By Thomas P. Caldwell
DANBURY — Superintendent Stacy Buckley and Business Administrator Michael Limanni reviewed the preliminary Newfound Area School District FY 2015-2016 budget with the district's budget committee last week, elaborating on some points and describing the adjustments to come in order to present a proposal that will fall within the property tax cap.
Buckley noted that Newfound is one of only two or three school districts in the state that have tax caps, apart from those like Franklin that work under a city-wide cap. She said the problem with Newfound is that past budgets have not included planned maintenance and she would like to get such plans in place; but doing so creates the need to reduce other areas of spending to avoid exceeding the tax cap.
Limanni said working on a budget at this time of year is hampered by the uncertainty of many sources of revenue, such as state adequacy aid. Normally, school districts can work with estimates when the actual numbers are unknown but, because of the tax cap, Newfound needs to be much more exact. With revenues in the range of $8.5 million, and a tax cap that limits the school district assessment to a two percent increase, minor fluctuations in income categories can create major problems for a tax cap district.
The budget committee was interested in finding out how the newly negotiated teachers' union agreement and the possibility of implementing full-day kindergarten fit into the central office's budget proposal. Buckley noted that the teachers' contract will appear in a separate warrant article, so the budget will need to be adjusted down to make room for the $305,620 in cost items associated with the first year of the contract. As for all-day kindergarten, she explained that the Newfound Area School Board will be taking up that topic at its next meeting.
"We have three schools that could potentially move to full-day kindergarten," she said, "but to do that at Bristol Elementary School would require one and a half more teachers."
As she did when presenting the budget to the school board earlier this month, Buckley went through her list of staffing adjustments, saying that, as much as possible, she is "trying to be creative when positions open up to see how we can be more efficient and more effective". As an example, she noted that, with a reduced population at the middle school, she reduced a secretary's position from full-time to part-time when the previous secretary left the district. There are other instances where she was able to replace aides with a paraprofessional to consolidate services.
In discussing the maintenance of facilities, Buckley corrected statements that had surfaced during the discussions about closing the middle school. "There is no problem with water in the basement," she said. While there had been problems in the past with water seeping into the building, in recent years the building has remained dry. The only problem had been a year ago when unusually warm and humid weather had caused a mold problem; but she noted the high school also had problems with mold that year.
The reason for wanting to replace the electronic fire panel at the middle school is that the current one, while in working order, only identifies that there is a problem, not what the problem is. A modern fire panel identifies exactly what needs to be done, Limanni explained.
In the area of technology, one of the proposals is to install Microsoft Office on all computers. Since the school board asked the district to migrate from Macintoshes to PCs, only some administrators have Office software; other staff members are using software that is incompatible, so they cannot "talk" with each other. Even those with Office have different versions of the software. The plan is to install the same version on all computers to make them more functional.
Likewise, the telephone system at the schools is antiquated with no replacements available, and classroom teachers lack the ability to communicate except by cell phones with unreliable reception. Buckley said that, as well as being inconvenient, it poses a safety concern, should an intruder make it into the schools.
Asked about the impact of tuition from Hill, should that school district choose to realign with Newfound, Buckley said there is no way to estimate that at the moment, as Hill has not even decided whether to choose Newfound and, once it does, the two sides would have to negotiate a tuition agreement.
Limanni said Newfound has proposed using Franklin's tuition formula, adjusted for Newfound expenses, but that there are a number of other factors that go into an agreement. "It might be a 10-year agreement, and we have no idea what will happen with the school population over that time period," he said. "We would need to build in variables to account for those changes, and there might be building constraints." While saying Hill students could be accommodated at present without additional staff at Newfound, Limanni added, "You wouldn't want to set up an agreement that, with the variables, makes you miss out on a million dollars. In a business, you'd never make a decision that way."
At the start of the meeting, the budget committee took up an issue Skip Reilly of Alexandria had raised last month: Limanni's requirement that budget committee members submit proof of eligibility to work in the United States and their Social Security numbers before receiving their school district stipends. Limanni said that, under Internal Revenue Service regulations, all those who receive money from the school district are "employees" who must submit the forms.
On Oct. 22, Limanni said he had checked with the N.H. Department of Labor which does not view elected officials as employees, in conflict with the IRS. When he asked for a letter from the Department of Labor stating that the district is exempt from IRS rules, the department refused to do so, he said.
Reilly tried to make the case that, if they are employees, they should have Workers' Compensation benefits; but Limanni said Workers' Comp falls under the jurisdiction of the Labor Department which does not consider them employees.
The budget committee resolved the issue by voting to discontinue its $100-a-year stipend, established to compensate members for their traveling expenses during budget season.
