Census data confirms stalled population growth and shrinking workforce here


LACONIA — After four decades of steady growth, the population of Belknap County has come to a standstill. Between 2010 and 2015 the population of Belknap County grew by just 311 people, from 60,088 to 60,399, as numbers in two of its 11 municipalities shrank and in only one increased by more than double digits, according to the most recent estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The county population grew at its fastest pace between 1970 and 1980 when it added 10,500 residents, an increase of 32.5 percent, as numbers in eight of the 10 towns in the county jumped by more than 50 percent. The county population increased by more than 6,000 in each the next two decades then rose by 4,763 between 2000 and 2010 before grinding to halt.

Among the 10 towns, the estimated population during the past five years increased the most in New Hampton, which added 101 people, followed by increases of 62 in Meredith, 20 in Alton, 16 in Gilford, 12 in Barnstead, 11 in Sanbornton, 6 in Tilton, and 1 in Gilmanton while the population fell by 37 in Belmont and 84 in Center Harbor. In Laconia the population rose by 56.

For more than half a century the city of Laconia has been an outlier. The population of the city has grown by a mere 719 people, from 15,288 in 1960 to 16,007 in 2015. Between 1970 and 1980, when the population of the county grew by a third, the city's population increased just 5 percent.

As population growth has stalled, the population of the county has aged. The median age of 46.1 years — 45.3 for men and 46.8 for women — is the third highest among the 10 counties in the state, trailing Carroll County at 50.3 years and Coos County at 48.1 years.

During the past decade the workforce in Belknap County has also shrunk slightly, from an estimated 31,920 in 2005 to 31,480 in 2015. In the city of Laconia, where the work force has decreased by nearly 4 percent, from 8,267 to 7,946, and in six of the 10 towns there are fewer people working or seeking work than there were 10 years ago.

In the same period, annual average covered employment, that is jobs covered by unemployment insurance, in goods producing industries in Belknap County has decreased by 1,870, or 34 percent, while average weekly wages have risen 30 percent, from $819 to $1,066. Employment in service industries has grown less than three percent, from 17,424 to 17,859, while average weekly wages have risen from $576 to $774, or by 24 percent. Altogether employment in the private sector has fallen from 22,891 to 21,457, or six percent, and average weekly wages have risen 24 percent from $624 to $774. Meanwhile, government (federal, state and local) employment in the county grew from 4,049 to 4,128 and average weekly wages increased from $636 to $777. or by 22 percent.

In Laconia, between 2004 and 2014 annual average covered employment in the private sector has shrunk by 12 percent, from 9,162 to 8,056 , as employment in goods producing industries decreased from 2,515 to 1,776 and in service industries from 6,647 to 6,280, At the same time, average weekly wages in goods producing industries rose 21 percent, from $786 to $957, and in service industries 38 percent, from $599 to $830. Government employment in the city also decreased, from 1,532 to 1,271, a drop of 17 percent, while average weekly wages rose about 9 percent, from $763 to $830.

The update of demographic and economic data from the Census Bureau confirms the slow growth and rapid aging of the population that while common throughout most of the state has been especially marked in the northernmost counties and Lakes Region.

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Barnstead man faces third DWI charge

LACONIA — Barnstead Police charged a Chichester man with his third charge of driving while intoxicated after the driver crossed the yellow line after a rapid deceleration on Suncook Valley Road Sunday night.

Paperwork obtained from the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division said that Kyle Drouin, 28, was convicted of DWI in 2007 and in 2015.

Police said that when they approached Drouin, the pupils of his eyes were the size of pinpoints, he slurred his speech and his eyes were glassy and bloodshot.

The officer asked Drouin to blow into his interlock device and his blood alcohol level registered as zero.

When asked why his eyes appeared the way they did, Drouin told them he had taken some medication and handed them two empty medication bottles.

Drouin consented to a field sobriety test but had a difficult time maintaining his balance once out of the car. He told the police he didn't wear glasses, that he had major knee surgery and a brain injury that affects his balance.

The police performed a "horizontal gaze nystagmus" test on Drouin and he allegedly showed six clues of intoxication. They also said he couldn't perform the walk-and-turn test, the one-leg stand test, and was unable to touch his nose with his finger.

Drouin refused to take a blood test, which is his right, and was placed under arrest. He didn't have a passenger and said he had nobody to pick up his car so police had it towed by a local contractor. The inventory search revealed a plastic bag filled with a green leafy vegetative matter and a burnt pipe that smelled like marijuana. The search stopped and the car was towed to Tilton so Barnstead Police could apply for a search warrant.

Drouin is also charged with possession less than one ounce of marijuana and transporting less than an ounce of marijuana in a vehicle, both of which are misdemeanors.

He was held overnight in the Belknap County House of Corrections and has since posted bail.

– Gail Ober

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‘Reckless,’ no charges

County Attorney says Belmont officer who fired gun at fleeing car will not face court


LACONIA — An officer who fired five shots at a fleeing car on Oct. 28 will not face criminal charges, said Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen. Nevertheless, Guldbrandsen did say the force used by Belmont Police Officer Patrick Riley was not in proportion to the possible threat future harm posed by the driver, Hayden Moon.

Guldbrandsen said filing a criminal charge against Riley for reckless conduct with a deadly weapon would be difficult, if not impossible, to prove in court.

Guldbrandsen said that to bring criminal charges against Riley for reckless conduct with a deadly weapon would mean that the state would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt all of the elements of the crime and that the defense would undoubtedly and realistically argue that a portion of state law that says "whenever a law enforcement officer reasonably believes (an) arrest is lawful and there is no other means of effecting the arrest," deadly force can be justified.

Riley was on routine patrol in the early morning hours of Oct. 28 when he came upon Moon, who was parked on South Road with his engine running and his headlights on. Riley approached the car and asked the driver for some identification and Moon allegedly responded that he was waiting for his friend, "Hayden." Shortly thereafter, he admitted to his true identity.

Riley returned to his cruiser and verified that Moon was wanted on an outstanding warrant with a condition of $1,000 cash bail. Riley returned to the car and told Moon he was going to arrest him.

Riley also noticed a small canister between Moon's legs that, in his experience, could be used for smoking methamphetamine. Riley, who cooperated with the Major Crimes Division of the New Hampshire State Police during the investigation, said that Moon begged him not to arrest him.

Instead of complying with the arrest, Moon allegedly accelerated at a rapid speed and Riley was caught between the open car door and the moving car. He told investigators that he was dragged about 100 feet, by his own estimate, and suffered a minor leg injury.

After he freed himself, Riley took out his Glock 19 9mm gun and fired five times at the fleeing car, but missed. Moon allegedly abandoned the car and it was found later in Loudon. Moon was arrested on Nov. 14 by Tilton Police conducting a routine traffic stop.

As it applies to Riley, Moon is charged with one count of felony reckless conduct with a deadly weapon, one count of resisting arrest and one count of simple assault.

As of Dec. 16, Riley was still on the payroll of the town of Belmont. He has been on a paid administrative leave since the incident. According to Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin, Riley is employed by the Belmont Police Department and has been paid $817.60 weekly through Dec. 10, but is no longer on paid administrative duty. She declined to provide any further information regarding Riley's work status, claiming "personnel issues."

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