Published DateCONCORD — A bill to forestall the process for selling the former Laconia State School property off North Main Street in Laconia, together with an amendment intended to lessen its chances of passing in the House of Representatives, carried the Senate by a voice vote yesterday.
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.
The amendment, sponsored by Senator Peter Bragdon (R-Milford), the president of the Senate, would eliminate 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 scuttling the toll booths for years, the Legislature has steadfastly refused.
In fact, since 2000, 10 bills have been introduced to eliminate one or all of the Merrimack toll booths. All have been referred to the House Public Works and Highways Committee, where Rep. Gene Chandler (R-Bartlett), who like Rausch has questioned the sale of the Laconia State School property — particularly to the city — has served as the chairman or ranking Republican. The committee reported all 10 bills "inexpedient to legislate," seven of them by unanimous votes, and most failed by voice votes on the House floor.
By attaching the amendment, Bragdon ensured that the bill would be referred to the Public Works and Highways Committee in the House, anticipating that the panel would find it "a bad tasting pill that will make them swallow hard."
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 near the start of 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 places considerable authority in the Long Range Capital Planning and Utilization Committee, which is dominated by legislators, including Rausch and Chandler. The committee must find a property is "no longer needed by the state" before recommending its sale to the governor and Executive Council, which must approve any transaction.