Laconia man guilty of Social Security fraud

CONCORD — A Laconia man pleaded guilty yesterday in the U.S. District Court to three counts of Social Secutity Fraud for misrepresenting to the state that he had custody of two minor children.

A Department of Justice media release said Walter Morton, 49, had begin receiving SSI benefits and a child's insurance benefits of behalf of his minor daughter and his minor stepson. He was responsible for using this money for the benefit of the children for clothing, head, food, housing and other life necessities.

On three occassions between August 2010 and December 2012, Morton is said to have represented to the SSA that the children resided with him. An investigation revealed that the children had not lived with him since 2003 and that he had defrauded the federal SSA of $58,459.

Morton is scheduled to be sentenced on October 2. He is facing a maximum of 5 years on each account.

Independent evaluation of Belmont Mill concludes building is 'worth saving'

BELMONT – After a listening session facilitated by Castagna Consulting Group brought nearly 50 people to the high school to discuss the future of the Belmont Mill on May 9, Castagna released its final report to the selectmen a few weeks ago.

In it, Castagna identified some of the structural issues including a heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system that needs replacing, the floor softness in parts of the fourth floor and some mold issues within the entire building.

Castagna added the exterior brick work need repairs and there is a plan for that created by the companies hired to evaluate the mill and enable the town to put an amount on the bond issue.

They noted the doctor's office, Belknap Family Health Care, occupies the entire second floor and is looking to expand. The Lakes Region Community College is gone and the childcare center on the first floor is moving to larger quarters in another Belmont location.

Castagna also drew the conclusion that the Belmont town hall operates from some small cramped quarters and that the nearby former bank remains standing but empty "yet in control of the town". Castagna also recognized that the Parks and Recreation Department and the Police Department also work in limited spaces.

While a few people who attended the session recommended selling the mill, the report said that has its drawbacks because only the building can be sold — not the land under it — meaning a long-term lease would be needed.

Anyone purchasing or long-term leasing it must anticipate a $3- to 4-million repair and the federal grant used to refurbish it originally in the 1990s would need to be paid. The outstanding balance is $200,000.

The plus side, said Castagna, would be the town wouldn't have to worry about operating expenses and would no longer be a landlord. The down side is a new owner could tear it down unless the town negotiated a deed restriction.

Castagna recommendations are based in part on what it heard from town and from what it learned from the teams who examined the mill to determine how much money should be put on the March bond warrant.

"First and foremost, in my opinion," wrote the author of the Castagna report, " The mill building is worth saving."

"For an industry perspective, the cost for the repairs is economically viable," reads the Castagna report. But it will, said the report, take 7 to 10 years to become viable.

The reports highlights three options with Belknap Family Health Care, the worst of which is its complete departure from Belmont Village and something no one who came to the May session wants to see.

The best option for Belmont is to sell the building to LRGHealthcare of Laconia and let it become the owner/manager/landlord.

In the middle, the town could rent additional space to the Family Heath Care group, pay for necessary building repairs, pay off the grant, and renegotiate the lease so in the short term the repairs can be offset by rent.

The report drafters noted that if the doctor's office stays it is likely the senior center will stay as well.

Castagna also recommended establishing a facility maintenance fund. Selectman Ron Cormier said there is a capital facilities fund that has been used in the past for maintenance. He said if the mill bond passed, much of it would have gone to that project.

Castagna recommends a town facility committee that would hire professionals as needed for facilitation and vetting operations.

"Make the process transparent to avoid the inference of backroom deal making," said Costagna.

Following a resolution for the mill, the company told the town to then focus on its other building needs like town offices, the bank building, and the Gale School.

Candle produces fire scare at Laconia home

LACONIA — Firefighters carried a dish of burning candle wax from a home at 36 Dartmouth Street yesterday afternoon, averting what Fire Chief Ken Erickson said could have turned into more serious situation.

Shortly after 4 p.m. one of the three children in the home at the time called 911 when a burning candle set the gases emitted by the liquified wax afire. Erickson said that it was fortunate they did not try to douse the flames or move the dish, which could easily have spread the fire. The table holding the candle was covered with wax, he said, but there was no damage and no one was injured. "They did the right thing by calling 911," Erickson remarked.

Hassan says proposed state budget is ‘unbalanced’

LACONIA — "There's a lot of common ground here," Gov. Maggie Hassan said yesterday. "There's a good deal to be had here. "The governor, a Democrat, last week vetoed the 2016-17 state budget adopted by the Legislature and this week said, "we're making the rounds because I hoped we'd have an agreed budget and we don't."

During an interview at the office of the Laconia Daily Sun, Hassan, who was accompanied by state Sen. Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, took aim at the budget adopted by Republican majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives, which she called "unbalanced."

In particular, Hassan took issue with the Legislature's decision to reduce business taxes at the expense of more important priorities, which she believes will cripple future budgets by sapping revenues by $21 million in this biennium, $65 million in the next and $90 million in the one after that. "Ninety million dollars is a big number," she said, equal to the annual budget of the New Hampshire Community College System.

The governor recalled that the bipartisan budget adopted in her first term sought to expand employment and opportunity while stemming the loss of young people and protecting the state's low-tax environment by investing in infrastructure, higher education, mental health and substance abuse programs. Hassan noted that in 2014 the growth of the economy matched Massachusetts to set the pace in New England, and surpassed the national average. At the same time, New Hampshire enjoyed the lowest per capita tax burden in the country and was ranked the seventh most "business friendly" state by the Tax Foundation.

This year, Hassan said, the budget "passed in a partisan way." She said that the budget "double-counted" funding in 2015 by increasing the transfer to the revenue stabilization or "rainy day" fund by almost $12 million and the projected surplus by $15 million. Such "gimmicks," she said, "used in emergencies have become bad habits and within months will require cuts to balance the budget."

The governor said that she is not opposed to reducing business taxes, but added that she heard from business leaders that the development of a skilled workforce is their highest priority. She noted that the state has forgone revenue because of changes to the tax code introduced in 2010 and insisted "this is not the time to cut revenue. In the abstract we'd love it, " she continued, "but under the circumstances they're making the wrong choice."

Hassan said that she has suggested raising vehicle registration fees and the tobacco tax as well as closing loopholes in business taxes to pay for reduced business taxes, but has been rebuffed by Republican who refuse to increase any tax or fee.

Hassan said that she is also troubled by the failure of the Legislature to fund the contract negotiated with state employees and to ensure the perpetuation of the New Hampshire Health Protection Program (HPP).

The contract, she explained, was negotiated before she delivered her budget address in February, but the Legislature chose not only to withhold the necessary funding but also to defer implementation of the contract if the money was available.

Declining to reauthorize the HPP, the governor said, has created uncertainty about the health insurance of some 41,000 enrolled in the program, some of whom receive treatment for substance abuse and mental illness. At the same time, it has unsettled the health insurance market, which weighs on businesses contemplating the future cost of health insurance for their employees.

On the heels of Hassan's veto, the Legislature adopted a continuing resolution, which ensures that state government continues to operate with funding at the level of fiscal year 2015, which ends today. Although Hassan said she was "encouraged" by the continuing resolution, she said that "we must get back to the table." Funding programs and services at 2015 levels, she called "kicking the can down the road" and urged lawmakers to "return to the table sooner rather than later."