Retirement restoration

Momentum gathers for state contribution to system

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

CONCORD — Legislation that would restore a portion of the state contribution toward the retirement costs of school teachers, police officers and firefighters is pending in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. By a vote of 10 to 9, the House Executive Departments and Administration Committee has endorsed House Bill 413, which would require the state to pay 15 percent of the employer contribution beginning in fiscal year 2018.

The state has paid a share of pension costs for teachers, police and firefighters since the 1940s, when they were enrolled in separate retirement programs. In 1967, when the New Hampshire Retirement System was established, the state required municipalities and school districts to enroll these employees in the system and in return contributed 35 percent of the cost of their pensions. The state reduced its share to 30 percent in 2010, to 25 percent in 2011 and eliminated it altogether in 2012.

Laconia City Manager Scott Myers estimated that the city and the school district would be spared $240,000 and $300,000 in retirement costs respectively. This year, Myers expects the city's contribution to the New Hampshire Retirement System to jump by $200,000, more than half the annual increase in expenditures permitted by the tax cap. Last week, in correspondence to the City Council, Myers urged them to support the bill and inform the House members who represent the city of its positive impact on the municipal budget.

The New Hampshire Municipal Association, which has aggressively lobbied in favor of the bill, estimates that the return to school districts in the Lakes Region would be about $86,200 in Alton, $70,600 in Barnstead, $215,300 in Gilford, $55,100 in Gilmanton, $196,700 in Inter-Lakes, $144,000 in Moultonborough, $202,300 in Newfound, $216,400 in Shaker Regional, $212,000 in Winnisquam Regional and $140,000 in Franklin.

The association estimates that in Belknap County the state contribution of 15 percent to the cost of pensions for police officers and firefighters would represent $40,000 in Alton, $30,400 in Barnstead, $79,000 in Belmont, $9,000 in Center Harbor, $107,300 in Gilford, $22,800 in Gilmanton, $47,600 in Meredith, $14,400 in New Hampton, $18,000 in Sanbornton and $45,000 in Tilton.

Altogether, a state contribution of 15 percent would reduce local government costs throughout the state by $40.8 million in 2018, $42.1 million in 2019, $43.4 million in 2020 and $44.7 million in 2021.

By recommending HB 413 "ought to pass," albeit by the narrowest of margins, the House Executive Departments and Administration Committee made a statement of policy. If the bill carries the House, it will be referred to the House Finance Committee, which is responsible for determining how to pay for it. Taken aback by the vote of the committee and perhaps awaiting for Governor Chris Sununu to present his budget, the leadership of the House has yet to schedule it for a vote, However, the bill must come to the House floor by Feb. 16.

Speaking at a forum hosted by the New Hampshire Municipal Association in October, Sununu, then a can date for governor, indicated In October, Sununu, then a candidate for governor, indicated that he was open to restoring the state contribution to retirement costs, but stopped short of specifying particular amount.

Scam artist poses as LHS Friend of Football

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — An online marketing firm, falsely claiming to represent Laconia High School Friends of Football, has bilked at least one local business by offering to design and place advertisements in the program for the Sachems' upcoming 2017 season.

Kelly Shastany and Cheryl Hounsell of Friends and Football were quick to alert the community to the scam out of concern that it could compromise the integrity of their organization. "I just can't understand people who would do something like this," Hounsell said.

Shastany, of Friends of Football, said that a local real estate company received a call from someone representing New Start Media LLC of Davenport, Iowa, who said that the company was selling advertising on behalf of the booster groups at both Laconia and Inter-Lakes high schools The Realtor, using a credit card, purchased advertising for both teams, $400 worth for Laconia and $300 worth for Inter-Lakes. After closing the sale, the Realtor had a question, but had no way reaching the firm. He called Craig Kozens, the football coach at Laconia High School, asking how to contact the New Start Media. Kozens told him that the Friends of Football had no relationship with any firm to solicit advertising and referred him to Hounsell of Friends of Football.

Hounsell said Wednesday that she assured the Realtor that only the officers and members of the board of Friends of Football, along with participating parents, solicited advertising and they do not offer to design ads, only to place ads submitted to them. She advised the Realtor to contact his credit card company.

Hounsell said that she soon discovered that New Start Media LLC, with an address of 601 Brady St., Suite 115, in Davenport, Iowa, is also also known as QC Unlimited and ADS Enterprises Chuck W. Taylor. The company appears to be operated by an Al, Alphonso or Alphonso Wade Barnum. It has claimed to be a vendor for both high school teams and chambers of commerce in at least 10 states from California to New York and Florida to Maine, leaving a skein of complaints and lawsuits behind.

