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Selectmen seek accomodation with library trustees

MEREDITH — After several years of wrangling with the Board of Trustees of the Public Library, the Board of Selectmen yesterday agreed to present the trustees with a memorandum of understanding designed to clarify the relationship and delineate the responsibilities of the town and the library.

Tension between the selectmen and trustees has arisen against the background of a state statute that vests library trustees with a measure of autonomy, particularly over compensating employees. Among the powers and duties specified by RSA 202-A:11, the trustees shall "appoint a librarian . . . and, in consultation with the librarian, all other employees of the library and determine their compensation and other terms of employment unless, in the cities, other provision is made in the city charter or ordinances."

In 2012, the trustees reclassified an existing position and jumped it by three pay grades, raising the hourly wage of the incumbent by 19 percent. Town Manager Phil Warren acknowledged the statutory authority of the trustees, but reminded them that the town's personnel policy authorizes the selectmen to amend the "salary plan" on the recommendation of the town manager. He also that in approaching the budget, the selectmen had agreed "no new positions and no reclassifications."

Although the Selectboard ultimately acquiesced, Selectman Peter Brothers told the trustees that "there are times when it is very convenient for the library to be part of the town and there are other times when it is not" and cautioned them to "carefully consider decisions at at odds with the town's policies."

The issue is addressed by the memorandum of understanding, which provides "in order for the town to be able to defend and uphold various legal, personnel and liability matters, it is necessary that all employees and departments, including the Library, follow all town ordinances, policies (including the Personnel Policy) and Administrative Regulations."

Yesterday Brothers emphasized the importance the personnel issue, noting that all employees of both the town and library must be treated consistently. He suggested a arranging a meeting with the trustees "to hammer out our major differences."

The other major component of the memorandum of understanding would recognize that the library is a town building and provide for the town to administer and manage its day to day "maintenance and operation." Currently the trustees employ what Warren described as "a very part-time person" who does some maintenance and light cleaning but also draw on town resources and secure independent vendors for more demanding tasks.

Warren said that cost, likely including the conversion of a part-time employee to full-time with benefits, would be incorporated into the town budget. Brothers stressed the importance of identifying and calculating the costs, but said "this is a positive adjustment."

From the audience, Karen Sticht said that the trustees have been unwilling to disclose the balances and terms of their various endowments, appearing to suggest that they could operate the library with less cost to the town. She asked the selectmen if they had considered giving the trustees the library building and saying "here's some money, now go work on some grants."

Brothers explained that the trustees were bound by the terms of their endowments to spend only the income from investments, not the principal. He also said that the trustees have been urged to seek alternative sources of revenue, especially grants.

Dismissing the suggestion that the library could be left to its own devices, Selectman Lou Kahn explained "the town can tax. The library can't. We're bound to them and they're bound to us."

Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 July 2014 12:30

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Substance abuse program not available to all who need it at county jail

LACONIA — Although the courts recommend that as many as nine of 10 inmates at the Belknap County Jail undergo treatment for substance abuse, the capacity of the Department of Corrections to provide help has shrunk.

Superintendent Dan Ward said that the county contracts with Horizons Counseling Center, Inc. of Gilford, which offers the ADAPT (Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment) program. "We have capacity and funding for 12 places," he said, "and the program is always full with a waiting list."

Jacqui Abikoff, executive director of Horizons, said that the program began in 1991 with a federal grant administered by the New Hampshire Department of Justice. Then, she explained, "we worked in cohorts of 24. Everyone started the 12-week program at the same time and finished together."

However, since the federal funding was reduced abut 10 years ago, the capacity of the program has been halved and its structure has been changed. Abikoff said that now inmates are required to complete the 12 modules of the program, but in no particular order. For example, an inmate might being with the sixth week of the program and finish with the fifth week.

Abikoff stressed that the county does not contribute to the cost of programming, which is defrayed primarily by federal funds. At the same time, she said that Horizons contracts with the New Hampshire Department of Health and Services (DHHS) to provide substance abuse treatment for indigents and is able to apportion some personnel costs incurred at the jail to that contract. "Inmates meet the standard of indigence," she remarked.

The federal funding not only limits not only the capacity but also the scope of programming. Abikoff said that funds can only be applied to services for sentenced inmates, emphasizing that they are only assessed by qualified clinicians after being sentenced. She said that the recommendation that an inmate be counseled or treated is initially a bargain struck between the prosecuting and defense attorneys and sanctioned by the judge.

