LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners have agreed to provide legal counsel to the County Convention Chair, State Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), and Convention Clerk Rep. Jane Cormier (R-Alton) in the lawsuit filed against them by the five Democratic members of the convention. The minority has asked Belknap County Superior Court to overturn a 7-7 tie vote that blocked adoption of the 2014 county budget recommended by the commission on Feb. 18.
The commissioners had originally made the appropriation contingent on the convention approving a supplemental appropriation of $10,000 for 2014 but dropped that requirement with a telephone poll taken earlier this week.
A hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for April 3 in Belknap County Superior Court. .
The controversial vote was taken when the convention met in the midst of a heavy snowstorm on Feb 18. Only 13 of the 18 members were present when the meeting was convened a half-hour past the scheduled hour of 5 p.m. In addition to those who showed up for the meeting, Worsman (R-Meredith), arranged for Rep. Guy Comtois (R-Barnstead), who was tending to a failing roof, to participate by telephone.
The suit, naming Worsman and Cormier, the clerk of the convention, alleges that Worsman violated the provisions of the Right-to-Know Law bearing on members participating by telephone. The Democrats note that the convention was not required to allow one or more members to participate by "electronic means" and claim the decision properly rested with the convention, not the chair. Moreover, they charge that no prior notice was given to the convention that Comtois would be permitted to participate by telephone nor was the reason he could not be physically present recorded in the minutes as the statute requires. Finally, contrary to the law, Comtois failed to identify anyone else present at the location from which he was participating.
Consequently, the Democrats claim that since "Rep. Comtois' vote was unlawful and in violation of RSA 91-A:2" the vote should be overturned.
When the convention met on March 4 Worsman sought to amend the minutes of meeting of Feb. 18 to show that before the meeting was convened she and other members referred to the Right-to-Know law and discussed the procedure for allowing Comtois to participate by telephone. But that motion failed 5-4 with four abstentions.
Last Updated on Saturday, 29 March 2014 12:07
LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners Thursday afternoon agreed to a number of line item transfers within departmental budgets in an an effort to deal with the impact of an $850,000 cut made by the Belknap County Convention to their proposed $26.57 million 2014 county budget.
The commissioners followed the same course as they did last year in dealing with a budget cut and again defied the convention's assertion of line item control over the entire budget, fortifying their case by releasing a letter from their attorney which supported their position.
''No statutory authority exists to suggest that an individual county delegation can make appropriations for the detailed sub accounts listed in the working budget,'' read the the letter from Attorney Sharon Cuddy Somers of the law firm of Donahue, Tucker and Ciandella, the county's legal counsel.
She also noted that case law clearly indicates the delegation does not possess the same ''legislative powers'' as they are used to exercising as state legislators and do not have the right to pass ''legislative judgment'' on the costs of programs submitted for funding, including such items as the wages of non-elected officials.
When the Convention passed its budget it also passed a motion by Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) which required that the commissioners obtain approval from the convention's Executive Committee for all line item budget transfers. But Somers said that the statute that Tilton cited, RSA 24:14, authorizes restrictions on appropriations, not line items, and that therefore authority to restrict transfers must tie in with appropriations as listed on the MS-42 form filed with the Division of Revenue Administration.
She said that the commissioners have the obligation to comply with the vote on transfers, but only insofar as its involves transfers between departments,
Somers also said the commission could make transfers within the funding of each department in order to carry out their mandated duties, including the contractual obligations of providing health insurance.
To date commissioners have cut four positions all at the nursing home, none were direct care positions and two were part-time.
County Administrator Shackett said that the process of making the transfers within departments involved all of the department heads and a careful weighing of the impact of each transfer.
She said a reduction in the projected health insurance increase for county employees to about half of the estimated 13.42 percent was one bit of good news but that it was due more to the overall performance of the Local Government Center insurance group than Belknap County's performance.
Departments taking major hits were the Corrections and Sheriff's Department.
The Sheriff's Department saw part-time wages for deputies cut from $70,000 to $40,000, while part-time court security was cut from $175,000 to $145,000. It's vehicle lease was cut from a requested $41,000 to $21,000 by the convention but the commissioners increased the vehicle maintenance from $9,000 to $25,701.
Sheriff Craig Wiggin said that it would have cost the county less if they had stuck with the original plan to lease four new cruisers. ''Just last week I had to put a new $3,300 transmission in one of the old cruisers,'' said Wiggin, who said that he would do the best he could with the reduced allocation for court security.
The Corrections Department will not be hiring the two planned additional officers authorized by the County Convention, at least not early in the year and may be faced with requesting a supplemental appropriation later in the year if the inmate population spikes like it did last summer.
Last Updated on Friday, 28 March 2014 12:56
LACONIA — Belknap County Nursing Home workers have voted to approve a tentative one-year collective bargaining agreement with the county which provides for a 1.5 percent pay increase.
The agreement, which would provide the first pay hike for nursing home workers in the last two years, was approved by a vast majority of workers Wednesday night according to Ricky Nedeau, a member of the SEA/SEIU Local 1984 bargaining unit.
''We haven't had a cost of living increase in two years, while the cost of everything else increases, but it moves us in the right direction,'' said Nedeau.
The agreement also mandates that all nursing home workers will be required to participate in wellness activities designed to make them healthier and more informed about their personal health.
"It's become clear that we need to think outside the box to help lower health insurance costs,'' said Tanya Phillips, treasurer of the Nursing Home union chapter.
The contract will go next to the county commissioners for their approval. If they approve it the contract will then go the Belknap County Convention, where a supplemental appropriation for 2014 would be needed to cover its costs.
County Administrator Debra Shackett says that the commissioners will take up the contract when they hold their regularly scheduled meeting on April 2 at 5:30 p.m. at the Belknap County complex.
''We understand that the delegation has been concerned with the administration of the budget,'' said Nedeau. ''We get that. But we don't want to get caught in the middle. With this supplemental appropriation the delegation has the opportunity to pinpoint the flow of funds to the lowest paid workers in the county.''
''We take care of one our county's most vulnerable populations. We care for them with full commitment and respect. We just want the delegation to show us the came consideration,'' said Phillips, who expressed hope that people in the community would make an expression of support for nursing home workers to their legislators.
Last Updated on Friday, 28 March 2014 12:46
LACONIA — A local man was ordered held on $15,000 cash-only bail after allegedly failing to register as a sex offender with the Police Department.
Michael D'Amore, 45, of 192 Union Ave. is also accused of failing to register a change of address with the Laconia Police, as it required of all Class III sex offenders.
In 1989, D'Amore was convicted on one count of aggravated felonious sexual assault on a victim who was younger than 16-years-old. He is required to register his address with local police four times a year.
Police affidavits filed with the court said on March 5, Parole Officer Seifu Ragassa went to D'Amore's address and learned that he hadn't been living there since February.
Ragussa called the Laconia Police to see if D'Amore had registered a change of address with them and learned he hadn't.
Affidavits said D'Amore's wife said she hadn't seen him but told police that he wasn't "doing very well" and was likely using drugs again.
Ragassa said he and Laconia Police heard D'Amore was hiding out in a friend's apartment on Strafford Street and on Wednesday night Ragassa, members of the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Joint Task Force, and the Laconia Police went to that address and arrested him.
In court yesterday, D'Amore's attorney waived a bail argument reserving it for a date to be determined later.
Last Updated on Friday, 28 March 2014 12:43
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