Court orders city to help homeless family

LACONIA — Earlier this month city officials were reminded of their binding obligation to assist the penniless when, after a hearing in Belknap County Superior Court, Justice James D. O'Neill, III immediately ordered the city to house a woman and her two children at the Landmark Hotel.

The general assistance law, one of the oldest of all state statutes, reads "whenever a person in any town is poor and unable to support himself, he shall be relieved and maintained by the overseers of public welfare of such town, whether or not he has residence there."

On Dec. 31, the single mother and her children, ages 13 and 17, were evicted from the three-bedroom apartment where they had lived for more than six years after repeatedly violating the terms of their lease. At the time, Elliott Berry of New Hampshire Legal Assistance, who represented the woman in court, said that she had about $1,411 in cash, and five days later received another $259 in child support. However, by Jan. 11 she had spent all she had on a hotel room, foodstuffs and other essentials.

The woman applied to the Welfare Department for emergency assistance, requesting $572.25 to pay for a room at the Landmark Hotel for another 21 days. Instead, the city granted her sufficient funds for two nights, and on Jan. 13 denied her request for further assistance. Catholic Charities and the Laconia Congregational Church paid for the hotel room through Jan. 15, when she was told she and her children would have to leave the hotel.

On Jan. 15, the woman asked the court to order the city to provide housing for her and her children at the Landmark Inn until Jan. 27, when she would have sufficient funds to rent an apartment.

In court, the city, represented by attorney Laura Spector-Morgan, accepted that the woman had $1,670 when she was evicted, but claimed she spent $703 for the hotel room between Dec. 31 and Jan. 10, leaving $967 for which she had failed to account. She said that the woman understood the process for administering assistance from past experience, yet failed to comply by accounting for past income and benefits. Likewise, the city said that her monthly income of $2,149 exceeded her necessary expenses of $1,287, rendering her ineligible for further assistance.

On behalf of the woman, Berry told the court that without assistance the woman and her children would be "living on the street and insisted that "current need is the basis for determining eligibility for general assistance, and that how a person becomes poor and unable to support herself is irrelevant." He noted that in 1873 the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that "it makes no difference, so far as regards the obligation upon the town, whether a person be reduced to necessity by his own misconduct or fault, or by the wrongful or careless act of another, or by pure accident or misfortune."

O'Neill agreed and ordered the city to house the woman and her children at the Landmark Hotel until Jan. 27.

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Regret - Gilford keeps default budget figure despite move to change it

GILFORD — One member of the School Board said last night that he regretted signing the 2016-2017 default budget because of the some information brought forward by members of the Budget Committee. Despite his protestations, nothing changed.

Chris McDonough, who is the newest member, initially made a motion at last night's emergency School Board meeting that the entire board "revisit the default budget just to the point where I can remove my signature from it."

Without a second, the board, which was short Chairman Karen Thurston, adjourned to a neighboring room to discuss the motion with their attorney. After a 10-minute interval, the four members returned to the meeting room, where McDonough removed his motion with the caveat that he could make the following statement:

"At the time and date at which I signed the default budget I did believe it to the true and accurate," he said.

The proposed budget for school year 2016-2017 is $25,391,196. The default budget, which will go into effect should the proposed budget not get a majority vote on election day, is $25,688,824 or $297,628 higher.

The preparation of the annual default budget has been the subject of considerable controversy when some members of the Budget Committee, led by member Norman Silber, said they found about $300,000 of one-time only expenditures included in it. By law, a default budget is comprised of the ongoing expenses of a district or community plus any contractual agreements minus any one-time expenditures. One-time only expenses are defined by the governing body, which in this case, is the School Board.

The purpose of last night's meeting was for the School Board to present 10 years of data and minutes as to how the default budgets of the past had gone into effect since enacting the official ballot law, commonly referred to as SB2, and how the department has been consistent in its preparation, despite the differences in membership of both the School Board and the Budget Committee.

Just before McDonough's motion, the board split 2-to-2, with McDonough and member Sue Allen on the "no" side, to review four key items to determine if they were one-time only expenditures. In the event of a tie vote at any meeting, the motion fails.

After considerable discussion at the Jan. 7, Budget Committee meeting about its validity, member David Horvath Sr. made a motion "to have the school district go back to their list and find $127,966 in one-time projects to be removed." The motion failed by a vote of 3 to 8. Horvath, member Sue Greene, and Selectman's representative Richard "Rags" Grenier voted for the reviews.

When asked if there was time to revisit it, School District Business Administrator Scott Isabelle said it had to be done and submitted last night by 11:59 p.m.

However, on Jan 7, Budget Committee members were told it was the "11th hour" and were given the impression that there was not enough time for the School Board to review it for possible changes in time to be placed on the warrant.

"I guess the 11th hour stretches into three weeks," said Budget Committee member Harry Bean after learning last night that the School Board had until 11:59 p.m. to resubmit the default budget to the state Department of Revenue Administration.

Seven members of the Budget Committee were at last night's including the three who voted yes to a School Board review of the default budget earlier this month. At last night's meeting, member Harry Bean said the only reason he voted against a review on Jan. 7 was because he was told it was the "11th hour" and it was too late.

When asked, Silber said he too would have changed his vote on Jan. 7 if he had known the School Board had three weeks to re-examine it.

Member Bob Henderson said he would have still voted "no" to the reconsideration because he felt the motion of Jan. 7 was to try to "hurt" the School Board and not insure the default budget was accurate.

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CLARIFICATION In this story, School Board members Chris McDonough and Susan Allen voted "yes" to review the default budget. Their motion failed because of a tie vote.

Belmont names Sean McCarty acting fire chief as Parenti leaves

BELMONT – Deputy Chief Sean McCarty has been named acting chief of the Fire Department.

The move happened in a specially convened session of the Selectboard last Friday, which was former Fire Chief David Parenti's last day. Parenti resigned to accept a job as a fire chief in Massachusetts.

McCarty has been deputy chief in Belmont for 8 ½ years and has been a full time firefighter for 15 years. He joined the Belmont Fire Department 20 years ago as a call/volunteer firefighter.

He holds a bachelor's degree in political science and is a certified firefighter through multiple classes taken through the New Hampshire Fire Academy. He is an advanced-level EMT.

Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin said the position of chief has been advertised through a number of trade magazines and the New Hampshire Municipal Association. She said yesterday that the application process is soon closing and selectmen will be starting the hiring process shortly.