"The court may recommend either the ADAPT program or a residential program, but neither may be appropriate for the individual inmate," Abikoff said. Although their have been efforts to enable clinicians to assess inmates prior to sentencing, she said that the resources required are not available.

Furthermore, Abikoff noted that since funding is restricted to sentenced inmates who are not assessed before sentencing, services cannot be provided to those incarcerated pending trial. An inmate may spend months incarcerated before receiving a one year sentence, then find that with time-served there is insufficient time remaining on the sentence to complete the treatment program. By assessing inmates pending trial, Abikoff said that their condition, together with other risk factors, could be determined, enabling some to be released under close supervision to undergo treatment, which would ease the upward pressure on the jail population.

Underlining the the value of substance abuse programs, Abikoff said that more than half the inmates who complete the ADAPT program continue with counseling and treatment following their release.

"It works," she said, adding that unfortunately while New Hampshire ranks among the top states in the incidence of substance, it ranks among the bottom 10 states in the capacity for treatment.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 July 2014 12:27

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Selectmen agree Belmont should have its own police dog

BELMONT — After hearing a presentation from Master Patrol Officer Evan Boulanger about the town's need for a K-9 police dog, selectmen last evening unanimously agreed to the proposal.

The money, about $16,000, would come from an $18,000 pool of drug forfeiture money that must be spent on drug intervention work.

Boulanger, who would be the dog's handler, said his research indicted that Castle's K-9, Inc. of Pennsylvania would provide an already trained and socialized dog that could be put into service for Belmont within about three to four months.

Chief Mark Lewandoski said he and Boulanger would go to Pennsylvania and select the dog they believe will fit in best with Belmont. Boulanger said he would house the dog and a local veterinarian has said he would donate the medical care and vaccinations the dog would need. A local vendor said he would provide food for the K-9.

Boulanger said other than the tracking and drug intervention work a K-9 would bring to Belmont, he expects the dog to be a community friendly animal that would be prominent in the town's schools and at town sponsored events.

In 2010 and in 2011 Belmont called for and received K-9 assistance 40 times each year with the majority of those assists coming from Laconia and Gilford. In 2012 and 2013, Belmont has used the dogs of neighboring communities but because of on-going K-9 training in Laconia and Gilford and the recent retirement of Gilford's K-9 Agbar, there aren't as many working K-9s in the immediate area as there were a few years ago.

During a few recent incidents, Lewandoski said the N.H. State Police and neighboring communities were willing to help but the wait time for a dog was over an hour.

In one case that was eventually solved, a burglar had attempted to break into an occupied home but was frightened off by the home owner and responding police. Although police looked for the would-be burglar, he had fled into the woods and had hidden. Police later learned that he had been text messaging a friend and saying the police were very near him but they couldn't find him in the dark. Police also learned he was responsible for other burglaries in the same neighborhood.
A K-9, they said, would have found the man and prevented additional burglaries.

Initially, Selectman Chair Ruth Mooney was skeptical. She said she feared that the department wouldn't be able to afford to the program in the upcoming years and it would only be a matter of time before the police came to selectmen looking for money for the K-9 program or an extra officer to compensate for Boulanger.

Lewandoski assured her that wouldn't happen. Many of the 35 residents in the room who came to support the Police Department's request said they would hold fund-raisers to help offset any future costs.

Selectman Ron Cormier said if it were up to him, he would support including the K-9 in the annual police budget but since the department had already done the work to use drug forfeiture money to pay for the program he would vote to support it immediately.

Selectman Jon Pike agreed with Cormier and Mooney and voted in the affirmative to make the decision unanimous.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 July 2014 12:09

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John Stevens named trustee of N.H. Community College System

GILFORD — John Stevens, former commanding officer with the New Hampshire State Police who is now statewide interoperability coordinator with the New Hampshire Department of Safety, has been appointed to the Board of Trustees of the New Hampshire Community College System.

Stevens earned his bachelor's degree in law enforcement from the University of New Haven and master's degree in public administration from Golden Gate University. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and has completely a variety of programs in law enforcement at different institutions. Stevens has taught as an adjunct professor at the College of Lifelong Learning.

Stevens will represent the law enforcement community on the Board of Trustees.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 July 2014 01:03

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