LACONIA — Concerns over the projected cost of a new Belknap County Jail dominated the discussion at a public input session held by the Belknap County Convention Tuesday night where it was argued that the jail project will become a campaign issue this summer and fall.
Virtually all who spoke, including members of the Belknap County Convention, argued against following the lead of the Belknap County Jail Planning Committee, which next month will ask the convention to approve a $2.96 million bond issue for improvements and schematic design work for a new facility, and said the county should go back to the drawing board in designing a new facility.
Hunter Taylor of Alton said that the current facility is beyond the point of no return and must be replaced, but said that the committee is looking at a $30 million facility for 180 inmates whose cost per square foot are one and a half times the national average. He maintained that the county should instead be looking at a $10-$12 million price tag and cited Wilkes County, North Carolina, as an example of what the county should be looking at.
He said that Wilkes County is nearing completion of a 52,000 square foot jail which will hold 256 inmates and will be built at a guaranteed price tag of $10.63 million
''Look at what a $30 million bond issue would do to Laconia's tax cap. We should start over and do it right this time. Don't waste any more money on the Ricci Greene plan,'' said Taylor, citing the New York firm which the county hired to help develop a prison concept.
''We're about to have a referendum on this kind of spending,'' he added, referencing the challenges being made to incumbent County commissioners. Commission Chairman John Thomas (R-Belmont) will face opposition in the Republican primary from Rep. Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) and Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia) will be challenged by businessman Dave Devoy, a Sanbornton Republican whom Philpot defeated in 2012.
DeVoy said he disagreed with Taylor's assessment that a new facility is needed. ''Bring the women (currently held in the county correctional facility) over here (the Belknap County complex where last night's meeting took place). Ten years down the road we'll be cutting back on the number of people sent to prison. The war on drugs is a complete failure and we'll be changing our policies. Don't spend more money on a new facility,'' said DeVoy, who later in the meeting said it wouldn't make sense to spend money to advance a new project which would be opposed by new county commissioners should he and Burchell prevail in November.
Burchell, whom has said he thinks a new facility can be built for $12 million, said that there was a ''disconnect'' between the Bennett report, which was the initial report developed by the jail planning committee, and the Ricci Greene study which developed a conceptual plan for a new prison.
He said that the Bennett report called for a better understanding of the criminal justice component of the corrections system and maintained that such a study had never been done or done properly and that it should be done before plans for a new facility are finalized.
Corrections Superintendent Dan Ward said that the Ricci Greene report covered that issue, but Burchell disagreed.
Ward was questioned by Peter Mulcahy of Gilmanton about the composition of the inmate population and how that affected the space needs of the jail and later asked Ward how much additional space he needed. Ward said that 80,000 square feet, which is double the size of the current facility, would meet his needs.
Mulcahy said he wouldn't favor ''throwing good money after bad'' and favored going back to the drawing table rather than working with plans currently under consideration.
Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) said he couldn't understand why Ricci Greene wouldn't consider a 1987 plan to add a wing to the jail as part of a proposed solution. ''No one has explained why it was not feasible,'' said Tilton.''Why are we going to build a palace. Why can't we look at that as an alternative?''
But Wad said that it wasn't as easy as dusting off a 30-year-old blueprint. ''You have to look at what our needs were then and what they are now,'' pointing out that adding a wing now would only mean that the women prisoners could be moved out of the gymnasium and wouldn't deal with other issues.
''We can't just pile them in and warehouse them. We need programs that help them stay out,'' said Ward.
Colette Worsman, chair of the County Convention, said that building a new facility for $30 million would also mean doubling the operating costs to $6.6 million a year and questioned why the county should spend that amount each year when it could have all of its prisoners housed outside the county for half that cost.
Rep. Dave Huot (D-Laconia) said that the discussion being held was largely speculation as no definitive plan has been submitted to the convention. ''I don't see any reason to sit here and speculate. There has been talk of people suing the county in federal court over conditions at the jail. If that happens how much will it cost to defend the county in a lawsuit we're bound to lose.''
