Laconia School Board takes aim at tax cap over cuts

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — "You're giving us a plate of s*** and slapping us in the face," a veteran teacher at Elm Street School told the School Board when it considered the 2016-2017 school district budget Tuesday night. "I don't get where you're going with this."

The remarks reflected premonitions that positions would be eliminated and pay raises withheld as the board, like a gaggle of limbo dancers, struggles to craft a budget that will pass under the low bar set by the tax cap.

A roomful of employees and parents, a number of whom were one and the same, echoed concerns expressed a week before about the likely closure of the Child Development Program at the Huot Technical Center and the adverse effects of the tax cap on the district's capacity to serve its students.

Earlier this month, City Manager Scott Myers advised interim School Superintendent Phil McCormack that the allowable increase in the school district budget would be $386,684, a figure that could increase slightly with the additional value of new construction accrued this month. Each $1 million of value of new construction would support approximately $12,000 of additional expenditure.

Business Administrator Ed Emond explained that the district is facing increased costs of $660,00 for special education, $390,000 for health insurance, $60,00 for workers' compensation, $35,000 for utilities, $20,000 for contractual obligations and $15,000 for transportation, which are offset by a $190,000 reduction in debt service, leaving a net increase of $990,000. At the same time, he said that revenue from sources other than property taxes is projected to drop by $686,000, with a $400,000 decrease in state aid representing the largest share of the shortfall. Finally, Emond said that negotiations with the Laconia Education Association and other unions representing employees of the district are underway.

A schedule of proposed cuts amounting to $1,641,995 prepared by the Budget and Personnel Committee was distributed. The list included eliminating 11 teaching positions – two in the elementary schools, three at the middle school and six at the high school – along with two administrative positions, a councilor and two secretarial positions. Other proposed cuts included the elementary school band program and reductions to to athletic programs at the middle and high schools.

Stacie Sirois, who chairs the board, stressed that no decisions had been made or votes taken, while McCormack said that the list represented "choices," none of them easy to make.

Chad Vaillancourt, who was echoed by others, pointed to the tax cap and urged parents to "start pushing back at the city level" and "call your city councilor." He referred to the plight of the schools in Franklin, which have operated under a tax cap since 1989. "See what goes on in Franklin," he said, "and reach out to you friends and family."

Steve Bogert, who chairs the Zoning Board of Adjustment, disagreed, saying that the problem lay not with tax cap but with the downshifting of costs and obligations by the federal and state governments to the local school districts.

McCormack replied that while the downshifting of costs and obligations weighs on all school districts, the tax cap requires reductions in expenditures. "There is no other option," he said.

"I am not happy with the proposed budget," began Mike Persson, a member of the Budget and Personnel Committee, reading from a prepared statement, "and believe that the cuts to existing programs that it contemplates are going to have a lasting adverse impact on our students. However," he continued, "under the tax cap provisions of the City Charter, the School District cannot propose a budget based upon the actual educational needs of our students."

Persson conceded that "the proposed cuts represent the best possible scenario under the circumstances" and said he would vote for the budget, which he called "woefully inadequate," as the best means for the school district to meet its obligations under the tax cap.

Noting that the tax cap also bears heavily on the city budget, Persson said, "If the override provision of the tax cap were ever going to be used, this would be the year to do it. Unfortunately, " he went on, "even if the City Council were to override the cap, this override does not roll over to the following year, and we will be in the same or worse position next year." He concluded that "without a change to the override provision of the tax cap, this year's budget crisis will be an annual occurrence."

The School Board voted to budget to the maximum amount permitted by the tax cap, a figure that remains to be determined, then tabled the budget until it meets again on Thursday, March 24.

On tape: First alleged victim of former deputy admitted to wanting sex

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

MANCHESTER — An attorney representing a former Belknap County Deputy who has been indicted for 10 counts of rape is asking a Hillsborough County North judge to admit into evidence a recording the alleged victim had with one of her friends saying she wanted to have sex with him.

The conversation, which was recorded at the Strafford County Jail on Sept. 4, 2015, was given to Ernest Justin Blanchette's lawyer, Brad Davis, in December as part of the state's responsibility to provide him with all of the evidence, including that which may be considered exculpatory.

A snippet of the recording indicates the victim, identified as B.H., informed her friend that she had two lawyers coming to visit her regarding a lawsuit she planned to file. Her friend replied that (a lawsuit) is "just ridiculous" because B.H. was a willing participant.

B.H. said that it didn't matter, to which her friend replied, "It does matter, you've destroyed him."

Blanchette also wants a jury to hear B.H. admitting the sex was "consensual" and the lawyers know it.

Her friend suggests B.H. just want to (have sex with) him, to which B.H. replied, "Of course I did, he's (expletive) sexy."

Blanchette faces one count of having sex with B.H. in an abandoned home in Bedford while he was transporting her from the Belknap County House of Corrections to the New Hampshire State Prison for Women in Goffstown, he has put forward a consent defense.

The prosecution said the law is clear and there can be no consent when one person has custody over another, in this case Blanchette over a prisoner. In two separate matters pending in the Belknap County Superior Court, Blanchette faces two additional counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault against the same victim. He faces seven more rape charges for alleged actions taken with other inmates during official custody and transport.

Blanchette's legal argument is that a statement isn't hearsay, or second hand, if one of the participants plans on taking the stand to testify as a victim. He noted for the court that B.H. is expected to be the primary witness.

He also said that under different rules of evidence, the recording shows that B.H. intends to capitalize on her alleged encounter(s) with Blanchette and that it is evidence of her state of mind.

Davis noted that conversations in jail are routinely recorded and each incarcerated person incarcerated signs a waiver that says he or she understands this.

The prosecution has not replied to the motion. Final pretrial is scheduled for April 25.

County should see increased reimbursements with addition of record-keeping equipment

By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Record keeping should become easier at the Belknap County Nursing Home as the county has approved the purchase of a dozen kiosks for medical staff to use.

Belknap County Commissioners Wednesday morning approved a request from Belknap County Nursing Home Interim Administrator Bob Hemenway to waive the county's competitive bidding process and award a $19,152 contract for purchase of dozen kiosks for the nursing home to CareWorx.

The change is designed to stem what Hemenway has estimated is a $185,420 yearly loss in Medicaid income due to lack of adequate documentation of services provided for residents.
He has said that most of the seven county nursing homes in the state which have been using an electronic medical records program have turned their situations around and are receiving increased reimbursements.

The kiosks are a key element in implementing an electronic medical records system for the county home and will be paid for with $20,000 in funds set aside from last year's capital improvements budget.
Commissioners were told by County Administrator Debra Shackett that action was imperative as the CareWorx quote for the project, which had been extended by the firm in order to allow the county to finalize its 2016 budget, would expire at the end of the day.
Hemenway said he recommended CareWorx because it has a good working relationship with PointClickCare, which provides software currently used by the nursing home, because its wall mounting system is superior to that of other bidders, and because it has a 24/7 help desk and provides a two-year extended warranty.
Commissioners also approved spending $16,000 for additional hardware for the project, $5,500 with PointClickCare for a server for the system, $5,000 with Mainstay Technologies for a 48-port switch and $5,500 with Northeast Electrical Solutions for wiring. Only $8,850 has been budgeted for that hardware and commissioners will seek to transfer $7,150 from the professional management services line in this year's budget to cover the additional expense.
The commission also approved using $12,440 to cover software costs for the new system.
Hemenway said the new system will be phased in over the next several months and that he doesn't anticipate it being fully functional until the end of the year.