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Conty commission agrees to new contract with nursing home union, setting up funding showdown with lawmakers

LACONIA — The Belknap County Commission yesterday ratified a one-year collective bargaining agreement negotiated with State Employees Association (SEA) on behalf of 80 full-time employees of the Belknap County Nursing Home. Funding will still have to be approved by the Belknap County Convention.

Contract talks with employees of the Department of Corrections and Sheriff's Department remain underway.

The 2014 county budget adopted by the Belknap County Convention level funded the employer share of health insurance benefits at $1,272,449 but nothing for wage increases or associated payroll costs. The costs of the contract include $267,343 more for health insurance, $22,361 for a cost of living adjustment of 1.6-percent, $35,759 for merit increases for eligible employees and $10,705 for associated payroll costs, for a total of $336,170.

The agreement provides for the employees' share of health insurance premiums to increase from 6.5-percent to 16.5-percent for a single person plan, from 5-percent to 15-percent for both a two-person and a family plan. However, the contribution would remain unchanged for employees who participate in three health management programs that include the health assessment, biometric screening and on health awareness program as defined by HealthTrust.

Norm O'Neil, county human resources director, told the commissioners that the agreement reflected the ongoing effort to engage employees in wellness programs that have been shown to reduce long-term health care costs. He said that HealthTrust has recognized Belknap County for its levels of participation.

Neil Smith of the SEA, who negotiated the agreement, noted that the Health Benefits Review Team, convened by the county administration, has become a model for addressing and managing the cost of health insurance benefits across the state.

In the same vein, the contract would forbid smoking or any other use of tobacco products throughout the Belknap County Complex beginning on July 1 of this year.

The contract provides a cost-of-living-adjustment of 1.6 percent, equal to the rate of inflation. together with merit increases averaging 2.1 percent, for which some 60 employees are eligible. O'Neil said that since employees went without wage increases in 2013, the raise represents an increase of 1.85 per year for the two-year period.

The agreement includes an incentive to reduce the use of sick time from 52 hours per year per employee to 40 hours. If the 80 employees together meet the target , each employee would would receive up to three days to care for an ill or injured family member. collectively meet the target, or two years.

Smith acknowledged the county convention's concerns about personnel costs, but recommended the commission present the cost items to the convention for approval. "We'd have the convention weigh in on this contract rather than wait," he said. "If it doesn't meet with success, we'll have learned something."

Smith said that contract negotiations on behalf of employees of the Department of Corrections were near agreement, but talks with the Sheriff's Department "as not as close as we'd like."

NOTES: Norm O'Neil, the director of Human Resources for Belknap County, tendered his resignation when the Belknap County Commission met yesterday. "I really don't like this," remarked John Thomas of Belmont, chairman of the commission, who went on to praise O'Neil for his contribution to strengthening personnel policy and improving employee morale since he was appointed in 2009. Echoing Thomas, Commissioner Steve Nedeau of Meredith offered "to put in a word for all the county employees you have assisted during your tenure." Neil Smith of the State Employees Association, with whom O'Neil has negotiated contracts, was so effusive in his praise for his counterpart that O'Neil asked him to stop. . . . . . County Administrator Debra Shackett reported that the increase in the cost of health insurance premiums for 2014 would be 6.2 percent, less than half the 13.4 percent anticipated, describing the news as "the silver lining" to the budget. . . . . . Shackett also announced that former Superintendent of the Corrections Department Richard Grenier, who in March was elected to the Board of Selectmen in Gilford, has been named to the Jail Planning Committee. Grenier has openly expressed misgivings about the direction of the process of planning for a new correctional facility.  

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 April 2014 12:23

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LRGHealthcare improves bottom line to 2% on $220M of income

MEREDITH — LRGHealthcare had its best year financially in several, officials told the organization's annual meeting yesterday evening.
The regions largest health-care provider showed a 2 percent operating margin for the fiscal year ending last September, according to Henry Lipman, senior vice president and chief financial officer.

LRGH's net income for FY2013 was just over $4.5 million. Total revenues for the period were $220.5 million on expenses of $216 million, he noted.
Lipman and Dr. Robert Evans, chairman of LRGH's Finance and Investment Committee, last night gave an overview of LRGH's financial situation to the annual meeting of the organization's corporators held at Church Landing at Mills Fall in Meredith.
Lipman said the 2 percent margin compared to 1 percent for the prior fiscal year, and Fiscal Year 2011 when the company barely broke even. In Fiscal Years 2010, 2009 the health-care provider lost money, he said.
Lipman attributed the improved financial picture to "a lot of little things" which helped to improve the company's bottom line. He noted that the lower number of patients being readmitted to the hospital meant the hospitals — Lakes Region General and Franklin Regional — paid less in penalties to Medicare. He also said that patients had fewer complications during their hospitalizations, which helped to lower costs. In addition, he said that LRGHealthcares participation in the Granite Health Network — a collaborative effort involving LRGH and five other New Hampshire hospitals — helped to reduce other costs.
Lipman said that uncertainty of federal health policies in the future was one area for concern. In particular, he noted proposals to eliminate the higher reimbursements for so-call critical access hospitals, of which Franklin Regional is one. Another proposal to eliminate or reduce certain federal community hospital programs could have an impact as great as $7 million on LRGHealthcare, he said.
On the other hand, Lipman was optimistic that the increased number of people who are expected to be insured under the Affordable Care Act would help the company get reimbursement from patients who until know have not had insurance. He said the number of newly insured patients could be about 3,000.

