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Council asks county to target $15M to $20M for jail project

LACONIA — The City Council this week unanimously adopted a resolution setting several criteria it believes should be met in renovating or reconstructing the Belknap County Jail.

City property taxpayers bear approximately 20 percent of the county's annual operating budget and an equivalent share of its annual debt service to fund capital projects.

Councilors agreed that the county jail must comply with all state and federal regulations and standards required of correctional facilities in order to eliminate any liability to the county arising from litigation initiated on behalf of inmates.

The council specified that a compliant facility should be built for between $15 million and $20 million, either by renovating some or all of the existing facility, constructing an entirely new jail or some combination of the two. The term of a borrowing to fund the project should be as long as possible considering the projected useful life of the facility in order to minimize the annual principal and interest payments.

Finally, the council proposed that the annual cost of additional personnel or programming at a new facility should, from a budgeting standpoint, be incorporated into the debt service carried by the municipalities. In other words, the higher the cost of constructing a new facility, the lower the cost of additional personnel and programming.

The positions were proposed by Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3).

Since 2006 the city has budgeted within the bounds of a property tax cap, which limits the annual increase in the amount to be raised by property taxes to the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index and the property tax value of new construction. If the increase in the county apportionment exceeds the limits on the county apportionment set by the tax cap, it must be offset by corresponding reductions in city and/or school expenditures.

The council also agreed to invite all current members of the Belknap County Convention and candidates for those same positions to attend a council meeting in October to discuss the jail issue. Invitations will also be sent to current members of the Belknap County Commission and all candidates for those same positions, as well as State Senator Andrew Hosmer of Laconia and his opponent, Kathy Lauer-Rago of Franklin.

Last Updated on Friday, 26 September 2014 12:18

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With union negotiations behind them, police commissioners adjust benefits for non-union staff

LACONIA — After meeting in a non-public session last week, Police Commissioners publicly voted to change the compensation and benefits programs for their non-union staff.

The Laconia Police Officers Association agreed to terms on a new three-year collective bargaining agreement earlier this month and that contract was approved by City Council.

To bring the sergeants in line with the rest of the patrol staff, the maximum number of compensation hours or "comp time" that can be accumulated has increased by the commisisoners from 50 hours to 80 hours.

Civilian staff will remain at 50 hours.

Shift differentials for patrol officers and sergeants went to 60 cents per hours for the 4 p.m. to midnight shift and to 80 cents per hour for the midnight to 8 a.m. shift.

Dispatchers' shift differentials were set at rates half of the above with evening dispatchers earning 30 cents per hour and midnight dispatchers earning 60 cents per hour.

Commissioner Warren Clement voted against this provision because he felt dispatchers should earn the same shift differential, said Capt. Bill Clary.

Sworn officers earn five weeks of vacation beginning in their 20th year. Civilian employees are capped at four weeks. In addition, sworn officers must be employed for six years to earn a third week of vacation while civilian staff must be employed seven years to earn the third week.

For those employees hired after 2014, their severance package is limited to the value of 50 percent of their unused sick time. For those hired before July of 2014, the severance package includes 100 percent of the value of their unused sick time.

Last Updated on Friday, 26 September 2014 11:54

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Lawmakers chastise county administration but approve budget transfer of $10k to get jail through the weekend

LACONIA — A rump of four of the seven members of the executive committee of the Belknap County Convention met in an emergency session yesterday and unanimously approved the request of Dan Ward, Superintendent of the county jail, to transfer $10,000 to ensure inmates necessary medications through the weekend.

Funding for medications was the most acute issue arising from the preliminary injunction issued by Justice James D. O'Neill, III of Belknap County Superior Court prohibiting the Belknap County Commission from either spending in excess of any 2014 line-item appropriation or transferring more than $300 from one line item to another without the approval of the executive committee.

Meanwhile, Representative Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), chairman of the committee, was more concerned with how the emergency arose. "I'm wrestling with the questions of when and why this need occurred," he said, "with why we're here today." He noted that O'Neill issued his order on August 28 and said "this could have been repaired in 20 minutes." Reminding the commissioners that the executive committee was scheduled to meet on September 15 and asked "why did you not give us a request on the 15th?"

"Why don't we just move forward?" replied Commissioner Steve Nedeau.

"The bigger issue is why did we go 20 days without a request for transfers," Tilton insisted.

County Administrator Debra Shackett then began speaking from prepared notes. She said the commission received the court order on August 29 and on September 4 advised the committee that neither the county commissioners nor the county administrator could attend a meeting on the 15th and asked for the meeting to be rescheduled. The meeting was not rescheduled, but Tilton indicated he would hold another meeting, most likely on September 29.

Shackett said that on September 18 the commissioners prepared requests to transfer funds within the budget and wrote to Tilton asking him to convene a meeting of the executive committee. On the 23rd Tilton announced that the committee would meet on the 29th. Claiming that operations at the nursing home and county could not be maintained past the 26th without transfers of funds, the commission asked O'Neill to compel the executive committee to meet on the 25th. The court refused the request.

"When exactly the emergency occurred and when it was conveyed to the public are not of primary importance to the safe and continued operation of this organization," Shackett said. "It has not been easy or quick to adapt to new procedures."

