To The Daily Sun,
Our county commissioners and their administrator continue to view themselves as above the law and to act accordingly. Despite the clear wording of applicable state statutes and a court order directing them to adhere to the statutory mandates, they continue to ignore itemized budgetary lines and appropriation amounts.
A recent example of continued lawlessness in budgetary matters arose out of a $15,000 transfer approved by the convention Executive Committee on Oct. 27. As a result of the transfer $8,000 was added to the convention's legal services line item and $7,000 was added to the corresponding line item for commissioners/administration legal services.
On Nov. 4, the county administration wrote two checks totaling $5,746 to the law firm representing the commissioners in the lawsuit brought against them by the convention. These checks have been charged against the line item in the current budget covering legal services for the convention, despite the fact that the service paid for was representation of the commissioners in a suit brought against them by the convention for failing to honor line item appropriations of money in the budget.
Of equal, if not greater importance, the bill that was paid with the misapplied $5,746 was for legal services rendered on behalf of the commissioners in August and September. The county administration was knowingly running up legal bills exceeding the amount appropriated for such without bothering to seek Executive Committee approval for the transfer of additional funds as specifically required by statute.
Moreover, by their own admission, the county administration has incurred additional debt for legal services well in excess of the amount appropriated in the current budget for such expenses. In fact, at the most recent meeting of the Executive Committee, the administration represented that it needed an additional $28,000 to pay its legal bills. When asked how much was currently owed, the Executive Committee was told that there is currently unpaid debt for legal services of approximately $24,000.
New Hampshire RSA 24:15 I. could not be clearer: "No county commissioner, or elected or appointed county officer, shall pay, or agree to pay, or incur any liability for the payment of, any sum of money for which the county convention has made no appropriation or in excess of any appropriation so made...." The intended seriousness of this provision is underscored by RSA 24: 16 which specifically provides that violation of RSA 24: 15 "shall subject the person so violating to the provisions of RSA 661: 9, providing for removal from office."
The misapplication by the commissioners of $5,746 from the convention budget line to pay the commissioners' legal bills in the litigation with the convention is a most flagrant and indefensible violation of the convention's statutory line-item authority and the court order currently in place in the lawsuit between the convention and the commissioners. In addition, the admitted incurring of legal service debt by the commissioners in excess of the appropriated amount allocated for such without executive committee approval is another very clear violation of state law.
Questions of misconduct on budgetary matters is not limited to bills for legal services. There are also very serious questions about how the administrator and/or the commissioners have handled over $150,000 in checks that were issued to the county by Health Trust. It appears that, without any action being taken in a public meeting, the checks were returned to Health Trust by the administrator in return for credit against future 2014 health insurance invoices. The administrator has said that at least part of the money represented by the returned checks can legally be used to obtain credit against health insurance premiums owed in 2014 by the county for health insurance coverage for county employees.
Her stated justification for this position is that part of the money represented by the returned checks was excessive premium amounts paid this year for health insurance coverage. This has been shown to be untrue.
We have just completed a hotly contested election in our county. The commissioners and some of their allies in the delegation/convention made the conflict between the convention and the commissioners the centerpiece of the election. Despite efforts to demonize the convention and its leadership with allegations of pending crises caused by budget constraints and mass confusion produced by micromanagement of county affairs by the executive committee, the voters spoke loudly and clearly in favor of a change in county government.
If we are to have an open and honest county government, we need to make sure it is staffed with people who will not place themselves above the law in an effort to have their way. A path to this end is provided by New Hampshire RSA 24: 17 which provides: "The county convention may appoint a committee of its own members ... to investigate conditions pertaining to the conduct of county affairs by any county officer or any person appointed or employed by such officer, which committee shall have power to summon witnesses, examine them under oath, secure a transcript of the testimony and do other necessary acts to conduct such investigation."
Given what appears to be serious administrative deviations from the statutes and the applicable court order in the execution of the current budget, a thorough investigation seems in order. We need to know exactly what has happened with expenses related to legal services. How and when did they get so far in excess of the amount appropriated for such expenses? Was this something that should have been seen coming? If so, why was it not discussed earlier with the executive committee, before the appropriation was exceeded? What has happened with the funds represented by the Health Trust checks that were received by the county? Who made the decision to return the checks in return for a credit on future 2014 invoices? Why was the decision not discussed and voted on in public? Did anyone in the decision-making process stand to benefit from the decision that was made? The resulting answers to these and related questions, should identify anyone who has chosen to ignore the statutes and the court order regarding adherence to the statutes. If the investigation identifies any knowing violator, then the next appropriate action can and should be considered.
