Moultonborough selectmen question dues paid to regional planning commission

MOULTONBOROUGH — When Jeff Hayes, executive director of Lakes Region Planning Commission, met with the selectmen last month the board used the occasion to challenge how the annual dues of the 30 member municipalities are assessed, an issue that has rankled the town for several years.

Paul Punturieri noted that the state statute establishing the regional planning commissions requires them to "determine on a reasonable and equitable basis the proportion of its costs to be borne respectively by each municipality." He said that although Moultonborough's population is approximately 4,000, because of its relatively greater portion of the total property value of the member municipalities, it bears a disproportionate share of the costs. The town, he said. pays approximately $10,000 a year, which is comparable to the contribution of Laconia, a much larger community. Stressing that he had no qualms about the services the commission provides, Punturieri said, "Just on principle we should stop paying other people's bills."

"It's been one of my pet peeves for a long time," echoed Selectman Russ Wakefield who told Hayes, "We've got the pockets and everybody's got their hands in them. The planning commission is no different. To use our equalized value is unfair."

Hayes explained yesterday that the member municipalities fund 15-percent of the commission's annual budget of more than $800,000 while federal funds represent 68 percent, state funds 1 percent and miscellaneous grants another 1 percent . Proceeds from contracted services for member municipalities also account for about 15 percent of the budget.

The cost is apportioned among the members by what Hayes called "a straight-forward formula," consisting of two equally weighted factors — each municipality's percentage of the total valuation and population. The results are indexed annually to the rate of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index.

Hayes said that told the board that since the commission provided services bearing on land use and natural resources, evaluation and population, which are closely related to both, represent reasonable and equitable criteria for apportioning the cost of those services. He noted that while the resident population of Moultonborough, as counted by the U.S. Census, is about 4,000, its summer population may swell to four times that. Moreover, he reminded the selectmen that since safeguarding water quality is a high priority for the commission, the length of shoreline, which is reflected in the value of waterfront properties, should not be overlooked when considering the apportionment.

Several selectmen suggested levying user fees to apportion costs among municipalities. Hayes replied, "there are a lot of intangibles," explaining, "resources and values do not respect town boundaries. That's why user fees don't work."

Nevertheless, he assured the board that "we're willing to look at other reasonable parameters." Repeating that property, population and shoreline seem appropriate, he said, "We're open to looking other factors."

The LRPC consists of 30 cities and towns in Belknap, Carroll, Grafton and Merrimack counties, including Laconia and all 10 towns of Belknap County.