$98K cut - Laconia schools forced to find ways to make up for state aid reduction


LACONIA — The Laconia School District will forego another $98,443 in state aid during the current school year, in addition to the reduction of $455,335 in state aid, which contributed to significant cuts last spring to bring the school district budget into compliance with the tax cap.

"We will try to find the extra revenue to make up the shortfall within our budget by saving on expenses during the the course of the year," said School Superintendent Brendan Minnihan. "The real challenge will be in the next school year." He explained that preparing the 2017-18 budget will start from a point more than $500,000 below what the School Board considers appropriate with the prospect of further reductions in state aid, which may not be able to be offset within the limits of the tax cap.

The most recent reduction in state aid reflects the revision of the school enrollment the New Hampshire Department of Education projected last November, which served as the basis for calculating state aid and preparing the school district budget for 2016-2017. Last month, the department adjusted the enrollment to more accurately measure the number of students enrolled at the beginning of the school year.

The formula for distributing state aid provides $3,561.27 in aid for each student, which multiplied by the number of students represents the base aid. At the same time, the state provides an additional $1,780.63 for each student eligible for free or reduced lunch and also provides additional aid for students with special needs, learning English as a second language and third-graders deficient in reading.

Last November, the projected enrollment in the Laconia School District for 2016-2017 was 1,819 students, 95 fewer than the year before. Last month this projection was revised upward to 1,849 students. However, the projected number of students eligible for free or reduced lunch was revised downward from 1,098 to 995. As a result, the base aid to the district increased from $6.6 million to $6.5 million, or by $100,839. But, with the decline in the number of students eligible for free or reduced lunch, the amount of additional aid fell from $2 million to $1.8 million, or by $183,689. The net effect of these adjustments was to reduce the total amount of state aid by $82,850.

Other categories of state aid also underwent minor adjustments. And the so-called "stabilization grant," an amount to hold municipalities harmless from decreases in the aid received in fiscal year 2011, was reduced 4 percent as the first step toward eliminating it altogether. The end result was to reduce the total amount of state to the school district by $98,443, from the $6,052,278 projected last November to $5,953,835.


The cost of growing old - County hopes to save money by keeping aging citizens in their homes


LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners, reacting to a looming crisis in licensed nursing home costs borne by county taxpayers, agreed Wednesday morning to form a committee to look into programs that will allow senior citizens to remain in their homes longer as they age.
Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) pointed out that 44 percent of the $13,837,174 raised from Belknap County taxpayers in 2015, or $6,149,554, was paid to the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services as the county's share of a statutory requirement mandated by the legislature that the state's 10 counties pay the bulk of the 50 percent non-federal share of Medicaid costs for needy seniors who reside in a licensed nursing home or who receive in-home care. Those funds are separate from what the county pays for the Belknap County Nursing Home, which has 94 residents, and is funded in a different line in the county budget.
"Unless an unexpected change in financing elder care occurs, the non-federal Medicaid share will continue to be paid for through county taxes as a component of the local property tax. Thus a significant need exists to better control the cost of elder care," Taylor wrote in a letter to his fellow commissioners.
Taylor wrote that recent invoices paid by Belknap County show that the county is currently paying the non-federal Medicaid share on an average of 366 Belknap County seniors – 219 for nursing home care and 147 for in-home care," wrote Taylor. "The average monthly cost per person is $2,098.61 for nursing home care, $780.44 for in-home care. Based on these numbers a shift of 25 from nursing home care to in-home care would produce an annual savings of almost $400,000. A three-year delay in institutional care for our hypothetical 25 results in a $1.2 million savings."
The committee will include representatives from Community Action Program for Belknap-Merrimack Counties, Visiting Nurses, Genesis Behavioral Health, LRG Healthcare, Belknap County Nursing Home administrator in training Shelley Richardson, County Administrator Debra Shackett and Lori Shibinette, Merrimack County Nursing Home administrator, who has led a similar study for Merrimack County, as well as a representative from DHHS.
"It's vital that we be able to keep people in their homes longer," Taylor said, adding that programs like the Community Action Program provide the kind of services the elderly need such as meals on wheels, senior companion and transportation.
He said that supplementing current Medicaid services with non-Medicaid services should be considered. "The feasibility of such programs as house handyman service, grocery shopping and delivery, laundry service and adult day care should be considered. Clearly spending a little on the non-Medicaid side to save a lot on the Medicaid side would be worthwhile. Spending $100,000 to save $400,000 makes a lot of sense to me."
Commissioner Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) said that he liked the idea of doing a study and asked whether Taylor favored reducing the number of beds in the Belknap County Nursing Home, which currently is licensed for 94 residents and is funded in a separate line item in the county budget.
Taylor said that reducing the number of county nursing home beds in light of the projections of the elderly population more than doubling over the next 25 years didn't seem to be a good idea and observed that the county currently loses about a half million a year on the nursing home, which is much lower than the costs it bears for those in private nursing homes.
The committee is expected to come back to the county commission by early next summer with recommendations on programs and policies designed to keep elderly people living longer in their own homes.

