To The Daily Sun,
We in the veteran community want to state our appreciation for state Sen. Jeanie Forrester's support on behalf of the continuation of the POW/MIA awareness here in Meredith, as well as her effort on behalf of the veteran community and their families from around the state. Many may not know that she has sponsored or co-sponsored many veteran-related bills that have come before the Senate over the past years and is often the first to support a veteran-related cause. It doesn't matter what party or veteran organization a veteran may belong to, Sen. Forrester supports the issue and veteran community and for that we are all thankful.
We wish her continued success.
Last Updated on Friday, 05 September 2014 11:14
To The Daily Sun,
It is a privilege to introduce myself, share why I hope to represent Meredith and Gilford in Concord, and principles fundamental to my decision making.
A Meredith native, I received excellent public schooling from Lang Street and Humiston Schools, the vocational agricultural program at Laconia High School and the University of New Hampshire. Further study led to advanced degrees and research work, including a doctorate in biochemistry from the University of California and research work at the University of Washington.
Hodsdon family farming roots are more than two centuries old. I am proud to still farm and conserve land for agriculture and forestry in Gilford and Meredith. On the Daniel Webster Highway, Picnic Rock is an innovative partnership that saved rural heritage and an entry vista to Meredith for all future generations. Besides those 120 acres, I also own and farm 40 acres in Gilford.
It has been a special honor and volunteer commitment to serve on the Belknap County Conservation District (BCCD) for some 30 years. In roles as supervisor and chairman, I have gained perspective working collaboratively with local, regional, state and federal agencies, staffs, elected officials and citizens.
Experience and education in agriculture, the environment and science will be an asset to the state Legislature, with significant impact to Lakes Region communities. As a Belknap County delegation member I will work to pass a responsible budget that wisely applies taxpayer dollars. I support reasonable prison modification now, based on a cost-effective plan for its usefulness. Kicking this issue too far down the road could be more costly, however, the plan proposed by consultants is far too expensive.
Most county and state employees are dedicated, skilled and hard-working. Over the long term, we will save more money focused on retention, rather than hiring inexperienced staff for positions with critical community health and safety implications.
In short, I believe in a common sense approach to government. Civil, considerate and informed discussion should be the order of the day. Please consider my candidacy on Tuesday's Republican ballot for State Representative, District 2, serving Gilford, Meredith and Belknap County.
Last Updated on Friday, 05 September 2014 11:09
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