The Better Business Bureau lists 18 complaints against the New Start Media. "The worst company ever," reads one complaint. "DO NOT USE THEM. They take your money and never deliver. They lied and lied and still lying." Another reads "I paid $500 for what I thought would be an ad on a local high school football sporting poster that didn't get produced," read another complaint. "No response for refund request."

Gilmanton teachers say new plan helps curb health insurance costs

By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN

GILMANTON — At the deliberative session of School District Meeting this Saturday, voters will see an increase of more than $183,000 from the default budget to Gilmanton School District's proposed operating budget in school year 2017-2018; but teachers say a change in health insurance plans helped blunt the rapidly rising cost of coverage.
The School Board recommended a $10,657,918 operating budget. The Budget Committee recommended a $10,653,418 operating budget, $4,500 less than what the school board put forward.
Last year, in March 2016 voting, voters approved a 2016-2017 operating budget of $10,507,458 by a vote of 583-417.
The meeting for Gilmanton School District is Saturday, Feb. 11, at 10 a.m., at the Gilmanton School.
There is a $187,673 increase between the default budget and the proposed operating budget, based on the school district's proposal; and a $183,173 increase between the default budget and the proposed operating budget based on the amended operating budget from the Budget Committee. For warrant articles, the school board recommended $96,113 for capital improvements, and the Budget Committee recommended $89,288.
"Within the budget, we're very close to the Budget Committee," said Christine Hayes, business administrator for Gilmanton School District.
The Budget Committee — on "Super Saturday," Jan. 14 — took about $2,000 out of the superintendent's budget, for an appropriation of $144,679, following discussion about needs of the part-time superintendent and related staff.
Also, the Budget Committee voted against recommending funding the special education expendable trust fund because the fund, with a balance of $193,175, was on target toward its $200,000 goal, Hayes said.
"The other thing they did not support was the teachers contract," Hayes said.
The School Board forwarded a proposal to pay teachers an increase of $41,311 in 2017-2018 and to schedule future increases. The Budget Committee did not support the contract. The Budget Committee's vote was 5-3 to not recommend the initial contract in January.
Budget Committee members discussed at length the district's health insurance and the teacher contribution compared with the district contribution. When Budget Committee member Brian Forst asked what the teachers were contributing, Hayes told the committee that the teachers contribute 15 percent and the district contributes 85 percent, according to records of the Jan. 14 meeting. If the contract does not pass, then the district will be contributing an additional $58,000 next year with the current contract in place, committee members learned.
The collective bargaining agreement reached between the Gilmanton School Board and the Gilmanton Education Association calls for increases in salaries and benefits of $41,311 in 2017-2018; $129,327 in 2018-2019; and $133,211 in 2019-2020.
"It does not become a legal obligation until the voters approve it," Hayes said. "The Budget Committee has chosen not to support it, but it still has to go before the voters."
If voters reject the contract, another warrant article, if approved, would allow a special meeting to address the cost items in the contract, she said.
Nancy Tothill, chief negotiator for the Gilmanton teachers' union, the Gilmanton Education Association, said the collective bargaining agreement confronted the issue of health insurance costs.
"The major portion of this contract is a major shift in health insurance plans to a consumer-driven plan, where the consumer bears the brunt of the cost of the insurance plan in the form of deductibles," Tothill said.
In a press release, the GEA explained, "During the last round of negotiations teachers agreed to a change in health care providers, a consolidation of plan options and a uniform cost sharing throughout all plans. As costs continued to rise, the GEA put forth a proposal in this new contract to switch to a high deductible plan of $2,000 for single coverage and $4,000 for a two-person or family plan. This deductible will be paid for by the enrolled teacher. The GEA's decision to change plans was directed by the trends for the future, where health insurance plans are favoring high deductible plans. Because the teachers will pay these deductibles, the premiums are much lower than traditional plans."
With this new consumer-driven plan, 97 percent of the cost is borne by the district, but the dollar amount is the same because the cost of the plan is so much less, Tothill said.
"Premiums are less because the consumers are bearing the brunt through the deductibles," she said.
Without the new contract, the current health insurance plan is scheduled to increase by 9 percent, Tothill said. Teachers and the school board tried to rein in the cost of health insurance through negotiations.
"I think there was good will on both sides here," Tothill said.
Under the agreement, teachers will pay 92 percent of the plan in the third year, almost three times as much as in years one and two, she said.
"This three-year contract allows the District to gradually bring salaries in line with other districts in our region," the GEA reported. "The salary schedule increase in year one is 2 percent. This increase is offset by the insurance cost savings from the change to the high deductible plan. The increase in year 3 is offset by the increase in the teacher health insurance contribution rate."
Teachers asked the public to support the contact at Saturday's deliberative session and in March 14 voting.
"The continued rise in health insurance costs has been a concern for all. This contract addresses this concern while showing support for the teachers at this award-winning National Blue Ribbon School," the GEA reported.

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