Last Updated on Monday, 08 December 2014 10:28
To The Daily Sun,
As the executive and program director at the Belknap Mill during the mid-1980s, I would like to offer a perspective from my own experiences some 30 years ago. I was fortunate to be there when the mill was the acknowledged center of culture in the Lakes Region.
We had an active Board of Trustees who put their actions in front of their words. People like John O'Shea, Peter Karagianis, Warren Huse, Ann Stamps, Frank DeNormandy, Ed Chertok, David Lynch, Bob and Jean Graves, Mac Harrington and so many others. From the furnace to fundraising, they were involved with all aspects of the mill. It will be a long time before I'll forget Mac arriving at the mill before the sun peered over the hills to wake up the building and make certain that all was ready for another full day of activity.
We had at least three tenants, including United Way, Belknap County Cooperative Extension, and Lakes Region Family Services, each offering a rainbow of unique events that attracted countless visitors through the doors. We were able to connect with the Morin family and then hosted a family reunion that filled the third floor with hugs, memories, and laughter. We sponsored children's programs and actively collaborated with schools and artists around the Lakes Region that brought in troops of toddlers to teens for events such as puppet shows, mask-making workshops, regional school art exhibits and concerts, and residencies with artists from other cultures. Thanks to regional artists, historians, and collectors we hosted exhibits and displays that included an impressive array of beer cans, 19th century Christmas cards, and turning the lobby into an antique pharmacy and soda fountain.
Yet, as lively and exciting as those days were, I fully realize that times have changed.
1. The Belknap Mill is no longer the sole small venue for intimate arts events and exhibits for local artists. To name just a few, we now have Pitman's Freight Room, the Beane Conference Center, the Busiel Mill and other private galleries, the beautiful new Laconia and Gilford libraries, and a number of bustling new outlets for live theater.
2. Laws have changed so that nursery schools can no longer pile children in the backs of station wagons for field trips.
3. School budgets have been slashed and regulations tightened so that schools find it challenging to collaborate in a similar manner outside their systems.
4. And because of extended pressures and expectations on families today, the pool of available volunteers is now smaller.
5. Do take a look at the number of new non-profit organizations, such as the completely impressive Multicultural Market Day celebrations, that are all now gathering at the same revenue streams for sustenance.
6. Certainly we must also acknowledge the impact of the many more entertainment options now available to us right in our own living rooms.
So, we should ask ourselves a very key question. What remains that only the Belknap Mill can offer? My thoughts? This building is a treasure that is an attractive and exquisitely unique addition to the landscape of downtown Laconia. This building is a treasure that teaches and reminds all of us of our own origins and history.
I would urge us to think creatively, and without casting unnecessary blame on others, just how this facility can be repurposed while remaining a central icon for the Lakes Region. For all the reasons we've cited The Belknap Mill can probably never operate as it once did, either as a productive textile mill or as the hub for all the arts in the Lakes Region. Yet in no way because of our own panic and shortsighted vision and thinking should we turn our backs on what could be a new life for this building.
Belknap Mill Executive and Program Director - 1984-88
Last Updated on Monday, 08 December 2014 10:24
To The Daily Sun,
It is regrettable that departing Belknap County Commissioner John H. Thomas, denied a re-election bid by Republican Party primary voters, chose not to leave office with more grace. Having lost budget authority battles with the Belknap County Committee at both the polls and in court, Thomas recently felt the need to describe nine unnamed committee members as "hateful" people.
The resort to ad hominem attack upon those with whom he disagrees on political issues reflects poorly on Thomas. It makes him appear small and a poor loser. Perhaps at this point, it is best to thank Commissioner Thomas for his public service, and and ask him to leave county governance to others with a more temperate and unpersonalized view of political adversaries.
Last Updated on Monday, 08 December 2014 10:20
To The Daily Sun,
I would like to take a moment to express my deep and sincere gratitude to everyone who supported the Inter-Lakes Elementary School "Living Classroom" greenhouse project. Thanks to the tremendous support of many organizations and individuals, the Living Classroom now stands as a testament to the power of a strong and supportive community.