He also questioned the wisdom of trying to work with the existing facility, noting that any changes would require that all of the existing facilities used be brought up to current codes.
Worsman said that the convention will meet again on June 9 to hear a request from the Jail Study Committee for a $2.96 million bond issue, $1.6 million of which would be used for renting a temporary housing facility for three years for 48 inmates, $1 million for redoing the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system at the current jail and $360,000 for a schematic design plan for a new facility.
She said a public hearing will be held and she anticipates a vote on the bond issue, which would require a two-thirds majority, will be held following the hearing.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 June 2014 11:54
GILFORD — Police Chief Anthony Bean Burpee was sworn in last night at a specially convened meeting of the Selectboard that was followed by a meet-and-greet session for the general public.
Bean Burpee, who officially started yesterday, said job one is to meet with every member of his department and get to know each employee individually. As part of his transition he has conferred with Lts. Kris Kelley and James Leach.
"I want to learn each of their talents and expectations," said Bean Burpee after his swearing in ceremony.
He also said he is very excited about his upcoming role in the construction of the $1.2 million expansion of the Police Department facility.
He said he been on a few tours and "it seems like we're pretty crowded in there."
As for his new department, Bean Burpee said one of his priorities will be to actively work with his team and area departments on the use of heroin and other illegal drugs in Gilford.
As a lieutenant in Kennebunk, Maine, Bean Burpee said he has had years of experience dealing with drug use and abuse however, he said the major opiate problems in southern Maine are with prescription opiates.
"I will be getting up to speed very quickly on the heroin problems," he said.
He said he is also some what of a fitness freak and said from what he's seen, Gilford officers are very physically capable of doing their jobs, but he will continue to work with them to keep the fitness levels as high as they currently are.
Bean Burpee compared Gilford to Kennebunk in that both of them are vacation communities with populations that swell in the summer. He said demographically the two communities are similar.
He said both seem like nice, quiet rural communities, which they both are, however both unfortunately have more than their share of crime.
Kennebunk Police Chief Robert MacKenzie was at Bean Burpee's ceremony and said it was a "bittersweet" moment. He said his community was loosing a very valuable member of its police community but said Gilford was gaining a top notch police officer and administrator.
"I'm thrilled to see him achieve his goal of being a chief," MacKenzie said.
Bean Burpee will spend the summer in "training" so he can get to know Gilford and the members of his department. In September he will attend the N.H. Police Standards and Training for his "law package" or a review of New Hampshire laws for certified police officers from other states.
The new chief was accompanied last night by many of his friends and family including his sons, his husband, and a number of Maine officers and friends.
CAPTION: Gilford Police Chief Anthony Bean Burpee chats with Gilford resident Chan Eddy at a meet-and-greet held for him by the Gilford Selectmen after his swearing in ceremony last night. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Gail Ober)
Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 June 2014 01:40
GILFORD — The School Board received proposed changes last evening to policies dealing with objectionable course materials at a meeting during which board members were accused of arrogance and one board member countering that critics have been disrespectful.
The dispute came during the public comment period which preceded the overview of the so-called "opt in" proposal which would require that parents give explicit advance permission allowing their children to read or view fictional works assigned as part of course. In the past parents could "opt out," meaning parents notified the school only if they objected to their child read certain material.
The controversy over the suitability of course material erupted last month when William Baer, the father of a Gilford High School freshman protested the use the Jodi Picoult book "Nineteen Minutes" being assigned to his daughter's honors English class. Baer was upset the school had assigned the book which contained a graphic sex scene between two teenagers.
Baer was arrested during the May 8 meeting after he talked out of turn and would not stop when asked.
On Monday School Board member Kurt Webber, speaking before the public comment period, said the May 8 meeting was "excellent civics lesson" in how local government works.
