Worker raises, corrections officers in the plans for Belknap County

LACONIA — County workers may see a small raise and at least one new corrections officer could be hired if Belknap County commissioners' plans go through.
The commissioners held a budget work session at the Belknap County Complex Thursday at which they discussed future staffing of the Belknap County Corrections Department with Superintendent Keith Gary and agreed to hire one new officer in January and wait until May 1 before bringing on two additional staffers.
The commission is tentatively eyeing a corrections department budget of $3,877,018, which would be about $70,000 less than last year's approved budget.
County Administrator Deb Shackett noted that hiring in January is ''a risky proposition'' as the county budget has not yet been approved by he County Convention and could be cut, which would force the department to have to drop someone who had hired in January.
The commission is currently looking at a budget which would increase the amount to be raised by taxes by about one percent.
Commissioners are also waiting for word from three unions on whether or not they will agree to a switch of health insurance plans to a new provider. The commissioners want to switch health insurance plans starting Jan. 1, 2016, for county employees from the current provider, Health Trust, to the New Hampshire Interlocal Trust, which partners with the nonprofit Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare to provide group health insurance plans for local governments.
Under terms of the current contracts with three State Employee Association-affiliated unions at the Belknap County Home, Corrections Department and Sheriff's Department, the county has the right to substitute a comparable health care plan for an existing plan provided the unions agree that the new plan is comparable.
A deadline of November 14 has been set for the unions to agree to the shift.
Commission Chairman Dave decoy said that the county can't keep kicking the can down the road on the switch of insurance carriers and suggested that the commission should be prepared to make its case in court as early as Monday if the unions don't agree to the change.
Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) urged waiting until later in the week and said hat current negotiations were going well and he didn't want to upset the apple cart.
Devoy asked if there was sufficient money in the budget to pay for the costs of new union contracts and Shackett said that the $200,000 in contingency funds were adequate to pay the $171,000 it would take if all county union employees received a 1 percent raise and step increases.

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Boys & Girls Club celebrates new phase of renovations - Club reaches $400K mark in endowment drive

LACONIA — The Boys & Girls Club of the Lakes Region held a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday afternoon, signaling the start of the second phase of renovations to the former Saint James Episcopal Church, which will see the entryway to the building redone and a large reception area created at the front of the building as well as commercial upgrades to the the kitchen which will allow it to host an evening meals program. There will also be a new teen center as well as updated homework and art rooms.
Chris Emond, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central New Hampshire, said the upgrades are needed in order to provide adequate space for parents picking up their children and indicated that the number of children being served is expected to increase from 86 currently to more than 150 next year.
He said that a third phase includes energy efficiency improvements to the building, which was constructed in the 1960s.
Emond acknowledged the presence of Wendy Mills in the audience and said she had told him that the success of the recent fund drive to buy and renovate the building was thrilling for her, as she knew the Lakes Region Boys & Girls Club would be around forever. The multipurpose room at the club is named for her late son, Robbie, who was 14 years old in 1998 when he was murdered by someone who stole his bicycle, and whose death sparked the creation of a club for teens which would evolve into the Lakes Region Boys & Girls Club.
Two years ago, the club launched a $2.4 million fund drive to buy and renovate the building – $700,000 for purchasing the building, $700,000 for renovations and $1 million for an endowment fund.
Those fund drives were aided by the efforts of Anthony and Gladys Sakowich, who were successful business pioneers, philanthropists and longtime residents of Governor's Island in Gilford. They died in recent years, leaving a lasting mark in the Lakes Region community.
Bob Smith, co-founder of the Sakowich Capital Trust, and Emond unveiled a plaque yesterday with images of the Sakowiches which will grace the new entryway of what will be known as the Sakowich Building.
Smith recalled how Paul Gaudet Sr. called him three days before the year was up several years ago seeking his help in establishing a trust fund for the Boys & Girls Club and how they were able to accomplish that.
He said every bit of the effort was worthwhile ''when you look at these kids'' and praised those who had worked to make the club a reality, saying it wouldn't have succeeded "If it wasn't for people like you.''
Smith said the Sakowich Trust had contributed $200,000 to the endowment fund in a challenge grant, which would give another $100,000, provided $100,000 was raised by the community first.
He said that challenge has been met and the club now has $400,000 towards its goal of a $1 million endowment fund.
Mayor Ed Engler said it was really humbling to see how much had been accomplished by the supporters of the Boys & Girls Club, and noted that District Court Judge James Carroll had been one of the strong advocates for a club, which would provide a gathering place for teens with programs hat would help them grow into responsible adults.

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Oak gets reprieve - No decision on felling tree until January

LACONIA — If a tree could speak, it might put voice to a note pinned to its trunk, asking to save its life.
The future of the oak tree on the corner of the lot where Cafua Management Inc. recently constructed a commercial building will come before the city Planning Board when it meets in January.
Last week, Cafua Management Inc. asked the Planning Board for approval to remove the tree, which it claims poses a safety hazard. When board members approved the site plan for a commercial building there, they stipulated that "the large oak tree near the northeast corner of the property is a monumental shade tree, and as such shall be protected and maintain(ed) during and after construction."
The request to fell the tree will be presented to Technical Review Committee, whose members represent various city departments, on Dec. 9, which will submit a report to the Planning Board. The Planning Board may require Cafua Management to commission, at its own expense, a professional arborist to assess the condition of the tree as well as a traffic engineer to determine if the tree obscures the line of sight along Union Avenue.
Meanwhile, the site plan for the commercial building, which was approved by the Planning Board, shows the tree standing entirely within the lot owned by Cafua Management Inc. However, a portion of the trunk is within a short stretch of sidewalk belonging to the city. In other words, the trunk of the tree appears to straddle the property line.
In September, when it was first reported that Cafua Management Inc. inquired about removing the tree, Arthur Costonis, who described himself as an arborist, told the Planning Department that the tree is healthy, but recommended removing the pavement covering its exposed roots and replacing it with loam, as well as fertilizing the tree by injecting nutrients around its roots. No action has been taken by either the city or Cafua Management Inc.

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Fire Averted

LACONIA — The watchful eye of a neighbor and prompt response of Officer Erik Benoit of the Laconia Police Department averted what Fire Chief Ken Erickson said could have become "a very serious fire" early yesterday morning.

At 3:49 a.m., someone reported flames against the rear porch of a three-story apartment building at 104 Academy St. As police and firefighters raced to the scene, with crews from Gilford and Belmont close behind, Benoit was the first to arrive and quelled the fire with a portable fire extinguisher. Firefighters from Central Station confirmed the fire was extinguished and overhauled the burnt area.

Erickson said the fire was starting to climb the rear wall of the building and the timely report and response prevented a more threatening incident in light of the size of the building and hour of the day. No one was injured and occupants returned to the building. Damage was confined the vinyl siding and a doorway at the back of the building.

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