To The Daily Sun,
In a recent letter to the editor by my opponent for the Belknap County District 8 State Representative (Alton, Gilmanton, Barnstead) race, he wrote, "My opponent voted to spend $160,000 to start the planning process for the $42 million project. Two other issues are the unfunded county employee pension liabilities and Medicaid expansion."
I was honored to be a member of the Belknap County Delegation from 2008-2012. In 2009 I voted to spend $160,000 to start the jail-planning process. However, it was not "for the 42 million dollar project." It was to spend $160,000 to determine what needed to be done to address the problems with the current jail. The delegation voted in favor of this $160,000 plan. No one knew what the resulting recommendation would be. And, as I've been quoted previously, I am not in favor of building a $42 million "Taj Mahal."
Regarding the unfunded county employee pension liabilities, I supported addressing that problem when I was a member of the delegation. And, finally, while I was in the Legislature, I voted consistently against Obamacare (Medicaid expansion wasn't even a topic of conversation back then).
On Tuesday, Sept. 9, I ask for your vote so that you'll have a representative who tells it like it is, and whom you can trust to represent you.
Candidate for State Representative Belknap District 8 (Alton, Gilmanton, Barnstead)
Last Updated on Friday, 05 September 2014 11:05
To The Daily Sun,
Thank you to Colette Worsman for keeping the county honest. To play around with lines items in the way that the commissioners have could be interpreted as fraud and embezzlement in a private company. It's good to know that there are some people in politics who still have the interests of the honest and hard-working citizens of the private sector.
We are the people who are paying these bills at the end of the day. We (honest taxpayers) don't shirk our responsibilities to our county, state, and country and we should accept no less from our public officials who are entrusted with this great responsibility of the ability to tax. I am glad to see that the commission is being held accountable to the high standards of integrity that are a prerequisite for this position.
Having to be led down that path at a high cost of time and resources says a lot as to where we are presently at in our governments. I think that the decision by Judge O'Neill is fair and should be final. It is insulting to the taxpayers for the commission to continue to state that we are not understanding the ramifications of this decision. We understand perfectly clear. The ramifications are that you will have to step up and do the hard work now to make a budget that works and is fair for all.
Let's assume that the county is somehow given this $35 million to $42 million project to rebuild the "system"of corrections. That price tag is ridiculous. Will this be their blank check? Take a little here, move a little there. Who's gonna care ... right? "Little high, let's go buy-little low, get some more taxpayer dough.. No thank you.
We are taxed in order to compensate qualified people to perform their jobs. These people are provided with time and resources to create fair solutions for the masses. Not everyone will, or should, always get exactly what they want. Fairness to all is the best we can hope for. I'm glad that Colette is advocating for the taxpayers and keeping it fair and transparent. That is all that we ask for. A little Yankee ingenuity and frugality wouldn't hurt either.
Andrew J. Weeks
Last Updated on Friday, 05 September 2014 10:59
To The Daily Sun,
From the headline in the Sept. 3 Laconia Daily Sun, it appears that Belknap County could be facing significant county employee layoffs. Understanding how we reached this point is important, particularly since we are fast approaching election time.
For the past two years the open hostility between the County Commissioners and the County Convention (also referred to as the Delegation) has increasingly intensified. One major point of contention has been county employee contribution to health insurance premiums.
For the 2014 county budget, the County Convention appropriated $2,594,925 for county employee health insurance premiums, or a little over 10 percent of the total budgeted amount of $25,596,863. Currently Belknap County employees with individual coverage pay 6 percent of their premium amount; those with family coverage pay 5 percent. These figures are considerably out of line with what is happening elsewhere. The Bureau of Labor Stastistics of the U. S. Department of Labor in a release dated July 25, 2014, reported the average percentage paid in New England by state and county government employees for individual coverage to be 16 percent and 21 percent for family coverage.
Starting two years ago and continuing thereafter, the commissioners have repeatedly emphasized their claim that they are legally vested with the authority to move monies appropriated by the convention from one line in the budget to another so long as the two lines involved in the monetary rearrangement were for the same department. The clear message in the oft-asserted claim was to tell the convention you can do whatever you want in the way of appropriating but we, the commissioners, can pretty much do what we want with the total pot you give us. In other words, according to the commissioners' position, the authority of the convention is limited to appropriation of a total amount, and the details of how the money is spent is almost totally subject to commissioner discretion.