No one offered to second Reilly's motion to ask the school district to contact the N.H. School Boards Association to find out if the issue had ever been raised there and, if so, what the outcome had been. The motion called for the district to seek a legal opinion from the NHSBA attorney if the issue had not come up before.
The budget committee will meet next at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 13, at Newfound Memorial Middle School. At that time, the group will decide whether to publicly support the new teachers' contract and submit a letter to newspapers.
Last Updated on Thursday, 30 October 2014 01:12
GILFORD — The Zoning Board of Adjustment voted unanimously Tuesday night not to consider an appeal of a Planning Board decision to deny a request from Inns and Motels of the Lakes Region to erect 370 solar panels at 16 Kimball Road because the appeal was filed late.
ZBA attorney Laura Spector-Morgan advised the board that by it's own ordinance, appeals of Planning Board decisions must be made within 30 days.
"There is nothing in the rules of procedure that allows the board to waive the 30 days," Spector-Morgan said.
The town contends the Planning Board decision to deny the proposal was made on August 17 and Inns and Motels of the Lakes Region was represented at that meeting by attorney Phil Brouillard. The notice of the decision was issued on September 5 but Brouillard did not file appeal of the decision until October 16.
"He could have filed something and amended it later," Spector-Morgan said.
Brouillard said that state law provides a "reasonable" amount of time to file an appeal and that he was also under the impression that the decision made by the Planning Board was not the final decision.
He said the written decision was not issued until about four or five days before the filing deadline for the ZBA meeting in September and he was under the impression that it would be okay with the town to file for the October. Brouillard said he was only just notified that his appeal could be rejected because of timeliness.
He said all parties, including the town planner, the town's attorneys, himself and the property owner have been working on the project since March when it was first proposed and he was operating under the premise that there was some ambiguity in the town ordinance that needed to be addressed — specifically that the town ordinance doesn't mention solar farms. They are neither allowed nor prohibited.
"There was no clarity," he said.
Brouillard noted that Town Planner John Ayer did not attend the August 17 meeting because he was on a planned vacation. At that meeting, board members noted Ayers absence and said they were going to deny the decision anyway because, in their opinion, the proposal was not a reasonable use of the 1.4-acre parcel.
Sixteen Kimball Road is owned by Willard Drew and is the piece of property across Kimball Road from his Lakes Region Cafe and Tavern nightclub.
Drew, through a different attorney, David Bownes, and in an unrelated matter, recently filed suit against the town of Gilford for actions it took in the 2011 drug raid of the former Mardi Gras North which at the time was operating independently on Drew's nightclub property.
When Drew reapplied for his local exotic dancing license in October of 2013, he claims the town maliciously "caused to be published" false and defamatory statements about the property at 15 Kimball Road, including that it had "the elements of a methamphetamine lab," was used for "manufacturing, possession, use, sale and distribution of illegal drugs, and had repeatedly violated liquor laws. As a result Drew "suffered a loss to his reputation and good standing in the community."
Last Updated on Thursday, 30 October 2014 01:05
LACONIA — This week the City Council again deferred a decision what to do with a tract of land, which the city leases to Lakeport Landing Marina, once the lease expires late next year.
The council asked City Manager Scott Myers to have a city attorney present at its November 10 meeting so that it could could be briefed on what it can or cannot do with regard to negotiating a lease or sale with Lakeport Landing or any other party interested in the lot.
The 0.81 acre lot lies between the roadway and railway and runs from Elm Street northward to halfway between Harrison Street and Walnut Street. In 1987 Lakeport Landing constructed a 35,284 square-foot building on the lot. The property has an assessed value of $389,600 of which the building represents $263,200.
The property was leased to Lakeport Landing in 1985 for 10 years with two, 10-year renewal periods, which have been exercised. The lease expires on November 1, 2015 and cannot be renewed or extended. At the termination of the lease all buildings and improvements on the lot become the property of the city.
Erica Blizzard, who owns the marina, asked the council to clarify the city's intentions for the property. She told the council that the loss of the property would have "a significant impact on our business." She explained that the building houses the firm's offices and showrooms. Although the marina owns three other building in the immediate vicinity, on lower Paugus Bay, she said that each is built to specific purpose and cannot be converted to accommodate sales and administration.
"We could not offer boat sales at that location," Blizzard said, explaining that its sales operation would have to be moved to another location and because it would be difficult to find waterfront property, "we would undoubtedly lose sales."
In a memorandum to the council, Purchasing Officer Jonathan Gardner explained that the council may choose to sell, lease or hold the property. To sell the property the City Manager would be required to certify that it has no immediate or foreseeable use, declare it surplus and sell it to the highest bidder. On the other hand, if the council chooses to lease the property, he suggested it would be bound to advertise it and seek the highest rent.
Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4) said that "to say Lakeport Landing can't continue to use the property as it has is another way of being unfair to business."
However, City Manager Scott Myers reminded the council that the original lease sparked litigation. He said that the lot has "a significant history" and he has already received correspondence and may expressions of interest from the abutter (Irwin Marine). He said that he would consult legal counsel to determine what arrangement, if any, can be negotiated with the existing tenant
Meanwhile, responding to suggestions from several residents and business owners Myers agreed to explore the possibility of converting the property to a municipal parking lot. Since the lot can only be reached by crossing the active railway, he said that the New Hampshire Department of Transportation appears reluctant to permit a crossing. Alternatively,Myers suggested the lot might be subdivided in two and the portion with the building either leased or sold and, if possible, the remainder used for parking.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 October 2014 12:54
LACONIA — The Belknap County Convention and Belknap County Commissioners inched closer together in their ongoing battle over health care costs Monday night when the convention's Executive Committee approved budget transfers which put off until next month a decision on whether some county employees will be asked to pony up for the county's share of their health insurance premiums for the rest of the year to make up for an overall deficit in that line item.
But despite the agreement to transfer some $34,000 to cover the health insurance costs of five departments through Nov. 17, the perspectives of the members of the committee as expressed at Monday's meeting and those of the commissioners at the same meeting show that tensions still are simmering just below the surface in the two-year long battle on budget line item authority.
The convention won a temporary injunction in Belknap County Superior Court which prohibits the commissioners from transferring funds in excess of $300 from any line item in the budget approved by the convention in March.
Executive Committee Chairman Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) at first Monday wanted to put off addressing all the transfer requests, except for transfer of $10,292 from the Maintenance Department's health insurance line to cover the nursing home's administrative insurance costs which was approved as the first order of business, until Nov. 17. It was only after commissioners and Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen pointed out that a real emergency was being faced by the county, which would have to notify workers in five departments that they would be responsible for all of their insurance premium costs, including that normally paid by the county, as of Nov. 1, that he agreed to recess the meeting to allow commissioners to prepare a budget transfer proposal which would get the county through to mid-November. County officials also said that it is a certainty that if the county doesn't pay its share of the health insurance costs that the unions representing county workers will sue for breach of contract.
Tilton also expressed skepticism about whether the proposed transfers sought by the commission were necessary, maintaining that these should be looked at only after it was clear that the entire $2.6 million appropriated by the convention for health care was going to be used.
And he said that the convention had never been informed that a fourth union representing county workers had been certified earlier this year and that even though no contract has been negotiated their health insurance benefits must be paid. ''If you're doing things we don't know about, that's outside the budget process. I know nothing of any commitment,'' said Tilton.
County Administrator Debra Shackett said that it was a matter of public record that the union had been certified and that it had been discussed at their meetings. and there was no attempt to hide anything from the convention.
Following the committee's approval of the $34,000 in transfers Tilton said that it appeared that the $93,667 sought in transfers by the commission was excessive, which prompted an exchange with Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia), who said that transfer requests which will be presented at the Nov. 17 meeting could push the total to over $90,000.
''I'll explain my math to you after the meeting,'' said Tilton, which prompted Philpot to reply ''I don't need you to explain anything to me. Any explanation you might give to me would be suspect.''
During the exchange members of the audience, largely county employees and relatives of residents of the Belknap County Nursing Home, several times called for Tilton to apologize.
At a 10-minute public input session following the conclusion of the committee's votes on transfer requests, Rep. Dennis Fields (R-Sanbornton) defended County Administrator Shackett saying she had done a wonderful job for the county and that the committee's actions were ''shameful.''
Gordon Blais of Meredith praised the Executive Committee for it's actions and said that the county was being run by ''Moe, Larry and Curly and the Wicked Witch of the West,'' referring to the commissioners and administrator.
Bob Joseph of New Hampton criticized Tilton for what he said is ''a negative attitude toward the people who work for the county.'' He said that he has been a Republican voter for over 50 years but wouldn't vote for any of the members of the committee. ''This is our meeting and you listen to us,'' said Joseph.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 October 2014 12:50
- Taylor Community opens new memory care 'neighborhood' at Ledgeview
- City Council agrees to pay $20k to Public Access TV in hopes others will follow suit
- 2 apparent drug overdise deaths in city
- Gilmanton men facing charges related to alleged meth sales
- Young boy on scooter collides with car
- Executive committee grants some transfer requests but not enough to resolve health insurance issue