City Council OKs plan to bury utility lines at The Weirs


LACONIA — The City Council this week unanimously endorsed the recommendation of the Weirs Tax Increment Financing District Advisory Committee to bury utility lines and install new street lighting on Lakeside Avenue between Endicott Street North (US Route 3) and Tower Street.

The project is a proposed enhancement to the planned replacement of the water main, improvements to the storm drainage and sanitary systems and reconstruction of Lakeside Avenue to be undertaken this year and next. The so-called "base project" is expected to cost $1 million, which City Manager Scott Myers has included his his recommended 2016-2017 municipal budget.

Burying the utility lines would add $1,150,000 to the cost of the base project, $700,000 to bury the lines, $250,000 to replace street lighting and a percentage for design and contingencies. Removing the 14 utility poles would require replacing the 12 street lights mounted on them. Since the existing lights are 30 feet above the street, they illuminate the width of Lakeside Avenue. Replacing them will require lining both sides of the street with 50 LED lights mounted 16 feet high and spaced 75 feet apart.

Myers said that extending the project another block to Foster Avenue would add between $250,000 and $280,000 to its cost and noted that improvements to the roadway, water main and sewer system are not planned to extend past Tower Street.

Speaking to property owners at The Weirs, Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5) said "Things need to be improved and updated up there. I want to see something done. It's time for the owners to come to the plate and do something."

Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2) echoed these remarks.

"The business model at The Weirs is older than me," he said. "Look at your business model and see what you can contribute to the year-round vision of The Weirs."

Originally the advisory committee proposed applying 80 percent of the revenue accruing to the Weirs Tax Increment Financing District to servicing the debt incurred to finance the project. Tax increment financing allows municipalities to delineate TIF districts, then apply a portion of the future tax revenues that accrue from the increase in assessed value generated by new construction, expansion or renovation of property in the district to finance public improvements within it. Myers anticipates that within five or six years the Weirs Tax Increment Financing District will have accrued sufficient funds to begin servicing the debt. In the meantime the city would defray the debt on the understanding it would be reimbursed.

Councilor Ava Doyle (Ward 1) offered a motion to approve the proposal. However, Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) offered what he called a "friendly amendment" to require the Weirs Tax Increment Financing District to apply 100 percent of its funds to servicing the debt.

Joe Driscoll of the Weirs Tax Increment Financing District Advisory Committee said that if all its funds were applied to this one project, the committee would have no purpose. He said that the committee has been asked to consider options for the sidewalks, crosswalks and bump-outs, all part of the reconstruction of Lakeside Avenue and all adding to its cost. Without funding, he said, there would be no point pursuing these options.

Doyle called Lipman's amendment "not all that friendly." When he suggested 90 percent, Doyle remarked, "It's getting better" and the council ultimately agreed to settle for 85 percent for three years then 80 percent afterwards.

Myers explained that the city's share of the debt service would be booked as a debt, not as budgeted expense that would preclude expenditures of an equal amount.

County commissioners defend decision to join state health services network


LACONIA — Two of the three Belknap County Commissioners agreed Wednesday morning that the commission has the authority to be an affiliate member Community Health Services Network and authorized sending a letter to members of the Belknap County Delegation who have questioned the decision made by commissioners on April 6 to become an affiliate member of the network.

The Community Health Services Network LLC is an umbrella organization formed to transform the state's system for providing mental health and substance abuse services by integrating behavioral and physical health care.

Following presentations by Lisa Morris of the Lakes Region Partnership of Public Health and Jacqui Abikoff of Horizons Counseling Center in Gilford at the April meeting regarding the impact on Belknap County Commissioners David DeVoy of Sanbornton and Hunter Taylor of Alton voted in favor of membership, while Commissioner Richard Burchell of Gilmanton dissented.

At Wednesday's meeting Burchell agreed that the commission was correct that it has the authority to be an affiliate member but did not agree to sign the letter.

The June 11 letter from five state representatives said that the delegation, not the commissioners, have the authority to pursue policy on the issue because ''Clearly there will be obligations requiring appropriations and the Board of Commissioners have no such powers.” It was signed by Rep. Mike Sylvia of Belmont, Rep. Glen Aldrich of Gilford, Rep. George Hurt of Gilford, Rep. Peter Varney of Alton and Rep. Ray Howard of Alton.

The representatives' letter asked that the commissioners be prepared to answer questions about the program at a future meeting of the delegation.

Commission Chairman DeVoy and Commissioner Taylor agreed to the letter, drafted by Taylor, which pointed out that no appropriation is required to participate as an affiliate member of the network, and that it is important that the county be represented in the discussion of how health care services will be delivered.

Burchell said it is “naive to think that we're going to have a major impact on a policy being written in Washington, D.C.” and that “standards the county does not agree with could be imported.”

Taylor said that the county has no alternative but to become involved and pointed out that discussions will take place whether Belknap County is represented or not. “Prudence strongly suggests that it is better to have a voice in matters that impact the county rather than choosing to have no voice and simply taking whatever is decided without trying to influence the decision.”

The initiative is in response to the New Hampshire Health Protection Program, which by expanding eligibility for Medicaid and providing benefits for substance abuse has increased demand for services in short supply. Currently, 92 percent of adults who require treatment for alcohol abuse and 84 percent of adults who require treatment for drug abuse go without it. At the same time, two of every three people with mental illness admitted to the New Hampshire Hospital spend more than one day waiting in an emergency room until a bed becomes available.
In January, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved the state's request to fund transforming the system for providing mental health and substance abuse services. The so-called "transformation waiver" will provide $150 million over five years to apply toward offering integrated physical and behavioral health care, expanding capacity to address emergent behavioral health issues, and ensuring an unbroken continuum of care as patients pass from one provider to another.
The principal agents of the program will be seven "integrated delivery networks," or IDNs, one of which will consist of the Central and Winnipesaukee public health networks, consisting of Belknap County, 18 towns in Grafton County and three towns in Merrimack County. Altogether, some 16,000 people in the network are enrolled in Medicaid, 12,000 of them in the Winnipesaukee network.
The IDNs will organize and coordinate the providers within the network as well as receive and distribute funding to them. The partners in the networks must include primary care physicians, substance abuse providers, hospitals, community mental health centers, community and rural health centers, community organizations providing social services and county nursing and correctional facilities.

Morris told the commission in April that with respect to the county, the initiative bears directly on the Department of Corrections, where a significant share of inmates housed in the county jail suffer from mental illness or substance abuse and often both.
At that time Abikoff told the commissioners that for inmates leaving the jail and returning to the community, access to appropriate services is especially important to lessen the likelihood they will relapse and return to jail. She explained that ensuring a transition to an effective network of treatment and recovery services will contribute to reducing recidivism rates arising from mental health and substance use disorders.

Celebrate Laconia asks for money

LACONIA — Pat Clark, who chairs "Celebrate Laconia," the committee organizing the festivities to mark the 125th anniversary of the city in 2018, asked the City Council Tuesday for an appropriation of $40,000 in the 2016-2017 municipal budget. She explained that the funds would be applied to developing a website, designing a logo and preparing a fundraising campaign.

"We've not had time to explore all the complexities," said committee member David Stamps. "We're really asking on a wing and a prayer, but we're not trying to take the piggy bank run."

City Manager Scott Myers assured Clark that the request would be incorporated in to the budget process, which is already underway.

– Michael Kitch