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Storms stress city’s winter maintenance budget

LACONIA — With major storms on the first two weekends of February, City Manager Scott Myers said yesterday that "we're close, if not on the edge, of what we've allocated for winter maintenance."

By the end of January, the Department of Public Works (DPW) had spent $343,930, or 85 percent, of the $406,000 appropriated for winter maintenance, leaving a balance of $62,069. So far this winter DPW has spent $43,440 in November, $170,066 in December and $130,424 in January.

Myers said that the cost of the two storms in February have yet to be tallied, but anticipated that because the first extended into the weekend and the second occurred on a weekend, both would be costly.

For the moment, the city is short on salt as well as money, Myers said. He explained there is plenty of road salt at the Granite State Mineral depot at Portsmouth Harbor, but the frequency of heavy snowfall has led to a shortage of trucks to deliver it. He said that many of the trucks that would be delivering salt are busy hauling snow.

Myers assured residents that the DPW will continue to plow and treat the city streets through the winter and said there would be sufficient funds in the budget to address any overage in winter maintenance expenses.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 February 2015 01:37

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Restorative Justice Program to Relocate to County Complex (493)

LACONIA — Belknap County's Restorative Justice Program will move from the Belknap County Courthouse to the administrative wing of the Belknap County complex in the near future.

The program, which has four part-time employees, serves youthful offenders (minors) as well as adult and juvenile diversion and bail supervision offenders, occupies about 1,500 square feet of space in the courthouse. It currently supervises 61 participants and utilizes space in probate court for a classroom.

Under a plan proposed by Belknap County Corrections Superintendent Dan Ward, Restorative Justice Program Director Brian Loanes, Facilities Manager Dustin Muzzey and County Administrator Debra Shackett, the program would occupy space in the commissioner's wing of the county complex, including the facilities manager's office, the three county commissioner's offices and Conference Room 2, which would be used as a classroom.

The plan, proposed by Ward, sees the wing continuing as a mixed-use space that would allow access by the public to Conference Room 1, which is used for voting, commission and county convention meetings and public hearings, as well as other county departments for meetings and training.

Ward said that by using the access point entrance to the nursing home adequate levels of security would be maintained by using the ''buzz-in'' system and that both restorative justice staff and community corrections officers would be able to use an office located across from the rest room for participant check in.

The offices currently used by the commissioners would be vacated and reassigned for the case manager's use and could be used by the restorative justice staff during the day and community corrections officers at night. It is suggested that the commissioner's offices could be relocated to the support wing where there is an empty office and a conference room as well as other offices. Muzzey would be relocated to the support wing of the nursing home and would share an office with maintenance officer John Gilson.

As part of the changes, which could be completed by March 1, a door would be reinstalled past the public restrooms, which would limit access to the support services area. The door and the cost of relocating telephone and internet extensions and intranet access are the only costs associated with the move.

Both Ward and Loanes spoke highly of the new location, noting that it would allow them to work more closely together to complement what they currently do within the criminal justice system and eliminate duplication of services.

''We both deal with pre-trial confinement and community service and this will help community corrections getting out into the field,'' said Ward.

Loanes said he would be glad to work with Ward in either an independent position or being in the chain of command for community corrections.

Commissioner Hunter Taylor said he didn't think that such a change would be necessary. ''We should leave well enough alone.''

''I'm all for it. I don't need an office,'' said Commissioner Dave DeVoy.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 February 2015 01:25

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Gilford selectmen to hear synthetic drug ban tonight

GILFORD — Selectmen are expected to hear at a meeting tonight the police department's plan to make synthetic drugs illegal in Gilford.

The proposed ordinance, if passed by selectmen, will bring Gilford in line with existing federal law and with proposed legislation that is before the N.H. Legislature but has yet to be passed.

"This ordinance will serve to educate the public that these forms of dangerous synthetic drugs are not allowed in the town of Gilford, whether they are already considered scheduled controlled drugs or they are analogs, which can be considered just as illegal," said Detective Sergeant Christopher Jacques last week while he was explaining his recommendations.

For the purposes of the ordinance, Jacques said using the word "analog" is to continue the illegality of synthetic drugs that are chemically altered to avoid being mentioned in the Federal Drug Act. He said the state law, if it passes, will do the same thing.

Jacques identified two types of synthetic drugs that are growing in popularity within the state and in the town of Gilford – cathinones, commonly referred to as bath salts, and phenethylamines, a term which includes synthetic compounds like LSD and MDMA (ecstasy).

Synthetic cathinones are Schedule 1 drugs according to the Federal Drug Act as are mescaline, cannabis and their synthetic copycats.

