Gilmanton teachers, budget committee parry over health insurance

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Michael Hatch, retiring school board member, reacts after receiving a plaque for his service, at Saturday's deliberative session in Gilmanton. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)

By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN

GILMANTON — Nothing was amended on the warrant, but voters glimpsed a foretaste of what future school budget debates could look like at Saturday's deliberative session of School District Meeting, when teachers and Budget Committee members debated the cost of health insurance.
The collective bargaining agreement reached between the Gilmanton School Board and the Gilmanton Education Association calls for increases in salaries and benefits of $41,311 in 2017-2018; $129,327 in 2018-2019; and $133,211 in 2019-2020.
Malcolm MacLeod, school board member and negotiating team member, said the school district could face a penalty if it stays on the existing insurance.
If nothing changes under the current Affordable Care Act, in 2020, the insurance company likely would pass on a 40 percent tax to the school district, for $240,000 in cost, he said.
Budget Committee members voiced concern about the rising cost of health insurance in general.
Budget Committee member Stephen Bedard said, "The issue was definitely health care, and it's my belief, my complete belief, that this entire Budget Committee, including the people who aren't here today, do support the teachers. Actually, we talked about giving them an additional raise, a cash raise, hourly rate raise, as opposed to having a different health care plan. It's the health care costs that are killing us."
In a press release, the GEA explained, "During the last round of negotiations teachers agreed to a change in health care providers, a consolidation of plan options and a uniform cost sharing throughout all plans. As costs continued to rise, the GEA put forth a proposal in this new contract to switch to a high deductible plan of $2,000 for single coverage and $4,000 for a two-person or family plan. This deductible will be paid for by the enrolled teacher."
Teacher Erin Hollingsworth said, "Because we're changing plans to a higher-deductible plan, which is hugely different than what we've done in the past, the cost to the town is not any more than what it was in the past."
Hollingsworth said that the 85 percent share that the district now pays for teachers' health insurance will rise to 97 percent under the contract, but that the cost to the district will not increase because of the teachers' willingness to take on deductibles.
"I just want the public to know that they are in the forethought of this contract plan, and despite the Budget Committee not supporting it, I think it was not understood fully," she said.
Brian Forst, chairman of the Budget Committee, joined his peers to not recommend Article 12, the collective bargaining agreement with teachers, and he explained their sentiment. The Budget Committee's vote was 5-3 to not recommend the initial contract in January.
"We are seeing, every year, large increases both in the school and in the town in what we call human resource," Forst said.
"We're trying to get the school board and the town to understand that we need some concrete vision going forward on how we're going to try to control these costs," he said, and noted the concern raised "when we hear 97 percent of the cost being burdened by the taxpayer and 3 percent being burdened by the employee."
Forst added, "A $2,000 deductible, which is a huge change from what people have been used to in this profession, is a small number compared to what a lot of people are having to deal with in this day and age."
He concluded, "I understand it's a big change in policy. I get that you're going to a deductible plan, I get that there's cost savings in this. I understand all of that. If benefit costs increase, this is going to become a harder and harder discussion to have," Forst said.
Hollingsworth asked, "Would any contract have passed with you?"
The Budget Committee recommended a $10,653,418 operating budget, $4,500 less than what the school board put forward. This article, and others on the warrant outside of the teachers' contract, advanced with minimal discussion. The health care plan generated the bulk of the debate.
At the conclusion of the session, Adam Mini, vice chair, presented a plaque to Michael Hatch, a nine-year member of the Gilmanton School Board.
"He has been invaluable to me personally and the rest of the board members," Mini said.
Hatch received a going-away gift, as he is not seeking re-election and retiring from the board. His wife is school clerk Rachel Hatch.
"I got on the school board originally because I wanted to make a difference in my community," Michael Hatch said. "I wanted to give back. Between my wife and I, we have five children who have gone through the system. I wanted to do my part and help out."
Voting day is Tuesday, March 14, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., at the Academy Building.

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Alton Bay fishers urge safety after weekend tragedy

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Paul Dillon of Boscawen shared this image of a bob house sinking into Lake Winnipesaukee. (Courtesy photo)

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Rob Molino from Windham tends hot dogs on a grill on Alton Bay Sunday. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)

By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN

ALTON — Cautionary tales abounded here on a tragic weekend, when a 15-year-old boy died after he and his father fell through the ice near Rattlesnake Island and two snowmobilers died in a separate snowmobiling accident after plunging into Lake Winnipesaukee near Moultonborough.

On Alton Bay, where the ice was an estimated foot thick, many ice fishing parties reflected on the dangers of venturing onto the lake.

Tim Lambert of Boscawen said his friend plunged through the ice while they were walking side by side on an ice fishing excursion.

A pressure ridge weakened the ice, and a group of friends nearly ran into trouble while hauling their bob house.

"We had another friend of ours who was surveying, he was this close to me," Lambert said, gesturing about a foot away, "and he went right down almost to his waist. He had to go because he was soaked."

Lambert noted that he and "Teddy," their friend, were an arm's length apart.

"He was this close to me. One minute he was there, and the next minute I looked down, and I just grabbed him," Lambert said.

Tony Weddall of Boscawen, another member of the group, said, "The pressure ridge we hit, they said it opened up a week ago. If we had stopped to talk to anybody out here before we went out, they would have told us it was there."

Weddall said the weakness of that section of the ice stunned him.

"It's amazing to see how fast you can drop through the ice," he said.