Based on this claimed discretion to move money from line to line, the commissioners announced that they had increased the health insurance line items for county employees from the convention's appropriated amount of $2,594,925 to $2,832,579 — an increase of $237,654.
Against this background, the convention went to court seeking injunctive relief to prevent the commissioners from moving appropriated monies from one line in the budget to another without the consent of the convention. Last week the court granted a preliminary injunction against such transfers pending the outcome of the case. Such preliminary relief is unusual except in cases where the ultimate outcome of the case is fairly certain, in other words where the party seeking the injunction is expected to ultimately prevail.
From the beginning, the basis for the commissioners' claim of authority to move appropriated monies from the line to which it was appropriated to another budget line of their choosing has been puzzling to say the least. To start with, New Hampshire Rev. Stat. 24:14 provides in relevant part: "Appropriations by the county convention shall be itemized in detail....The county convention may require that the county commissioners obtain written authority from the executive committee before transferring any appropriation or part thereof...."
Then, as if to underscore the allocation of responsibility between budgeting and spending, the Legislature said in NHRS 24:15: "No county commissioner, or elected or appointed county officer, shall pay, or agree to pay, or incur any liability for payment of, any sum of money for which the county convention has made no appropriation, or in excess of any appropriation so made...."
Finally, to make sure that the commissioners understand the limitation on their spending authority, NHRS 24:16 provides a harsh potential penalty for spending in excess of a convention appropriation: "Any violation of the provisions of the previous section ... shall subject the person or persons so violating to the provisions of RSA 661:9, providing for removal from office. A petition of five resident taxpayers of the county may be made to the superior court for such removal or for removal for official misconduct."
RSA 661:9 seems to place the removal decision within the discretion of the court. And it should be noted that I am not suggesting removal to necessarily be appropriate in this case. Certainly removal would seem excessive if the commissioners had requested and obtained an opinion letter from outside counsel which provided a plausible explanation for the authority claimed by the commissioners. On the other hand, to claim the authority without such an opinion letter could be viewed as a gross abuse of official authority. In neither case should the legal fees incurred for defending the untenable position of the commissioners be borne by the taxpayers of Belknap County. The commissioners personally or the attorney whose advise the commissioners relied upon should bear the costs of this folly.
Either way, we seem to be facing an immediate problem. While the extent of the layoffs that might be triggered is uncertain, the Laconia Daily Sun has estimated that it could be as many as 30 employees. Other estimates have suggested the number could be less than 10, depending on the positions terminated.
The current problem might have been avoided if the commissioners had worked harder at negotiating more employee participation in premium payments rather than flouting the clear wording and intent of the statute and expending time and money fighting the Convention. But our immediate crisis might be turned into something positive. It is clear from the U.S. Labor Department statistics referred to earlier that Belknap County's 94 percent and 95 percent contributions to employee health insurance premiums is not just generous, but grossly out of line with the norm. Local budgets simply cannot carry such outlays.
Maybe this is the time for the commissioners, the convention and representatives of the unions representing county employees to come together. Just a thought: in return for the $237,654 being allowed to remain on the various health insurance lines, the unions agree to 9 percent employee participation in 2015, 12 percent in 2016 and 15 percent in 2017.
Last Updated on Friday, 05 September 2014 10:49
To The Daily Sun,
The following open letter to Letter to the Editor writer and wind farm opponent Ray Cunningham of Bridgewater was submitted for publication:
The State of New Hampshire has a plan of having enough sustainable power by the year 2025. I have asked, then, the question of why 90 percent of our biomass plants energy is going out of state? I have asked then, why is all of the energy from our wind farms going out of state. It looks as if New Hampshire has all the power it needs. Hence the export.
Now let's look at another goody: HB 1549. Relative to assessment of renewable generation facility property, subject to voluntary payment in lieu of taxes. This pilot agreement has the effect of penalizing rather than rewarding communities for these wind towers.The county will still tax wind farms as industrial, but the town will not. So unless the town had negotiated big, they will end up paying county more than what they bring in as town tax on the project. Be careful of what you ask for people you just might get it.