One tool to identify and fight the use of these drugs is with a NarcoTest that can be purchased by police department for use as a preliminary identifiers. Jacques said the NarcoPouchs or NarcoTests are expensive but can give immediate results as opposed to waiting up to ten months for the state lab to produce an official analysis.

Jacques said the department is seeing use of synthetic drugs, often sold over the counter and labeled as not for human consumption, in children as young as 14.

"These were never intended for human consumption," he said.

"There's no control for these," he said. "(People) don't know what they're really getting."

He said police and other emergency responders have seen upwards of a dozen bad reactions to these drugs including paranoia, violent behavior, rapid heart rate and a death in one case.

The Gilford Selectmen meet at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall and Jacques encouraged anyone – especially parents of young people – to attend the presentation to learn more about the proposed ordinance and the danger these drugs present to consumers.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 February 2015 01:15

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City council hears proposal to continue funding ‘ninth’ firefighter

LACONIA – Taxpayers got some good news from the city manager and the fire chief Monday night when they announced the extension of a grant that pays for four of the newest firefighters and allows the department to have nine firefighters per shift.

Called a SAFER grant, the two-year award was for $642,028 and the portion that went unspent can be used until Oct. 1 rather than until the end of this fiscal year in July.

Chief Ken Erickson said the savings came from some savings in the health insurance lines because many of the firefighters were single and didn't have family plans.

The grant pays for the four newest firefighters in Laconia and, most importantly to Erickson, allows the department to have three firefighter 24-7 at the Weirs and six firefighters 24-7 in Laconia.

The dilemma now faced by the City Council is with the expiration of the SAFER grant, will it be possible to continue carrying an extra four firefighters on the department's roster.

Erickson gave the City Council the reasons why he thinks it makes financial and safety sense for the city to do it.

He said with the ninth firefighter per shift they increased the number of customers they reached within four minutes by 39 percent -- from 1,275 in 2009, to 1,773 in 2014. During this same period, the number of calls increased in the Weirs by 29 percent, in the central area by 33 percent, and in Lakeport by 58 percent.

Erickson said by having a full crew in the Weirs, the number of times the Central Station fire trucks and ambulance have had to go to the Weirs has dropped significantly which saves wear and tear on the vehicles.

Since the ninth firefighters joined the department, Erickson said routine inspections – not those performed by Deputy Chief Charlie Roffo – have increased two-fold and been performed on commercial businesses like marinas.

The number of shifts lost to injuries has fallen since the additional firefighters have been added has gone from 102 in 2012 to 45 in 2014.

He said he's also increased the average number of firefighters that can respond to a building fire without going to emergency call-backs that have dropped from a high of 222 in 2010 to 62 in 2014.

Emergency call-backs are used to bring off-duty firefighters to either the station or to the scene in the event of a major fire or multiple calls at the same time. He said if called back, a firefighter is guaranteed a minimum of two hours of overtime pay.

Addressing the issue of cost, City Manager Scott Myers estimated that each firefighter costs $63,500 annually and that four of them will cost the city $254,000 annually.

Myers said that as part of the as-yet unsigned emergency-services contract with LRGHealthcare, the hospital has agreed to assume half of the costs of the four least expensive firefighters (those previously covered by the SAFER grant) -- or $127,000 annually. Myers said this will pay for 26 weeks of coverage for the ninth firefighter in fiscal year 2016.

Added to the four months of the leftover money from the SAFER grant, which Myers said will pay for 13 additional weeks, is $70,000 from the firefighter stabilization fund, leaving eight weeks of the ninth firefighter to be covered by "new" taxes -- or $50,000 for fiscal year 2016.

Each year, LRGH pays for the four highest paid firefighter-paramedics for the department. The city and LRGHealthcare are renegotiating a new contract for fiscal years 2016 through at least 2018. As part of the existing contract, LRGH allows the fire department to bill them annually for up to $127,000 of emergency-related expenses in the existing contract.

Myers has indicated that instead of the existing billing relationship, LRGH will give the department the $127,000 as well as continuing to pay for the four top earning paramedics.

The firefighter stabilization fund was created at the end of fiscal year 2014 and is money not expended by the Fire Department. Traditionally, the money would go into the surplus which goes into the undesignated fund balance. However, now the money goes into this account that was started as a way to pay for the four rookie firefighters once the two year grant expired.

Myers hopes that the Fire Department will continue to be able to add between $50,000 and $70,000 annually to continue to fund the ninth firefighter in future fiscal years. However, a surplus is something no department manager can guarantee.

The City Council took no action Monday night. Ward 3 Councilor Henry Lipman and Ward 5 Councilor Bob Hamel asked for some time to digest all the information presented by Myers and Erickson and to revisit the proposal in late March as part of the ongoing 2016 budget preparation.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 February 2015 01:09

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