Tilton insisted that his initial question had not been answered, adding that the requests for transfers could have been presented and addressed in the first week of September immediately after the court order or when the executive committee met on the 15th. He pointed out that the committee did not require the presence of the commissioners to consider the requests.

Representative Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), who chairs the convention, said that although the court issued a preliminary injunction, management of the county budget must comply with the order. "Enough with the lawyers," she said, eying Shackett. "Just do your job." She indicated that funds appropriated for legal expenses may have been exhausted and repeated, "leave the lawyers out of it and let's move forward."

However, as the meeting adjourned Nedeau said that the commission, which has asked O'Neill to reconsider his decision, intends to appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, should he refuse to do so.

In the meantime, the executive committee will reconvene on Monday, September 29 at 5 p.m. to consider 13 more requests to transfer funds totaling $604,818.20. Finance Director Glen Waring anticipated that more transfers will be requested throughout the fourth quarter of the fiscal year ending on December 31.

Last Updated on Friday, 26 September 2014 11:51

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WEEKEND - Funds raised at today's WOW Fest in Laconia vital to final push toward funding of Phase 2 of recreation trail

LACONIA — The 6th Annual WOW Fest takes place today at the Laconia Athletic & Swim Club. The fun-filled event features two bicycle challenges, 5K and 10K road races, a fun walk, lunch and live music.

WOW Fest is an important fundraiser for the WOW Trail, which is currently a 1.3 mile recreation trail connecting Lakeport to downtown Laconia.
The WOW Trail is a planned 9 mile recreation path to be built alongside the active railroad corridor through the City of Laconia. When completed, it will showcase the three lakes for which it is named: Winnisquam, Opechee & Winnipesaukee, as a part of the regional trail network that will connect Meredith to Franklin and the Northern Rail Trail.
Final design and fundraising for Phase 2 of the WOW Trail is currently underway, which will double the length of the trail from downtown Laconia to a planned Belmont trail, for which voters there approved funds at the March town meeting. Construction of the second phase is scheduled to begin in the Spring of 2015, if funds allow.
Speaking at the WOW Trail annual meeting this summer, Gretchen Gandini, executive director, said that she expected the design work would be complete before the year is out and the funds for the project would be in hand by the coming of spring.
Alan Beetle, president of the WOW Trail board, said that HEB Engineers, Inc. of Conway has estimated the cost of constructing the second phase at $975,000, stressing "this is only an estimate." This figure is in addition to the $151,552 that has already been spent on this phase of the project.
In 2007, the WOW Trail contributed $71,881 to the cost of rebuilding the Fair Street Bridge in anticipation that it would carry the trail across the Winnipesaukee River. Since 2011 another $79,671 has been spent on design and engineering.
It was reported at that meeting that the organization had over $300,000 cash on hand.
The City Council has agreed to apply $400,000 from a larger borrowing to be retired by the Downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Fund to the project. And the trail was one of two recreational projects to be awarded state tax credits worth $125,000 by the New Hampshire Community Development Financing Authority. The sale of those credits to private business will net $100,000 for the cause.
Beetle said the second phase, unlike the first, crosses and brook and wetlands and requires a bridge and two boardwalks. Apart from raising the funds, he said that easements remain to be negotiated with two property owners.
The WOW Fest and the other major fundraisers for the trail effort, the WOW Ball, and BOW WOW Fest, along with other contributions,helped the WOW trail organization raises $134,504 in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2014. Gandini said that the WOW Fest attracts about 400 participants and raises over $20,000 a year.
Event day registration will be available at Laconia Athletic & Swim Club today. All events start and end at the club.
Bicycle events include the Lake Challenge ($65), a 67 mile ride around Lake Winnipesaukee which gets underway at 7 a.m. and the Bay Challenge ($60), a 15-mile trip around Paugus Bay which starts at 10 a.m.
Running events include the Opechee 5K Road Race ($35) and Opechee 10K Road Race ($40), both of which start at 9 a.m.
There will also be a three-mile Trail Fun Walk ($25) which starts at 10:30 a.m.
All events are followed by a luncheon provided by Fratello's Italian Grille, T-Bones Great American Restaurant, The Common Man Restaurants & Patrick's Pub & Eatery. There will also be live music with Justin Jaymes, a beer garden with Contigiani's Catering.
The festival, which runs from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., is also open to those not taking part in the events and includes lunch, lives music and children's activities. Fees are $10 for teens and adults and $5 for children 12 and under.
"Bank of New Hampshire is proud to support the WOW Trail and the 2014 WOW Fest event," explains Mark Primeau, president and CEO of Bank of New Hampshire. "This is an exciting event that encourages all of us to get out and get active while supporting this worthy project. We believe the WOW Trail contributes to the health and economic vitality of our community and we support its continued growth."
Gandini says ''The regional trail will be a significant enhancement to our economy and it's not just us trail advocates who are saying so. According to downtown Laconia business owner Myles Chase of MC Cycle and Sport, 'We have a customer base of recreational riders who seek out and travel to these types of trails as a destination. With the new addition to Belmont and eventually beyond, there is no doubt that riders from afar would do the same for the WOW Trail.' "
Donation to the Phase 2 expansion efforts can be made online at www.wowtrail.org or by mail to PO Box 6832, Laconia, NH 03247.

Last Updated on Friday, 26 September 2014 11:39

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