It would seem to indicate that the value of wind projects would be equalized with all other taxed property. It also states that an appraisal cannot be based upon a physical inspection, that would restrict an appraiser to a paper value. I don't know if you've seen any depreciation charts on wind projects but they seem to go for accelerated depreciation to maximize tax breaks.
The Public Utilities Commission with the Site Evaluation Committee are coming up with these plans on where to drop in these turbines, and with the help of municipal and county government, handing out tax breaks. Is it any wonder our ridge-lines are under attack.
The bill was sponsored by a very "blue" lawyer, and the sponsors were most all Dems as well. The bill was passed by voice vote. It passed in committee 16-0, signed by the governor on July 29.
Although much of the discussion was really about wind turbines, HB-1549 did not go to Science, Technology, and Energy. Instead (and rightfully so) it went to Municipal and County Government which is where most issues about taxing go.
Go to the house website (http://gencourt.state.nh.us/house/caljourns/calendars/2014/HC_19.pdf) and follow directions to the journal of 3/14/14 and look at page 1069 and also Page 1112 for the amendment.
If it sounds like the bill was slanted toward supporting wind power it is because it was. Wind power would be dead if it weren't for the various subsidies and other goodies. That is one of the reasons I strongly oppose wind turbines. If the House, Senate and Corner Office were "Red" than maybe we could come up with the better idea of our towns and surrounding communities having the initial and final say in this matter.
It's my opinion that the reason we do not get a response to many questions, is how the State Constitution was written, and how so many of these legislators use it to the advantage of special interest.
I hope that's honest enough.
Eric T. Rottenecker
Republican House Candidate, Dist. 9
Last Updated on Thursday, 04 September 2014 10:10
To The Daily Sun,
Two years ago, the Belknap County Commissioners tried to foist on Belknap County residents a new 5-star jail. This jail not only had a $42 million price tag, but it would increase, not reduce, operating costs. The proposal would double the current jail costs and significantly increase county taxes for every Belknap County property owner.
Fortunately the Republican-led Belknap County Delegation refused to be railroaded into a quick decision and required further investigation into our county's jail situation. While the commissioners and Democrats reacted viciously to the Delegation's requirement for further investigation, investigating further was a wise decision.
Investigation revealed that there are ways to quickly reduce costs and jail crowding. Belknap County's electronic bracelet program allows early release and monitoring of inmates who are not a threat to society or themselves. This program reduces costs, helps relieve crowding at the jail, and provides a better way for qualified inmates to return to society.
The superintendent of jails indicated that, if there were another supervisor, about 15 additional inmates were candidates for the bracelet program. The Republican-led County Delegation funded, but the commissioners refused to hire, another bracelet program supervisor. Apparently the commissioners prefer to not address the jail problem if they don't get the solution they want.
Investigation of the prison situation has resulted in public discussion and alternative proposals. More recently the County Commissioners have suggested that an acceptable prison could probably be built for under $30 million.
In a Sept. 2 letter, Hunter Taylor of Alton, tells how Sullivan County achieved excellent results for about $7 million, after rejecting a proposed $45 million jail.
Although they were much maligned for refusing to rubber-stamp the commissioners' original proposal, the Republicans on the County Delegation appear to have saved taxpayers at least $12 million in building expenses and significant annual operational savings. If a solution like that in Sullivan County can be found for our jail problem, better results will be achieved while saving taxpayers lots of their hard-earned money.
For the best results for prison and other questions, we need wise and principled people as county commissioners and in the County Delegation (composed of Belknap County state representatives). We need to elect Dave Devoy and Dick Burchell to replace the current commissioners.
We need to re-elect the state representatives who refused to be railroaded by the commissioners and special interests, or elect people similarly committed to fully and openly investigating problems.
For state representatives from Meredith and Gilford, I support, and recommend that people vote on Sept. 9 for: Herb Vadney, George Hurt, Russ Dumais, and Glen Aldrich.
Last Updated on Thursday, 04 September 2014 10:00