Weather watcher - Meredith man honored for life’s work keeping records


MEREDITH — When Hurricane Hazel swept through White Plains, New York, in 1954, Dave Connor's father told his children to stay far from the windows. "I watched the storm through the mail slot in the front door," Connor, who was then seven recalled, "but it was exciting enough that it got me interested."

Connor began observing and keeping records of the weather as a teenager in Poughkeepsie, New York, and for the past 22 years has served as a Cooperative Weather Observer for the National Weather Service at Gray, Maine, which this week rewarded the faithfulness, accuracy and quality of his observations with a John Campanius Holm Award. The award is named for a Lutheran minister whose recorded weather observations taken at New Sweden, near Wilmington, Delaware, in 1644 and 1645 were the first taken in the North American colonies, and places Connor in select company. The honor is bestowed on not more than 25 of the nearly 9,000 Cooperative Weather Observers across the country each year.

Connor recalled taking his first records in 1961, a year of extreme in Poughkeepsie, when a blizzard dropped 31 inches of snow in January and the mercury touched 100 degrees in July. While serving in the United States Navy aboard the U.S.S. W.S. Sims, a destroyer escort based at Mayport Naval Base in Jacksonville, Florida, Connor was often consulted about weather conditions by the captain and once helped steer the ship to port past a tropical storm off the Florida coast. Meanwhile, he provided the crew with daily weather reports on closed-circuit television.

After leaving the Navy, Connor spent the next 20 years at Jacksonville Beach, where he began keeping records for the National Weather Service in 1976.

"It started as a hobby, but it grew into something that was useful to other people," he said.

As he followed Matthew, the most recent hurricane to strike the Florida coastline, he said that had he remained in Jacksonville, "The water would have come through my front door and left only the slab."

In 1990 Connor moved to New Hampshire, working with the United States Postal Service in Laconia and Lakeport and continuing to watch, record and report on the weather. Every day, he reports the high and low temperatures, along with the temperature at 11:30 p.m., the wind speed and highest gust, amount and rate of precipitation, whether rain or snow, and "anything out of the ordinary."

"He's always looking for the dramatic," said his sister, Diane Beaman of Laconia. "And I never get it," Connor added.

He explained that his home lies "in a hole," about 100 feet below the top of Coe Hill, shadowed by the Ossipee Mountains and Red Hill. "I get about 40 percent less snowfall," he continued, saying "if there is 15 inches in Laconia, there is 11 inches here, and if Tamworth and Moultonborough get 16 or 17 inches, I get 10 inches." He did say that two old field pines stood on his property before Hurricane Floyd in 1999, "but now there's only one."

In reporting weather conditions, Connor said that "I strive to be accurate rather than spectacular."

Nikki Becker, observing program leader with the National Weather Service at Gray, Maine, stressed the quality of Connor's observations was a significant factor in earning him the award. The citation reads: "For extraordinary service in reporting detailed observations of temperature, precipitation, and snow depth, for over 22 years from Meredith, New Hampshire. The National Weather Service Services regards your observations as a vital resource for wearer supply forecasts of the Merrimack River Basins."

Connor said that the past year has been overshadowed by the drought. He said he has measured 27.88 inches of rainfall since Jan. 1, 11 inches below the normal amount, while the 33 inches of snowfall last winter was half the average of 65 inches. But, he was cautiously optimistic that conditions would change. He said that La Nina conditions , the opposite of El Nino conditions, are forming in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, which generally lead the northern storm track to carry lower temperatures and heavier snowfall to the Northeast. "It could be a good year for snow," he remarked.

10-19 NOAA award

Hendricus J. Lulofs, Meterologist in Charge, of the National Weather Service at Gray, Maine, presents David Connor of Meredith with the John Campanius Holm Award in recognition of his 22 years of exemplary service as Cooperative Weather Observer. Connor was one of not more than 25 nearly 9,000 observers across the country to receive the award. (courtesy photo)