New England briefs

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Police: Traffic flagger struck by tree dies from injuries

Police say a traffic flagger who was seriously injured in Vermont last month after being struck by a tree has died.

Workers were removing the tree along Godfrey Road in Thetford on Feb. 16 when it struck 77-year-old Donald Ferland of Greensboro Bend.

Ferland, who was not wearing a hard hat or other protective equipment, was taken to Dartmouth Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Police say he died from his injuries on Monday.

He was employed for traffic control by New England Tree Experts of Hardwick. The crew was helping to clear for a utility line upgrade along the road.

Police and the Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration are investigating.

Record warmth this winter in parts of New England

This winter is going to carry a dubious distinction in parts of New England.

The National Weather Service says the temperature from December through February was the warmest on record in Caribou, Maine; Concord, New Hampshire; and Providence, Rhode Island. It was the second-warmest in Boston; Hartford, Connecticut; and Portland, Maine.

Those preliminary figures were released Tuesday.

All of northern New England has been battered by warm temperatures and heavy rain that has melted snow that's needed for winter tourism.

Officials say the average mean was 21.3 degrees in Caribou, beating the old record by three-tenths of a degree, and 37.3 in Providence, beating the old record by six-tenths of a degree. Concord's 30.9 degrees beat a record had stood since the winter of 1879-1880.

School district consolidation plans pass by wide margins

Voters have approved five school district consolidation plans around Vermont.

Merger plans passed by wide margins on Town Meeting Day Tuesday in the Addison Northwest, Franklin Central, Addison Central, Orange Southwest, and Rutland South districts, Vermont Public Radio reported. The districts represent about 7,000 students combined.

The vote puts the districts in line for a tax break under Act 46. The state law aims to address declining enrollment and rising costs by providing tax incentives to districts that consolidate governance structures with a goal of saving money through efficiencies and providing equal education. Districts that have consolidation plans approved before July 1 are eligible for a tax break.

Gov. Peter Shumlin on Wednesday praised the communities and school boards where merger plans passed, saying "these larger districts will be able to provide more stability and support for their small, local schools."

So far under Act 46, 35 communities representing 40 school districts, have voted to streamline themselves into nine unified districts, Shumlin said. Other districts have formed study committees to consider whether to consolidate. About 70 percent of all Vermont students live in a community that is either moving forward with a merger or talking about it, the governor said.

"I am proud that Vermont is moving forward with reforming our education system so it reflects the reality of our student count and meets the needs of our kids," Shumlin said.

Vermont town passes rooms, meals and alcohol tax

A ballot measure passed in the eastern Vermont town of Hartford to add a new 1 percent local option tax on rooms, meals and alcohol beginning later this year.

The tax is expected to generate a minimum of $250,000 in annual revenue for the Windsor County town.

The ballot measure passed 1,641 to 1,309. The local option tax was presented to Hartford residents once before, but it was defeated in 2013.

Selectwoman Rebecca White says the difference between now and 2013 is that residents today were more openly voicing a need for an additional revenue source than they were before the budget failed.

Selectman Simon Dennis says voters believed the local option tax was a better alternative to raising property taxes.

New Hampshire tax amnesty program brings in nearly $19M

A one-time chance for people or businesses to pay outstanding taxes in New Hampshire without penalty has brought in nearly $19 million in revenue for the state.

The Department of Revenue Administration's Tax Amnesty Program started Dec. 1, 2015, and ran through Feb. 15.

Lawmakers established it during the 2015 legislative session.

The program also offered the chance to pay up with only 50 percent of accrued interest.

A similar program was run in 2001, raising nearly $15 million in revenue.

New Hampshire hospital affiliation takes effect

An affiliation between New Hampshire's largest hospital and its nearest neighbor has won final approval from the attorney general's office and is now in effect.

Both Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital are in Lebanon. The affiliation is the fourth such arrangement Dartmouth-Hitchcock has created with smaller hospitals. It previously affiliated with New London Hospital, Mount Ascutney Hospital in Windsor, Vermont, and Cheshire Medical Center in Keene.

Officials say the partnership will allow the facilities to combine their resources and better serve the community. The affiliation also will allow for some patients with less acute needs to be cared for at Alice Peck Day, allowing Dartmouth-Hitchcock to meet an increasing demand for beds for more complicated medical cases.

State's unemployment dips below 3 percent for January

New Hampshire officials say the state's unemployment rate dipped below 3 percent for January.

The state employment security office says the preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 2.9 percent, a decrease of two tenths of a percentage point from the December rate of 3.1 percent.

The January 2015 seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 3.8 percent.

The state estimates that 718,990 people were employed last month, an increase of 1,670 from the previous month and an increase of 6,040 from January 2015.

Nationally, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for January was 4.9 percent, down from 5 percent in December, and a decrease of nearly a percentage point from January 2015.

Details of Piscataqua River Bridge renovation project emerge

Preliminary details have surfaced regarding the joint rehabilitation of the Piscataqua River Bridge by the Maine and New Hampshire departments of transportation.

The full scope of the project has yet to be determined, although maintenance work on the bridge that connects Maine and New Hampshire via Interstate 95 won't begin until 2018.

The two states have split the $450,000 in engineering costs to bring the project to bid. The entire project's price tag will depend on state lines, with work on the Maine side being billed to that state and vice versa.

The two states' DOT's estimate the project will cost between $7 million and $9 million.

Engineers will now determine which repairs are needed immediately and which can be held until the future.

– The Associated Press


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