The Living Classroom promises to serve as an exciting hands-on learning venue for students in grades PK-6 now and into the future. It will be a place where students will learn many different things in a "hands-on" manner. It will be a place where students will learn with their sleeves rolled up and their hands in the soil. It will be a place where we will plant the seeds of knowledge in a different way.
A year ago, we started our quest to raise $65,000 with the dream of building a fully operating year-round greenhouse. I must admit, I know very little about construction and I'm not much of a gardener. But what I do know is that students become highly engaged and motivated when they are actively involved in their learning.
As our greenhouse vision started to form, I knew that I needed people who knew things that I didn't. In the blink of an eye, a team of supporters and volunteers began to emerge. Chris Read, a master builder and master gardener immediately embraced the idea and he infused his impressive construction and gardening skills into the project. Chris was the driving force and visionary behind the subterranean heating system that will extend the growing season in the greenhouse. He has donated countless hours, building and creating the solar heating system that makes our greenhouse so unique.
Inter-Lakes School Board member Lisa Merrill was one of the biggest supporters of the project from the very start. She immediately saw the value of educating students in a different way. She was also the force behind our first marketing campaign: the Flamingo Fundraiser and she provided tremendous momentum for the project. I am grateful that the Inter-Lakes School Board and district administration also embraced the greenhouse concept. The board pledged $20,000 to the project.
I owe a huge thank you to Justin Poehler, a former Inter-Lakes student and the owner/operator of SiteScapes of the Lakes Region. Justin arrived on the scene volunteering to do all of the site work for the project. As I mentioned, I don't know much about construction and little did I know just how important Justin's work would be to the project. He donated many hours and days, excavating, filling, and grading. He created the perfect site for our greenhouse. Justin Poehler is one of the true heroes of this project and I am eternally grateful for all that he did.
I also owe a debt of gratitude to Steve Mitchell, an Inter-Lakes parent, and owner/operator of Nature's Elite Landscaping. Steve approached me and volunteered to donate all of the brick pavers as well as his time and labor, to create a beautiful walkway inside the greenhouse. He even involved his sons, Brandon and Kyle (both Inter-Lakes students), in the project. The results are stunning.
Our Inter-Lakes maintenance department has been wonderfully supportive of this project. Chris Wald (Director of Facilities) has been involved in all of the planning and construction every step of the way and this project would not have been possible without his guidance and expertise. Inter-Lakes Maintenance staff members Stuart Benton and Jason Cornelissen have also been incredibly helpful.
There are so many other people and businesses that made the dream of the Living Classroom possible.
East Coast Foundation donated all of the labor, forms, and rebar needed for the foundation. Brian Davis of Planet Green donated two large solar panels. Randy Hancock of Middleton Building & Supply donated a split rail fence. Superior Fence Company donated their services to install the fence. Bill Doten of Doten's Property Service donated hydro-seeding for the project. J.P. Swift donated labor and ground cover for the interior of the greenhouse. Ambrose Bros. donated significant amounts of sand, ledge pack, crushed stone, and gravel. Dallas Wrath of Donovan Tree Experts donated tree cutting so that the sun shines brightly on the greenhouse.
In addition to all of the individuals already named, the Living Classroom received a tremendous amount of financial assistance from individuals, service organizations, and businesses throughout the area. I am deeply grateful to Mill Falls on the Lake and the Meredith Rotary Club for each donating $10,000. These massive donations made the difference in helping us reach our goal. I am truly humbled by this level of generosity and support.
While the entire list of donors is far too extensive to include in this letter, I would like to highlight those that had a major impact on this project including: Altrusa Club of Meredith, Cerutti Contracting, Conneston Construction Inc., Crosspoint Associates, DeCamp Center, Emery & Garrett Groundwater Investigations, Giuseppe's Showtime Pizzeria, Inter-Lakes Floor Hockey, Inter-Lakes PTO, Inter-Lakes Education Assoc., Inter-Lakes School Board, Kiwanis Club of Meredith, Melcher & Prescott Insurance, Meredith Bay Laser, Meredith Bay Village Condominium Assoc., Meredith Garden Club, Meredith Fire Dept. Auxiliary, Meredith Village Savings Bank, Municipal Resources, Inc., Overhead Door Options, Phu Jee Chinese Cuisine, Private Weddings & Events, Real Green Lawn & Landscape, Sandwich Central School PTO, the Schmitt Foundation, Scott Burns Landscaping, Shane Halsey Painting, The Mug Restaurants, Winnipesaukee Playhouse, and Wicwas Lake Grange 292.
