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Lay offs appear likely if county is to meet court order to get health insurance costs back within original budget

LACONIA — County Commissioner John Thomas of Belmont, who chairs the Belknap County Commission, said yesterday that when the commission meets this evening it will "weigh its options" for addressing a court order prohibiting the commissioners from spending more money from any line item in the county budget than the convention appropriated to it and from transferring more than $300 from any line item without the express approval of the Belknap County Convention.

Last week Justice James D. O'Neill, III granted the request of the convention for a preliminary injunction to forbid the commission from spending more money from any annual line item than the convention appropriated to it without the written approval of the Executive Committee of the convention. Likewise, any transfer of more than $300 from one line item to another also requires the approval of the executive committee.

In the 2014 budget the convention adopted in March, $2,594,925 was appropriated for health insurance, the same amount expended in 2013. However, the commission, without approaching the executive committee, transferred sufficient funds from other line items to fund the employer's share of the annual premium increase and has authorized those payments for the first three quarters of the year.

Questioning the decision, Thomas said yesterday that "the judge is not looking at the ramifications of the issue. There's not much that can be said at this point," he continued. He said that the commission will meet legal counsel prior to their meeting tonight to consider the implications of the judge's order.

Meanwhile, County Administrator Debra Shackett and Finance Director Glen Waring had begun assessing the effects of the ruling and alternative means of complying with it.

Representative Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), who chairs the convention, said that she was very pleased but not surprised by the ruling. "I don't see how the statute (RSA 24) can be interpreted in any other way than how Judge O'Neill interpreted it," she said. "They have been playing dirty pool for two years," she said of the commissioners, "and they've bought themselves a boatload of trouble."

"There is nothing new, different or radical about he decision," said Representative Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), chairman of the executive committee of the convention. "This is how the budget process worked in Belknap County until the last four years," he said, allowing that this year the threshold for transfers requiring the approval of the executive committee was lowered to $300 while it had been as much as $10,000 in past years.

Tilton said that he has scheduled a meeting of the executive committee on Monday, September 15 to "review the budget through the month of August and consider any requests for transfers." Although he confessed "I have no idea what the commissioners will do," he said "I hope they will communicate before the meeting on September 15."

For the commission, defraying the employer's share of the increased cost of health insurance is a contractual obligation under the collective bargaining agreement negotiated with the union representing county employees. Those contracts have expired and new agreements have not been ratified or funded.

In the interim the Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB) and New Hampshire Supreme Court have ruled that the employer is required to maintain the "status quo" until a new agreement is ratified and funded. Futhermore, the court ruled that "that the health insurance benefits received by the bargaining unit members ... are conditions of employment" and the employer "must continue to provide these benefits during the status quo period regardless of the cost."

Worsman, yesterday, disagreed. "There is no contract," she insisted. "The contract expired a year or two ago." She said that the convention met the obligation by budgeting the same amount in 2014 and as it did in 2013. "No one got less this year than they received last year," she said.

Nevertheless, the commissioners feared that should the county fail to fully fund the increase in the employer contribution to health insurance it could find itself in breach of contract. And they declined to reduce the number of employees — allowed under "status quo — and, with what the convention appropriated, full fund the health insurance benefit of those who remained.

Now there is a real prospect of lay offs.

During the first three quarters of the year, the commission will have spent approximately $180,000 more on health insurance than the convention appropriated. One option would be to lay off a sufficient number of employees, whose remaining health insurance costs would match the overage. The effect would be to balance health insurance expenditures with what the convention appropriated while spending less than appropriated for wages and associated costs. The Daily Sun estimated that this option would require laying off about 30 employees.

Alternatively the commissioners could reduce the number of layoffs and request the executive committee to approve transferring the funds saved in wages to offset the overage in health insurance.

Ironically, this spring both Worsman and Tilton introduced legislation to amend the statute governing the county budget process, which mirrored the logic and effect of O'Neill's order. In the New Hampshire House of Representatives, the Municipal and County Government Committee unanimously recommended against both bills, which were ultimately rejected by voice votes on the House floor.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 September 2014 01:06

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Silt carried to mouth of Black Brook to be subject of joint Laconia/Gilford study

GILFORD — After hearing from Conservation Commission members Carole Hall and Everett McLaughlin during last week's meeting, selectmen suggested they add $4,000 to their operating budget next year to contribute toward a study of Black Brook.

The study, which is being proposed jointly with the Laconia Conservation Commission, is to evaluate the silt and fluvial erosion the empties into Spinaker Cove on Paugus Bay.

The cove, said John Jude, a member of the Gilford Conservation Commission, is filled not only with milfoil — an invasive species that has long plagued area waters — but garbage as well.

Black Book has its headwaters in Lily Pond and winds a short way through the heavily commercial corridor bordering Lake Share Drive (Rte. 11) before discharging into Spinaker Cover

Jude said the study and a clean up of Black Brook has been spearheaded by the Laconia Conservation Commission.

The City of Laconia received two bids for the first phase of the study/action plan and successfully negotiated with DuBois & King to do the study.

To date, the city of Laconia has raised $17,000 for the geo-morphic study (Phase 1) that will help develop and intimate understanding of the physical condition or the existing stream corridor and the nature of the problem.

Walmart and Hutter Construction contributed $10,000 to assist with Phase I and the Lacona Conservation Commission added $7,000 of funds not expended from the 2014-2015 budget.