Webber said that no one's free speech rights were denied during the May meeting in which School Board Chairman Sue Allen limited speakers to two minutes
"The right to free speech is not absolute," Webber said, noting that a member of the public has no right to interrupt a court proceeding or a session of the Legislature. "The School Board meeting is not an open forum to have an argument," he added. Webber said that when members of the public fail to obey the rules of order one appropriate recourse is to have them arrested.
But resident and conservative blogger Skip Murphy chastised Webber and the board for failing to show respect to Baer and his views. "The morality (that underscored Baer's objections) was important to him, but not to you," he said, adding the board exhibited a "condescending attitude toward parents."
Baer was present at Monday's meeting but did not speak.
Offering a differing point of view, Joe Wernig, defended the school system and added, "Most parents feel you have done well."
It was Wernig who was speaking of May 8 when Baer interrupted.
In explaining the proposed policy changes Superintendent Kent Hemingway said that all the fictional books and films which will be used during in various English courses will be posted on the School District website along with links for reviews of those works for anyone to see. In addition at the beginning of each school term every student will be given a sheet which will include the books which are being assigned for that particular course. Parents will have to sign their approval for their children to read those books. Parents who fail to sign the sheet, indicating their approval or disapproval, will be contacted by the school. Parents who object to any material will meet with the teacher and other school officials to arrange for a suitable substitute.
Under the proposal parents, however, would not be able to appeal the school's decision to the School Board. That prompted Murphy to object saying it prohibited parents from taking concerns to their elected representatives.
The proposed policies would also allow any Gilford resident to object to the content of course material as well as to books and other material in the school's media center.
The objection would be reviewed by a committee which would be comprised of teachers, other school officials and a parent.
Murphy urged the board to name Baer as the parent representative on that committee.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 June 2014 01:36
BELMONT — Selectmen will hold a public hearing at their next meeting on June 16 on a proposed ordinance change which will ban dogs from Sargent Park.
Jane Breton, Parks and Recreation Director, requested the change be made due to concerns for the health of the children using the town park.
''Kids are sitting on the ground where the dogs have been. When you think of how much a mess it has been and how unsanitary it can be you can see why I'm asking for a change.''
Currently dogs on a leash are allowed in the park and the department has animal waste bags at entryways but some users are not complying with state law that provides that they pick up dog waste.
Breton observed that a change in the law will make it easier for park attendants to keep dogs out of the park.
Ruth Mooney, chairperson of the Selectboard, said that she agreed with the proposed change in the town ordinance. Town Administrator Jean Beaudin said that she would have the language of the proposed ordinance change ready for the June 16 meeting and the public hearing.
Selectmen also heard a request from Steve Paquin, town building inspector, for a part-time assistant for his office.
Paquin said that his office has been inundated with requests for building permits in the last two months with 10 new commercial buildings, numerous single-family buildings and at least 27 property violations. He said that the commercial buildings require visits at least twice a week and that he is facing at least 85 annual inspections as well as inspections of five junkyards.
''I'm falling behind on the paperwork in my office and need a temporary part-time office assistant,'' said Paquin.
Mooney asked Paquin if he was confident that he could handle the field work and he said that he was but had no idea how long the spike in demand for his services would continue.
Beaudin said that she had talked with Paquin about the situation and was looking for funds within the budget which could be used for a temporary position and also for a person who could serve in a temporary position.
Selectmen decided to request more information from the Shaker Regional School District on a request that the town share the $58,000 cost for reclaiming and paving roadway near the Belmont Middle School.
Mooney suggested that she was amenable to a 50-50 split with the school district on costs of the project pointing out that ''it all comes out of the same pocket'' but Selectman Ron Cormier Jr. said he was opposed, pointing out that it was the responsibility of the school district.
''It's poor planning on their part'' said Cormier, who maintained that the school district had been made aware of the Belmont downtown project and could have become involved with the town at that time.
Selectman Jon Pike asked if the estimated cost of the project was correct and what the scope of work for the project was.
''I want to hear more about the entire project before we make a decision,'' said Pike.
Mooney said she would obtain more information about the project before the next meeting of the selectmen.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 June 2014 01:20
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