Last by not least, I would like to acknowledge and thank some key people who played important roles in the overall project including Elizabeth Rohdenberg for creating the fantastic Living Classroom Logo, Kay Marini for creating the beautiful thank you notes, Corinne Jutton for distributing donation letters to area businesses, Alesia Parks for helping every step of the way, Lynn Tobin for creating the traveling display panel, Mo Gouin for creating donation boxes and a fundraising backdrop, Jim and Sheri MacMillan for creating the fundraising thermometer and the name banner, John Moulton for his expert consultation and advice, and our fearless team of Flamingo Flockers including: Steve and Lisa Merrill, Marcy Kelley, Alesia Parks, Kristen Poehler, Tricia Poehler, Tracey Pratt, Ariane Shuffleton, and Angela Stutzman.
In closing, I would again like to express my deepest gratitude to everyone who helped make the Living Classroom possible. This project demonstrates the power of a supportive community and what volunteerism and goodwill can achieve. I am so very proud to be a resident of the Inter-Lakes School District and a part of the Inter-Lakes School system. We are all fortunate to live in a very special place filled with caring, positive, and generous people. Thank you for allowing Inter-Lakes Elementary School to achieve a dream and for giving us the opportunity to plant the seeds of knowledge in a different way.
Dr. Steve Kelley, Principal
Inter-Lakes Elementary School
Last Updated on Friday, 05 December 2014 10:50
To The Daily Sun,
There is a distinction in the classification of hospitals that is allowed by Medicare. That distinction is called Critical Access Hospitals. This is a term that identifies a hospital that provides health care for rural Americans. Medicare allows the states to designate their own Critical Access Hospitals.
New Hampshire has 13 such classified hospitals. They are: Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital in Lebanon, Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin, Cottage Hospital in Woodsville, Franklin Regional Hospital in Franklin, Huggins Hospital in Wolfeboro, Littleton Regional Hospital in Littleton, Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough, New London Hospital in New London, Speare Memorial Hospital in Plymouth, The Memorial Hospital in North Conway, Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital in Colebrook, Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont, and Weeks Medical Center in Lancaster.
A Critical Access Hospital is allowed to bill more of the cost to the Medicare beneficiary. Much more.
What usually happens is a hospital sends a bill to Medicare and Medicare (like most insurance companies) says we're going to pay this amount and it is a much smaller number (called the Medicare Approved Amount). Medicare then pays the hospital 80 percent of the much smaller number, and the Medicare beneficiary pays the remaining 20 percent of that much smaller number.
For a Critical Access Hospital it's different. The Critical Access Hospital sends the bill to Medicare and Medicare pays their usual 80 percent of the much smaller number (the Medicare Approved Amount), but then it makes the Medicare Beneficiary pay 20 percent of the big number.
Here is a real example of a Critical Access Hospital emergency room bill: Amount facility charged, $10,443; amount Medicare approved, $2,725; amount Medicare paid the facility, $2,180 (80 percent of the Medicare approved amount); amount Critical Access Hospital billed to beneficiary, $1,840 (20 percent of the amount facility charged).
If the facility were not a Critical Access hospital, the amount billed to the Medicare Beneficiary would have been 20 percent of the Medicare approved amount, or $545. That is $1,295 more charged to the person on Medicare who went to a Critical Access Hospital vs. one that did not, such as a person who went to Franklin Regional Hospital's emergency room as opposed to the Lakes Region General Hospital emergency room.
And this is true for any service you receive in a Critical Access Hospital, in-patient or out-patient.
Yet this practice is against the law for private insurance. The federal government is allowing charges to Medicare beneficiaries that states say are unfair. The offices of both New Hampshire and U.S. Senators say they are aware of this problem. Kelly Ayotte was quoted by NHPR as saying "patients of Critical Access Hospitals deserve to know up front how much they'll pay for services. " What, if anything, will be done remains to be seen.
I believe that Critical Access Hospitals should make sure to disclose this information up front. They won't. It is up to us to educate ourselves and spread the word. So now you know, tell everyone.
Last Updated on Friday, 05 December 2014 10:39