Paul Dillon, another friend joining the group, explained in a message to The Laconia Daily Sun, "Our friend Teddy fell through the ice. Tim and I are lucky to be alive! In all actuality, my four-wheeler should have sunk and the bob house should have pushed us under."

Dillon wrote that he planned to give his fiancee and kids a big hug when he got home.

Lambert agreed they were lucky. "We came pretty close."

The bob house that broke through the ice only sank partway into the lake, and help was available.

"It's a lucky thing we had two other four wheelers. We just linked them all together, and then another guy down here on his Bobcat came over and helped out and got us all out of there," Lambert recalled.

Dillon said, "Don't be afraid to ask people for help. They'll help you."

After that incident, the group moved their bob house and equipment closer to the entry point, near a snowy roadway where trucks, four wheelers and snowmobiles drove back and forth.

Near another bob house, Rob Molino from Windham was cooking hotdogs in a grill on the ice Sunday.

He was part of a group that comes out every year with trucks and four-wheelers.

"We normally go out off of Governor's Island but it's not frozen," he said.

Asked of his advice, Molino said, "Stay away from open water. Check the ice before you go out on it. Be safe. Check your surroundings. You have to know how thick the ice is. Don't go close to the shore where open bubblers are."

Asked about the tragedy farther out in the bay, he said, "Rattlesnake Island, I know that's by the Broads which aren't locked up."

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Paul Dillon, Tim Lambert and other friends from the Boscawen area enjoy their ice fishing spot on Alton Bay Sunday. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)

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Pilot Bill Hemmel shared this photo of Lake Winnipesaukee, shot on Feb. 4, illustrating the open water and ice on the lake. (Courtesy Bill Hemmel/Ice-Out.com)

 

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Fish and Game staffing issues compound search difficulties

By BEA LEWIS, for The Laconia Daily Sun

New Hampshire Fish & Game Col. Kevin Jordan said three fatalities on Lake Winnipesaukee this weekend taxed the resources of his department that now has seven vacant conservation officer positions.
With a current staff of 32 statewide, none of whom work the same day, Jordan envisions a nightmare scenario involving multiple major incidents and not having enough personnel to respond.
“We’re the only game in town,” Jordan said, explaining that his agency has sole jurisdiction and the specialized training needed to handle emergencies on the state’s waterways, mountains and back country. The department is also tasked with investigating snowmobile and ATV accidents.
“It was a very concerning weekend,” Jordan said, of the seven incidents of snowmobiles breaking through the ice on Lake Winnipesaukee and Lake Winnisquam that claimed three lives.
While he was quick to credit the members of the Alton, Gilford, Moultonborough, Tuftonboro and West Ossipee Fire Rescue Departments who aided conservation officers over the weekend, he wants the ability to fill his vacant positions.
Since 1989, the department has relied on a $1 fee collected for each boat, snow machine and ATV registered in New Hampshire that annually totals about $192,000 to fund its search and rescue operations.
From 2011-2015 search and rescue expenditures have eclipsed revenue by some $200,000. As a consequence of the financial shortfall, the department has been forced to sacrifice conservation officer positions, equipment, training and other safety related programs to cover the rising costs of rescues.
Col. Jordan was grateful for the assistance his agency received from area firefighters.
“These guys are a blessing. They have good common sense and knowledge of the lake,” Jordan said, of members of the Alton, Gilford, Moultonborough, Tuftonboro and West Ossipee Fire Departments.
While air boats need a skilled operator, as they are difficult to drive, Jordan said, the vessels provide the only safe platform when dealing with thin ice. West Ossipee trailered their air boat to the Lakes Region to aid in rescue and recovery efforts.
Also on Sunday, Meredith Fire-Rescue was called to respond to a Black Brook Road residence for a report of a 32-year-old man suffering from cold exposure after having fallen through the ice on Lake Winnisquam.
State police initially received a telephone call reporting that one snowmobiler had broken through the ice just east of Pot Island in Sanbornton shortly before 4 p.m. A second man riding with the victim on another snowmobile that became partially submerged was able to pull him out. The rescuer then told the wet man to take the remaining snowmobile and get to shore.
The victim went to a home at 210 Black Brook Road in Meredith, but declined to be taken to the hospital for treatment. He was too cold and exhausted to return to the ice to pick up his stranded friend, however.
New Hampshire Fish & Game personnel were able to retrieve the second man from the ice about 6 p.m., who reported via cell phone that heavy snowfall and high winds were creating white-out conditions and that he didn’t know which way to go to get to shore.
Saturday night, a snowmobiler sank his sled near the town docks in Meredith Bay. The docks are ringed in open water as bubblers have been installed to keep ice from forming and damaging the pilings. A recovery team that used air bags to raise the sunken machine, reported the incident to Meredith police on Sunday who in turn notified New Hampshire Fish & Game.
Earlier on Saturday, Meredith Fire Rescue was called to the ice of Meredith Bay to render aid to a man who had fallen and broken his leg while involved in horseplay with his brother.
Meredith Police Detective Corporal John Eichhorn said while traffic was plentiful as a result of the fishing derby “it was a peaceful weekend.”
Col. Jordan urged snowmobilers and anyone outdoors to be wary of ice conditions, which are variable due to a variety of factors including a water body’s size, temperature, depth, current and wind exposure which can affect ice formation. Snowfall that covered early ice acts as an insulator and prevents the ice from thickening.
If you break through the ice, don’t panic. Move or swim back to the place you broke through, lay both arms on the unbroken ice and kick hard. This will help lift you back onto the ice. Roll away from hole until you reach solid ice.

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