LACONIA — Speaking to some 50 residents of the Taylor Community yesterday, Mayor Mike Seymour offered his perspective on "the state of the city" as his second and last 2-year term draws to a close.
Likening the position of the mayor and City Council to the chairman and directors of a corporation, Seymour described the city manager as the chief executive officer, who together with the heads of municipal departments manages the day-to-day operations of the city. He counted the hiring of Scott Myers, who served four terms as mayor of Dover, as the four city manager in 40 years as among the most significant decisions of his tenure. He said a number of highly qualified candidates were interviewed, but "from the first opening minutes most of us were confident that he was the right guy."
Recalling his intention to convene a business "roundtable", Seymour said that while he was warned he would hear nothing but complaints about city government, he persevered. "At the first meeting I was hammered for the first hour," he admitted. But, he said that the group succeeded in streamlining and simplifying the process of opening a business in the city and preparing a packet to guide entrepreneurs through the process. "We still have a way to go," he remarked, "but the city has become more business friendly."
As a candidate Seymour championed a strategic plan for the city that would dovetail with its Master Plan by setting priorities with specific objectives and measures for achieving them. The City Council, city manager and department met several times and hammered out a plan designed to "go from putting out fires to stopping them altogether."
Seymour said that steps have been taken to enhance the appearance of the city, address its social and economic challenges and tackle the incidence of substance abuse. He singled out the "Got Lunch!" program, begun in response to the high numbers of students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunch because of low incomes, which became a model for 17 like programs in other communities. The council budgeted for additional personnel in the Police Department to curb drug trafficking. However, he stressed that "the city can't do it all by itself".
Perhaps the most visible undertaking of Seymour's tenure is the renovation and expansion of the Huot Regional Technical Educaiton Center, along with the reconstruction of the science laboratories and reconfiguration of playing fields at Laconia High School. He said that when the project was first proposed there were those who said it was beyond the city's means. "We couldn't not afford not to do it," Seymour said, explaining that the offerings of the Huot Center will develop the workforce that local and regional firms, many of which were partners in the project, require to grow and prosper. Likewise, he described the new stadium as "a win-win for everybody in the city," which as a venue of state tournaments will attract visitors to the city.
Seymour said that the progress of the recycling program and how best to reinvest in downtown were outstanding issues still facing the city. The mayor, who cast the deciding vote against introducing a "Pay-As-You-Throw" (PAYT) program, said that between 30 percent and 32 percent of solid waste is being recycled through the mandatory recycling program, but in reply to a question said that municipalities with PAYT programs topped 40-percent. "We're literally throwing money away every week by not recycling to max," he remarked, while adding that "we've moved the needle in the right direction. The question," he continued, "is can we do this on our own before our hand is forced."
After much discussion about how to apply funds accrued by the downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district, said that the council will hold a work session in December to "make sure this money is spent wisely." He specifically mentioned the WOW Trail as a project that would provide the city with "an economic boost."
Looking ahead, Seymour remarked that efforts must be made to minimize the impact on downtown of the reconstruction of the Main Street Bridge. "I'm glad Ed (Engler) is going to be mayor next year," he quipped.
Although it is not feasible for the city to acquire the entire former Laconia State School property, Seymour said there is some discussion of purchasing sections of it, though the state has insisted "all or nothing." He foresaw rebuilding the Central Fire Station as the most immediate capital project on the horizon.
Responding to a question about the future of the Hathaway House, Seymour said that unfortunately the city had only the developer's word that the building would be preserved and nothing in writing that would bind him to fulfill his promise. Alluding to lessons learned, he said that in the future "we should take the appropriate steps."
Bob Selig, chief executive officer of the Taylor Community, chided the mayor about his beard, which he said would not yet qualify for spot on the Red Sox's roster. Seymour said that the beard would be removed by the Polished & Proper Barbershop and Shave Parlor with the proceeds going to the 2013 WLNH Children's Auction.