City looking for public input on WOW Trail


LACONIA — All aspects of the route planned for the second phase of the Winnipesaukee-Opechee-Winnisquam (WOW) Trail, a stretch of 5,000 feet following the railway corridor from the Laconia Public Library to the Belmont town line, will be the subject of a public hearing by the City Council Monday.

The easements, exceptions and permits required to construct the trail are in hand with two exceptions. The WOW Trail committee has requested that the City Council eliminate a dedicated right-turn lane at the intersection of New Salem Street and Main Street and a dozen parallel parking spaces on New Salem Street from below its intersection with Pleasant Street to the Salvation Army Thrift Store.

Eliminating the right-turn lane from New Salem Street onto Main Street is intended to ensure a safe crossing of Main Street, which is required to link the first and second phases of the trail. Allan Beetle, president of the WOW Trail committee, told the council last month that a traffic study found that relatively few motorists seeking to proceed west on Church Street or south through downtown use the turning lane, preferring to enter Veterans Square from Pleasant Street.

The parking spaces on New Salem Street have aroused more controversy. According to Beetle, the engineers designing the trail found there is not enough space between the center line of the street and the track to accommodate both the 12 parking spaces and the 10-foot wide trail. There is 25 feet between the center line of the street and the fencing along the railway, which the New Hampshire Department of Transportation has required to separate the trail from the track room enough for the travel lane and either the trail or the parking, but not both.

In addition, prior to the City Council meeting, which begins at 7 p.m., the School Board will present its 2016-2017 budget to the council at 6 p.m.

No raise possible without policy change

GILFORD — Town Administrator Scott Dunn told the selectmen last week that the town has four nonunion employees who have reached the upper limit of their earning power under the current pay scale and have no possibility of ever getting a raise unless the the board acts.

Dunn suggested that the town either adopt a new pay scale that has still has 10 steps but is recalculated such that an employee reaches maximum earnings after someone has been employed by the town for 20 years and has earned an average of a 2.5 percent merit raise annually. Right now, the pay scale is based on 13 years.

Dunn also suggested that the board consider a longevity bonus – something that in that aroused the ire of the Budget Committee in approving this year's school budget.

"It has an impact on morale," said Dunn.

While selectmen had some discussion and did approve some changes to the way town employees are paid, reworking the entire pay scale and/or adding longevity bonuses is something they want to study.

"I would consider some kind of longevity bonus but only if there is no change to the actual pay scale," said Selectmen's Chairman Richard "Rags" Grenier said Monday after he said he had given it some thought.

He went on to say that a one-time annual bonus based on merit wouldn't compound the way an adjustment to the pay scale would.

Dunn said Monday that he is of the opinion that changing the pay scale is not something the selectmen are willing to consider, especially after he told them at the meeting that readjusting it would only give the town two years before employees begin to back up against it again.

The proposed longevity pay is such that each employee who has reached the top of his or her scale would get from $20 to $40 for every year worked beyond the time they hit the top of their scale. The $20 is based on a a 2 percent merit rating while the maximum is based on a 4 percent merit increase. Dunn said the average merit rating in Gilford is 2.5 percent.

Selectmen approved a change in the insurance buyout plan in that an employee who gets their insurance elsewhere is entitled to 50 percent of the cost of the HMO plan for a single person. An eligible employee whose spouse or parent works for Gilford is entitled to 25 percent. For employees who are taking a higher percentage of a buyout under the previous policy will continue as is until there is a change in their eligibility.

A second approved change is that police sergeants can get compensatory time instead of paid time and one-half. Selectman said it would cut down on the overtime paid to sergeants but still compensate them for overtime. Before selectmen unanimously approved this, no police officer could get compensatory time.

Access to health care is priority for new county committee


LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners on Wednesday named Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) and Belknap County Administrator Debra Shackett as its committee members on the state's Delivery System Reform Incentive Program.
The initiative is in response to the New Hampshire Health Protection Program, which by expanding eligibility for Medicaid and providing benefits for substance abuse has increased demand for services in short supply. Currently, 92 percent of adults who require treatment for alcohol abuse and 84 percent of adults who require treatment for drug abuse go without it. At the same time, two of every three people with mental illness admitted to the New Hampshire Hospital spend more than one day waiting in an emergency room until a bed becomes available.
In January, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved the state's request to fund transforming the system for providing mental health and substance abuse services. The so-called "transformation waiver" will provide $150 million over five years to apply toward offering integrated physical and behavioral health care, expanding capacity to address emergent behavioral health issues, and ensuring an unbroken continuum of care as patients pass from one provider to another.
The principal agents of the program will be seven "integrated delivery networks," or IDNs, one of which will consist of the Central and Winnipesaukee public health networks, consisting of Belknap County, 18 towns in Grafton County and three towns in Merrimack County. Altogether, some 16,000 people in the network are enrolled in Medicaid, 12,000 of them in the Winnipesaukee network.
The IDNs will organize and coordinate the providers within the network as well as receive and distribute funding to them. The partners in the networks must include primary care physicians, substance abuse providers, hospitals, community mental health centers, community and rural health centers, community organizations providing social services and county nursing and correctional facilities.
Last month commissioners agreed to become an affiliate member of the Community Health Services Network LLC, the umbrella IDN organization formed for the Central and Winnipesaukee region.
The Winnipesaukee Health Council has identified access to behavioral health care, including substance abuse treatment, as a high priority in the region. In January, the Community Health Services Network LLC was formed. The network includes LRGHeathcare, Speare Memorial Hospital, Genesis Behavioral Health, Horizons Counseling Center, HealthFirst, Lakes Region Partnership for Public Health, Lakes Region Community Services, Central New Hampshire Hospice and Visiting Nurse Association, Franklin Visiting Nurse Association and Community Action Program Belknap-Merrimack Counties.