Published Date Written by Michael KitchCONCORD — A bill to forestall the process for selling the former Laconia State School property off North Main Street in Laconia was amended in the Senate Finance Committee yesterday, making it less palatable to its supporters in the House of Representatives.
Senate Bill 19, sponsored by Senator Jim Rausch (R-Derry), who is opposed to selling the property, would repeal the rider attached to the 2012-2013 state budget prescribing the process currently underway for marketing the site and, by implication, apply the normal procedure set forth by statute to the disposition of the site.
Senator Peter Bragdon (R-Milford), the president of the Senate, said yesterday "I'm not a big fan of the bill, but it appeared there were enough votes in the Senate to pass it."
To lengthen the odds against the bill carrying the House, Bragdon amended it to include the elimination of one of three toll booths on the Everett Turnpike in Merrimack, one of the four towns in his Senate district. While residents of Merrimack have clamored for eliminating the tolls for years, the Legislature, unwilling to forego the revenue to the turnpike fund, has steadfastly refused.
Bragdon remarked that the amendment will be particularly unwelcome to Representatives Gene Chandler (R-Bartlett), the House MInority Leader, as well as Dave Campbell (D-Nashua), chairman of the House Public Works and Highways Committee, and two prominent members of his committee Candace Bouchard (D-Concord) and John Graham (R-Bedford).
"It's not a poison pill," Bragdon said. "That would kill them. But it's a bad tasting pill that will make them swallow hard."
Alongside Rausch, Chandler has sought to stall, if not scuttle, the sale of the state school property. He claims that the process by which the property was first offered for sale was less than transparent and has suggested "some of us think this is about Laconia getting it for less than it's worth."
In 2011 the Legislature, at the initiative of the Senate, directed the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) to offer the property to the city for $10-million and, if the city declined, to offer it to Belknap County at "fair market value." If neither the city nor the county accepted the offer, the department was instructed to sell the property on the open market. The city declined the offer of $10-million, but when the state appraised the property at $2.16-million submitted a counter-offer to buy it at that price. The counter-offer was refused, the county declined and when the property was placed on the market the city withdrew its offer.
The state is now is the process of trying to find a buyer for the property.
SB-19 would cut short this process and revert to the procedure prescribed by statute, which vests considerable authority in the Long Range Capital Planning and Utilization Committee. Dominated by legislators, the committee must find a property is "no longer needed by the state" before recommending its sale.
Meanwhile, Senator Chuck Morse (R-Salem), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and principal architect of the move to sell the site, said that he prefers to follow the process to its conclusion rather than refer the issue to the Long Range Capital Planning and Utilization Committee, which he suspects would shelve the sale of the property. He has often described the site as "a money pit" and once told Chandler "I'm not putting a dime into this property."