Race for Mayor: Luther wants to follow in 'fantastic' Seymour's footsteps

LACONIA — "I lost to a guy who became a fantastic mayor," said Bob Luther, who was defeated in the mayoral election in 2009 by Mike Seymour, "and I'm running again because he's not running."

Luther, along with Khaleif Mitchell and Ed Engler, are vying to succeed Seymour, who retired after serving two terms. One of three will be eliminated in the primary election on Tuesday, Sept. 10, and the two highest vote getters will proceed to general election in November.

Raised on the South Shore of Massachusetts, Luther has lived in Laconia for the past 40 years, where he was employed as a mechanic with United Parcel Service before achieving a childhood dream by joining the Police Department as a full-time officer. After leaving the force he served as a security officer at Lakes Region General Hospital before retiring in in 2009.

No stranger to politics, Luther was elected to the City Council seven times by the voters of Ward 2, who he represented for 13 years before resigning when he moved to another ward. A Republican, in 2010 and again in 2012 he was elected to the N.H. House of Representatives, where he serves on the Judiciary Committee.

Luther, who changed his position to cast the deciding vote to place a property tax cap on the ballot in 2005, said he could foresee circumstances that would lead him to recommend overriding the tax cap. He acknowledged that a steep increase in the county tax, which counts toward the cap, would be a concern, but insisted that "no way, no how are we voting for a $45-million jail. The county delegation oversees the county budget and will keep costs down," he continued. "But, say they vote a 9 percent budget increase, I would not vote to override the tax cap to accommodate the county budget."

Troubled by the stagnant, if not shrinking, population of the city, Luther said it was a "trend that needs to be reversed," noting that "the people we're losing are not on fixed incomes." He pointed to the partnerships between local employers and the Huot Technical Center at Laconia High School as a means of providing businesses with the skilled workforce they need and creating opportunities for young people.

While Luther confessed he had no specific proposals for reviving commerce downtown, he stressed that "the downtown business owners are the people to go to. They know better than anyone else what downtown needs. They're there everyday." He added that he did not believe the city should either purchase or operate the Colonial Theater.

As mayor, Luther said that he would seek to bring what he called the three neighborhoods — downtown, Lakeport and The Weirs — closer together. "They are parts of one city," he said. He suggested the tax increment financing (TIF) districts in each of the three could contribute to this process. "Lakeport needs parking," he said. "What would help The Weirs is a common consensus from the players involved." He said that the extension of the WOW Trail downtown and the restoration of Weirs Beach would be suitable projects for tax increment financing.

Luther said that the city should not pursue the purchase of the former Laconia State School property on North Main Street. "We can't afford it, even with federal help," he said, referring to the cost of addressing the environmental conditions and repairing the buildings. "I don't think the city wants that property," he said.

Luther welcomed the effort by Genesis Behavioral Health to establish a residential treatment center for the mentally ill at its Church Street property. Emphasizing the need for such a facility in the community, he said "it would be located where most of their clients can reach it on foot and it's not at all too close to downtown."

Whether to retain the four firefighters added to the department with a federal grant, Luther said "is not an question of need. We need them. The question is can we afford them." He said that if the choice was between continuing to spend $1-million a year on roads or retaining the additional firefighters, "I will continue to advocate for roads. You have to set your priorities," he said.

"I'm not a fan of Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT)", Luther said flatly. He said that if the mandatory recycling program failed to reach its target of removing 4,000 tons from the waste stream, he would not recommend introducing PAYT.

"The most important job of mayor," Luther said "is ceremonial, and Seymour set the bar very high." He said that he would do his best to reach that bar, beginning by spending one day each week, usually Mondays, in City Hall where he would be available to the general public and close to the City Manager.

(Editor's Note: All three mayoral candidates are being asked the same set of a dozen questions at interviews providing the information for profiles of each to be published before Tuesday's primary.)