Cuts trim 30 minutes from Social Security office hours

Budget cuts are forcing a reduction in hours at Social Security offices around Maine.

The agency said offices will now close at 3:30 p.m. daily, a half-hour earlier than the previous closing time.

The agency said the reduction in hours is needed because Congress cut nearly $1 billion from the budget requested by President Obama.

Social Security workers will continue to work the same number of hours, but the earlier closing means they can finish their work with the public without running into overtime.

The agency also noted that many routine services, such as applying for benefits, signing up for direct deposit, replacing a Medicare card, obtaining a proof-of-income letter or filing a change of address or a telephone number can be done online at or by calling (800) 772-1213 (TTY: (800) 325-0778). 

State AG’s victim’s advocate receives national award

Mary Farrar, a longtime victim’s advocate for the state Attorney General’s Office who now does similar work for the Department of Corrections, has been selected for a national award by Parents of Murdered Children.

Farrar is the winner of the Father Ken Czillinger Award, which is given to “an extraordinary professional who has shown understanding and support to survivors of homicide victims.” She is being presented the award today at the Parents of Murdered Children national conference in Milwaukee.

Farrar has worked with families of people who have been murdered, helping to guide them through the investigations, trials and incarceration of the killers.

“Your dedication, passion and energy have made a big difference for countless numbers of crime victims,” read the award announcement from Dan Levey, president of the Parents of Murdered Children national board of trustees.


Former guard indicted for sexual assault of inmate

A former York County corrections officer was indicted Friday on charges of sexually assaulting a female inmate in 2009 and in 2010.

Sean Valliere, 36, a corporal who resigned from the sheriff’s office in February 2010, was charged with gross sexual assault, unlawful sexual touching and unlawful sexual contact.

Although an investigation revealed no indication of physical force or threats, a corrections officer’s authority over inmates makes it impossible for a sexual relationship to be consensual, said Sheriff Maurice Ouellette.

The incidents allegedly occurred in February 2010 and November 2009.


Eight schools recognized for promoting healthy lifestyle

Eight elementary schools in Portland received a national award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday for their efforts to promote healthy eating and physical activity.

The schools received the HealthierUS School Challenge Bronze Award for emphasizing a diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, nuts and other healthy foods.

Portland’s East End, Hall, Longfellow, Ocean Avenue, Peaks Island, Presumpscot, Reiche and Riverton schools received the award.

In total, 18 Maine schools received the award. Less than 2 percent of schools nationwide earned such a distinction.

First lady Michelle Obama will host a White House reception to recognize award winners at a date to be announced. Portland schools plan to send a delegation.


Police seize 97 pot plants, man faces cultivation charge

A Gorham man was charged with cultivating marijuana after police seized 97 plants and $2,400 from an apartment on Winslow Road.

Police on Thursday arrested Kyle Searles, 28, after they found what they described as an elaborate growing operation. Searles was taken to the Cumberland County Jail in Portland, where he was held on $560 bail.


Low response forces school to weigh exchange program

Officials at Millinocket’s high school are trying to decide how to run their international student program, because only seven Chinese students have committed to attend in the next school year.

Officials at Stearns High School had hoped for 60 students.

In March, the school committee voted to bring the high school-age students from China to Stearns. They would be housed locally.

The school district would earn $24,000 tuition per student. The money would cover expenses and offset the loss of tax revenue from paper mills in town.

The Stearns school committee will meet Tuesday to decide what to do.

Board Chairman Arnold Hopkins told the Bangor Daily News that the committee will decide what to do about the shortfall of expected revenue.


Town dedicates celebration to memory of 11-year-old

In the small town park where candlelight vigils were held during the weeklong search for local girl Celina Cass, about 300 people gathered Friday to carry on a local tradition — the Stewartstown Day celebration.

They decided to go on with the fair despite their sadness and uncertainty with the discovery of her body Monday in the Connecticut River. They dedicated the 35th annual Stewartstown Day celebration to the 11-year-old girl.

Cass’ father, Adam Laro, cried during remarks at the brief dedication and had to be assisted from the tent. His mother, Marcia Laro, said the family was trying to cope.

The fifth-grader was last seen at her computer and went missing for days before her body was found. An autopsy didn’t immediately provide the cause or manner of her death. No arrests have been made.

Before the Stewartstown Day queen was crowned, clergy and a town official spoke to fellow residents in this town of about 800. The Rev. Matthew Coons of Independent Baptist Church said he was relieved when the decision was made not to cancel the event.

“It is right and fitting to do so,” he said. “It is good to recognize that life will move on, but we won’t ever forget that a precious child has been taken from us.”

Bill Allen, the town’s emergency management director, thanked the community for donating food during the search for Cass, for baking cookies and casseroles.

He noted that without that assistance, those who were doing their jobs in the field would not have been fed.

“We’ve gone through some pretty tough times the last couple of weeks,” said Allen, who supervised scores of volunteers who brought food to as many emergency workers looking for Cass. “When the North Country goes through trying times, we come together to get things done.”

His audience applauded.

The Rev. Craig Cheney of St. Albert’s Catholic Church reminded the crowd that the annual festivities of Stewartstown Day “celebrate children and life.”

“We will continue on,” he said.

The funeral home’s obituary for Cass said a celebration of her life is scheduled for Monday night at the Canaan School in Vermont.


Liquor panel reports record 4.5 percent jump in sales

The New Hampshire Liquor Commission has reported record-setting sales in 2010.

The commission this week reported a 4.5-percent increase in net sales, for a total of $534 million. That was an increase of about $23 million over the previous year.

State Liquor Commission Chairman Joseph Mollica says approximately $140 million went to the state’s general fund, the largest contribution in commission history.

The state’s 76 liquor and wine outlets led the way with a 4.6 percent increase in sales. Sales to restaurants and at grocery stores were also up.

The top performing stores were the two on Interstate 95 in Hampton and at the Portsmouth traffic circle.

Mollica tells The Portsmouth Herald ( ) he credits the boost to aggressive out-of-state marketing, new in-store programs and the modernization of the outlets.

— From staff and news services