Last Updated on Thursday, 03 April 2014 01:47

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Police downplay report of formal teen gang activity in Laconia

LACONIA — Police said yesterday they are investigating a case of criminal threatening with a knife after an altercation between two youths Saturday night at 8 p.m.

The Daily Sun learned of the altercation after receiving an e-mail from a concerned citizen who said a group of teens had been picking on some younger teens in the neighborhood around River Street and that one of the older boys had threatened on of the younger boys with a knife.

While the tipster feared the older teens belong to a group calling themselves the "Crazy White Boys", police said yesterday they are familiar with various groups of teens around town but hadn't heard anything about this particular group.

Police said the incident with the knife was reported to them and the teen who allegedly brandished it turned himself into them early yesterday morning.

Chief Chris Adams said it is reasonably normal for certain groups of teens to associate with each other but when any one group threatens another group with any kind of violence, the police take it very seriously.

He said police are very much aware of many groups in the city but said he is reluctant to label them "gangs."

He said once police get word that a group of kids are starting to name themselves, they're pretty quick on nipping it in the bud.

A police supervisor said in this specific instance, the two teens in the altercation knew each other and while an arrest has since been made, the supervisor was reasonably confident there would be no additional violence.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 April 2014 12:42

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Lipman strongly challenges need for 3rd mechanic at public works

LACONIA — A request for a third mechanic who would work across city departments to maintain the 99 inspectable vehicles owned by the city got a sharply negative response from Ward 3 City Councilman Henry Lipman at Monday night's work session on the proposed 2014-2015 Public Works Department budget.
Paul Moynihan, the city's Public Works director, said that the ratio of inspectable vehicles to mechanics in other New Hampshire cities ranges from 26 to 40  to one, but is nearly 50 to 1 in Laconia.
He said that he currently has to utilize other department employees to keep up with the workload, requiring an extra 15 to 20 hours a week in the summer and 30 to 35 hours during the winter.
But Lipman, pointing out that the city had just spent $700,000 on new vehicles which should require less maintenance, said he wasn't convinced there was a need and said that the city should instead get rid of some of its old equipment, including a grader and a sweeper.
City Manager Scott Myers said little work was being done on the grader and sweeper and that they were not a drain on the city's resources.
Moynihan invited Lipman and other council members to visit the Public Works Department to talk with mechanics and the general foreman about the maintenance load which includes all of the city's departments and is funded through the city's Internal Service Fund.
Ward 5 City Councilman Bob Hamel said that he had a concern about city departments in the past having bought different vehicles than the council had approved for funding, including a pickup truck instead of a dump truck, and said that the council had never been informed of those changes. He asked that in the future the council be notified of any such changes.
He also said that work had been done on an old Bombardier snowmobile and questioned the benefit of that work. ''I thought we were trying to get rid of 1960s stuff.''
Lipman said ''we're not ready to add more resources until we see it tighten up'' and said he couldn't understand why some of the older equipment was still being used by the city. ''We were told there was a health hazard and carbon monoxide problems when we were asked to replace equipment. You don't go around the back door and continue to use it,'' said Lipman, prompting Moynihan to protest ''I don't agree with where that discussion went.''
Lipman said he was still not comfortable with Moynihan's explanation, which led Mayor Ed Engler to ask where the supporting narrative was for the budget request for the additional mechanic, a position which would be funded at $20,900 for 26 weeks in the 2014 fiscal year.
Myers said there was no narrative but one would be provided to provide the basis for future discussion.
Moynihan said that at one time there had been two mechanics and a part-timer and that the position had been lost through a clerical misunderstanding between himself and the city administration several years ago.
In other DPW budget matters:
— The winter maintenance budget of $330,000 is in the red by about $40,000 and will be covered with money from the winter maintenance stabilization account, which totals $95,000.
— A capital improvement project at the Winnipesaukee River Basin Program which saw a $5 million ultraviolet disinfection system added has increased the city's share of the debt service by $235,000.
Moynihan said that the program has developed a capital improvement program that will attempt to maintain the debt at a consistent level. The next major project will be a $1.3 million flow metering project which will impact the share of capital and operating expenses paid by each community. Laconia currently pays 49 percent of the operating costs and 41 percent of the capital costs.
A pump station control data system which is being installed for $90,000 will enable remote monitoring on the city's 17 sewer pump stations which will enable remote monitoring of the stations, reducing overtime.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 April 2014 12:33

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