and no private company can make money from it. The county needs to take care of its elderly."
Burchell maintained that Texas has lower reimbursement rates than New Hampshire and still has five private companies that manage nursing homes there. He also said that when New Hampshire counties started taking care of the elderly, it was an entirely different situation.
"200 years ago, you didn't have a convoluted system," said Burchell.
But County Commission Chairman David DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) said that his goal is to make sure that the nursing home is run efficiently. "I'm not interested in privatizing the nursing home at this time."
Burchell said that at the meeting he had attended last week, he had learned the chief factor in setting Medicaid reimbursement rates for counties is the percentage of Medicaid residents at the county home and that the state uses two "snapshot dates" of Feb. 28 and Aug. 1 to set those rates.
He said that there was a 10 percent drop in the number of Medicaid patients registered in the nursing home in 2015 compared to 2014, which resulted in a large drop of payments for the county.
Taylor said responsibility for Medicaid nursing home patients were at one time split equally between the state and the county, but the state has been passing on a greater share of costs to the counties in recent years.

"Each year, a greater percentage is passed back to the counties," said Taylor, who said that 70 percent of the burden now falls on counties.
He said he would like to discuss the funding with members of the Belknap County Convention and make sure they are aware of the impact on county taxpayers.
Taylor said he thinks the county should take a good look at legislation which is currently being proposed in the New Hampshire House which would allow counties to establish heroin use prevention and treatment programs.
He also said he would like to get some feedback from the County Convention as well as the Belknap County Sheriff and Belknap County Attorney on establishing a program in the county in which the Sheriff's Department add a position similar to what Laconia police currently have for handling drug problems.
DeVoy said he thought that was a good idea and would like to explore it further.