Additional donations have been received or are anticipated by private land owners along Black Brook.

With the $4,000 contribution from Gilford in the next budget year, Jude said they will have enough money to complete the geo-morphic study.

Both conservation commissions will continue to raise money for the second and third phases of the study — the total of which will be $35,000. After Phase I is the Hydrological and Hydraulic Culvert Analysis and the Watershed Plan.

The goals of the study and eventual work that will likely be done through a federal grant, is to reduce to need for ongoing dredging at Spinaker Cove; reduce the milfoil by eliminating some of the sediments that accumulate in the stagnate areas by the Union Avenue Road; decrease the turbidity and reduce the water temperature; control the debris; improve flows from the brook and replace some of the culverts to better control vegetative buffers; and to protect Paugus Bay — the drinking water supply for Laconia.

Jude said ideally and initially, he would like to get a work group together and pick up some of the garbage that has flowed down Black Brook. He said Black Brook is short and, for the most part, they already know what the stress factors are.

There is a meeting of the Joint Gilford-Laconia Subcommittee on Black Brook scheduled to meet tonight at 6 p.m. in Laconia.

CUTLINE: ( Black Brook) Black Brook as it appears just before the Union Avenue Bridge. A quiet sanctuary just feet from a busy avenue, this area is home to blue herons, turtles, ducks and other aquatic wildlife. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Gail Ober)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 September 2014 01:04

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100 strong, Up With People arrives in Laconia

LACONIA — An international cast of 100 young performers who will present two Up With People concerts here this coming weekend arrived in Laconia yesterday and hooked-up with their host families early last evening at the Middle School.
Host families identified themselves to cast members who would be staying with them by carrying signs or symbols of New Hampshire attractions, such as Weirs Beach.
Clyde Foxhall of Cleveland, Ohio and Adolfo Larra of Correon, Mexico, were asking people ''what's a Fishercat?'' and were able to locate their host after being told that it was the name of a minor league baseball team in Manchester.
''Oh, we saw a baseball right over there. That must be the place,'' said Foxhall, who was soon linked up Valerie Cummings of Gilford, who will host he and Larra this week.
Cummings said that her 10-year-old daughter is looking forward to the experience and that she had been persuaded to host the young people by her friend Sarah Fox of Sanbornton. who had told her it would be a great experience.
Fox, who grew up in Franklin, was with Up With People Cast B Class of 93-94, and was waiting with Cummings to greet the cast members. ''They're going to love it here,'' she said.
Members of the Hosmer family of Laconia carried a N.H. Science Center sign and dressed as outdoors adventurers to greet Manuel Schwizer of Switzerland and Connor Raymond of Billings, Montana.
''We're going to show them Lake Winnipesaukee and take them hiking on Mount Major,'' said Donna Hosmer, who was there along with husband, Andrew, and daughter, Brigid, to pick up their guests for the coming week. They also plan a stop at Funspot, the world's largest arcade.

The cast had arrived earlier in the day from Cumberland, Rhode Island, and entertained themselves with what cast member Tristan MacLean of Albuquerque, New Mexico, described as an ''internal cultural fair'' at the Middle School.
Laconia is the third stop on the Cast B tour, which began in July, but Monse Serrano of Guadalajara, Mexico, has been on the tour since January and is already in her second semester, has already visited nearly 20 communities.
Serrano, who is 18, says that she loves theater and being able to take part in musical productions with so many young and talented people from all over the world.
MacLean says that his home city is famed for being the site of the Emmy award winning ''Breaking Bad'' television series. He said that he has no definite plans for the future. "I'm going with the flow and letting the wind take me where it will. The opportunity to get connected with so many amazing people while I'm so young is just a wonderful experience.''
Rebecca Brisson of British Columbia, Canada, says that she's been on the tour since the middle of July and that so far ''it's just fantastic.'' She's already earned a bachelors degree in chemistry,math and biology and plans to return to college after the tour to earn a teaching degree.
On both Friday and Saturday nights (Sept. 5 and 6) at 7 p.m., Up With People will perform in concert at the Laconia Middle School. Their spectacular, 2-hour "Voices" show will feature both original and popular music and is dynamic blend of feature soloists, full-cast production numbers, fast-moving choreography and colorful costumes.
Tickets are priced at $15 for adults and $10 for students and senior citizens and are on sale at all Meredith Village Savings Bank locations. Additionally, tickets may be purchased online at www.upwithpeople.com/Laconia.
Net proceeds from the concerts will benefit three local not-for-profit organizations: Stand Up Laconia, Gilford Got Lunch and Got Lunch! Laconia.
An Up With People ensemble will also perform a special, free 20-minute show in Rotary Park at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday morning  as part of the opening ceremony for the city's annual Multicultural Festival.

During the week, performers will be working on various community service projects and rehearsing, as well as spending time with their host families.
Based in Denver, Up With People casts have performed in 38 countries around the world over the last 48 years. Performers vary in age from 17 to 29.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 September 2014 12:48

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CORRECTION: Mr. Arbo's name is Stephen

CORRECTION: Stephen Arbo is the husband of Barbara Arbo, the founder of Arbo Ministries of Gilford. His name was incorrectly reported in an article that ran on the front page of Thursday's Daily Sun.

Last Updated on Monday, 01 September 2014 10:43

Hits: 31

 
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