Judge denies Amy Lafond’s request for sentence reduction

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — A Belknap County Superior Court judge has denied a request to credit the woman who killed one teen and seriously injured another with 180 days toward her sentence for completing three life-skills classes while incarcerated.
Judge James O'Neill said he agreed with Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen who said the new law that would have credited Amy Lafond, 54, with the 180 days didn't go into effect until after she was sentenced for negligent homicide and second degree assault on May 29, 2014.
The Earned Time Credit law credits convicted felons with up to 180 days off a sentence if the inmate completes technical training, earns an associate's or bachelor's degree, engages in a family connections program and/or a mental health program. It became effective Sept. 9, 2014, and is intended to provide a reward for an inmate who tries to better himself or herself while incarcerated.
Guldbrandsen said in her objection that the sentences of 3 1/2 to 7 years for the negligent homicide and 3 to 7 years for the second-degree assault were the products of lengthy negotiations by her and Lafond's attorney Mark Sisti, and that if the law had been in effect when she was sentenced, it would have been taken it into consideration at that time.
She went on to say that the existing sentences were the "absolute minimum" that the state could impose in light of the crimes, the input from the victims' families, and the opinions of the Laconia Police.
Guldbrandsen said that she also contacted the families, who are very much against Lafond getting any reduced time.
Lafond pleaded guilty to killing Lilyanne Johnson and seriously injuring Allyssa Miner when she crossed a double line on Messer Street and struck the two as they were walking on the sidewalk.
Lafond is eligible for parole in September of 2019.

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DeVoy raps county convention’s fund balance move as ‘gimmick’

By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Belknap County Commission Chairman David DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) said the county convention's 11-4 vote on Tuesday night to use an additional $600,000 from the county's fund balance to pay off existing debt is a "gimmick" which poses a threat to the county's long-term financial viability.
"'The money to pay the debt is already in the budget we proposed which holds the line on taxes. So what this is is an attempt to lower the tax rate without regard to what happens next year. We have to look at this from a long-term perspective about what's best for the county, not only today, but in the years ahead." said DeVoy.
But Rep. Brian Gallagher (R-Sanbornton), who proposed increasing the amount of the fund balance to be used to reduce the amount to be raised by taxes from $1.7 million to $2.3 million, said that is an appropriate use of the current fund balance
"We're at $4.3 million for a fund balance now, which is $600,000 more than was projected last year. It's a way of reducing taxes without putting pressure on the fund balance" said Gallagher.
Coupled with a $150,000 increase in anticipated pro share revenues for the nursing home, which the convention also approved, the amount of money to be raised by taxes in the convention's proposed budget is $12,956,223, about $880,000 less than the $13,837,714 proposed by the commission.
But DeVoy maintains that the fund balance could be put to better use in the near future by applying part of it to reduce the cost of an $8 million bond issue for a community corrections facility. He said that the approach he is recommending is obtaining a bond anticipation note of about $4 million to fund the project on a piecemeal basis in 2016 and waiting until the following year before floating a bond, which he anticipates would result in a savings to the county on interest costs.
Gallagher said the commission has chosen not to follow the approach recommended by the convention when it approved the the $8 million bond issue in November of using the fund balance to pay down current bond issue costs and obtaining a bond early this year.
"They've talked about different methods but haven't approved a plan. It appears that the county would be paying interest costs twice on the same money, once for the bond anticipation note and then for the bond itself," said Gallagher.

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Commissioner questions county budget cuts, given minimal tax impact

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — The taxpayers of Belknap County are among the most affluent and bear the lightest county tax burden in comparison to their counterparts in the other five counties with populations of less than 100,000, according to County Commissioner Hunter Taylor.
As the Belknap County Convention whittled away at the 2016 county budget recommended by the Belknap County Commission, Taylor, who represents Alton, Gilford, Meredith and Center Harbor, prepared an extensive analysis to measure the impact of the proposed reductions in county expenditures for so-called outside agencies on the property tax rates of the city of Laconia and 10 towns.
Taylor said Thursday that his aim was to demonstrate that the reduced expenditures proposed by the convention provided minimal returns to county taxpayers while crippling programs and services that significantly benefit the county, its municipalities and its residents.
Taylor concluded that because the county tax represents only between 5 percent and 10 percent of total property tax bills, "even big cuts in county budget lines do not have a large impact," let alone what he called the "miniscule" reductions proposed by the convention. For a $200,000 residential property in the county, annual property tax bills range between $5,654 in Belmont and $2,854 in Alton while the county portion represents between $249 and $290 of the total.
Taylor pointed out that a proposal by a subcommittee of the convention to eliminate $224,014 in funding for outside agencies, like the Belknap Economic Council, Genesis Behavioral Health, Belknap County Conservation Commission and University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Service, would spare taxpayers owning a $200,000 home no more than $4 or $5 a year. The convention appears willing to restore most but not all the funding, rendering any savings to taxpayers even less — a mere $1.46 on average.
Taylor calculated that Belknap County spends $6.95 per capita on its outside agencies, the least of the six counties with populations of less than 100,000. Cheshire County spends $14.22, Coos County, the poorest of the six, spends $$12.81, Sullivan County spends $12.38, Grafton County spends $9.64 and Carroll County spends $9.29.
"We're at the bottom of the heap and headed in the wrong direction," Taylor said.
At the same time, Taylor compared the tax burden in Belknap County to that of Carroll, Cheshire, Coos, Grafton and Sullivan counties, which also have fewer that 100,000 residents. He found that the per capita tax burden in Belknap County of $229.45 was the lowest among the six counties. The per capita tax burden was $433.82 in Coos County, $368.55 in Carroll County, $307.86 in Cheshire County, $295.94 Sullivan County and $249.53 in Grafton County.
On the other hand, Taylor found that the median household income in Belknap County was $60,782, the highest among the six counties. The median home value in the county of $220,600 was topped only by the $225,000 of Carroll County. And Belknap County had the smallest share of its population living in poverty at 10 percent.
Taylor noted that Cheshire County has funded both a mental health court and a drug court and said that "Belknap County could do the same along with a drug treatment program without adding any significant burden to the county taxpayers."

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