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County factions make their arguments before a judge

LACONIA — After squabbling over their respective authority over the county budget for the past two years, yesterday the Belknap County Convention and Belknap County Commission squared off in Belknap County Superior Court, where the lawmakers asked Justice James O'Neill for an injunction prohibiting the commission from spending more than it appropriated to any one of hundreds of line items in the 2014 budget.

O'Neill opened the hour-long hearing by noting that he was acquainted with a number of the litigants and offering to recuse himself from the proceedings. "I don't see a problem," he said and, after he granted a brief recess to weigh his offer, neither did anyone else.

Differences between the convention and commission over their respective budgetary authority have dogged the preparation and adoption of last two county budgets.
The 2013 and again this year the Republican majority of the convention has insisted that the convention can rewrite the budget proposed by the commission by adding or deleting, raising or lowering appropriations for particular line items. And, in the course of managing the budget, the commission may only reallocate funds from one line to another with the approval of the executive committee of the convention.
On the other hand, the commissioners claim that the authority of the convention is limited to itemizing appropriations for 13 purposes, closely corresponding to the departments of county government, specified by the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration. Within these categories, the commission contends it can distribute funds among different lines without the approval of the convention as long as expenditures do not exceed the total appropriations for the particular purposes.

In July, almost 10 months after the convention resolved to litigate, Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), who chairs the convention, and the clerk of the convention, Rep. Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) filed the suit. Ten Republicans voted to bring suit while four Democrats were opposed. Both Worsman and Burchell were in court yesterday along with Reps. Herb Vadney of Meredith, Frank Tilton of Laconia, Michael Sylvia of Belmont and Dennis Fields of Sanbornton — all Republicans — and two Democrats, Reps. David Huot of Laconia and Ian Raymond of Sanbornton.

Attorney David Horan, representing the convention, reminded the the court of the state statutes authorizing the convention to itemize appropriations "in detail" and to require its executive committee to approve any transfers. The convention, he stressed, resolved to require the commission to submit requests for transfers of more than $300 to the executive committee for its approval.
Turning to the 2014 budget process, Horan said that the convention voted not to fund the annual increase in the employer's contribution to the cost of health insurance, but instead to freeze appropriations for health insurance at 2013 levels. However, shortly after the convention adopted the budget, he explained that the commission shuffled monies from other line items within departmental budgets — "more than 100 of them" — to restore $209,919 of funding for health insurance. "The commission," he remarked, "ignored the appropriations by the convention and this was all done without the approval of the executive committee."
In a brief filed in response, attorney Robert Desrosier for the commission countered that the convention had no authority to bring suit against any party, let alone the commission. The authority of the convention, he claimed, is confined to raising taxes and making appropriations. Moreover, he noted that when the convention voted to file suit in October 2013 it referred to "the legitimacy or lack thereof of the Belknap County Commission's rewriting the 2103 county budget," not the 2014 budget, which is the subject of the current proceedings. "By their own authority," he concluded, "they have no authority to bring this suit."
Nor, Desosier insisted, has the convention addressed the criteria required to warrant the injunction it requested. First, the convention cannot show that its suit is likely to succeed on the merits. He repeated the familiar argument that because the commission may transfer funds within the purposes specified by the DRA, it had not made transfers requiring the approval of the executive committee.
Second, Derosier argued that neither the convention nor the taxpayers would suffer "immediate and irreparable harm" if the commission spent some or all funds for health insurance, since it would not increase expenditures or taxes. The convention, he contended, "has not identified any immediate irreparable harm to the convention as a convention" and "has no authority to stand in the shoes of individual taxpayers."
Finally, Derosier said that the convention cannot show that the public interest would be adversely affected if the injunction were not granted. Funding for health insurance, he explained, is a contractual obligation under the collective bargaining agreements negotiated with the union representing county employees. Without sufficient funding, he said, the commission would have to renegotiate the agreements or layoff employees.
Instead, Derosier concluded that, contrary to the public interest, by granting an injunction the court would join a political dispute between two branches of government. In filing suit, he said the convention engaged in "nothing more than a political grab for power which it does not have by statute. If the Belknap County Commission is acting in a way that the taxpayers do not approve," he continued, "it is the ballot box and not the court that should supply the remedy."

Last Updated on Thursday, 07 August 2014 12:37

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Plan to demolish Hathaway House, redevelop lot approved

LACONIA — The Planning Board last night unanimously approved the proposal by Cafua Management Company, LLC to redevelop the remainder of the lot at 1092 Union Avenue where the Hathaway House now stands, effectively ensuring the imminent demolition of the Italianate mansion.
In 2000 Cafua purchased the property and built a Dunkin' Donuts outlet on the southern portion of the lot. Last September, the firm applied for a permit to demolish the Hathaway House, sparking a frantic effort to preserve it. After meeting with Greg Nolan of Cafua, to discuss alternatives to demolition the Heritage Commission ultimately conceded that if the building was to be preserved, it would have to relocated. The commission sought a private developer interested in moving, renovating and owning the building, without success.
Before the Planning Board voted, Dorothy Duffy of the Heritage Commission reminded the members that "we do not have to give up our heritage." She said the community will know what it has lost "when that lovely building is razed to the ground," adding "I'll be there crying when it is."
"I spent many fine hours in that beautiful building," Larry Guild of the Planning Board recalled. "I find it very difficult to see people come in from other places and destroy our historic buildings." However, he assured his colleagues he would vote to approve the plan requiring the demolition of the Hathaway House because it met all the requirements and conditions.
Bill Contardo of the Planning Board asked Duffy why, when in the years since the building was threatened, more was not done to preserve it. She explained that because the community cherished private property rights, the Heritage Commission was not formed until 2009 and only this year was granted a budget of a mere $200. Planning Director Shanna Saunders told Contardo that federal funding for historic preservation shrank significantly with the onset of the recession, but conceded "I'm not sure the community stepped up."
Cafua plans to construct a 4,850-square-foot retail building on the northern half of the 1.6-acre lot while reconfiguring the access to the drive-up window at Dunkin' Donuts. Martin Gross of MHF Design Consultants of Salem, New Hampshire said that building would be divided into three units, two of 1,650-square-feet and one of 1,550-square-feet and would be served by 27 parking spaces, 11 more than required. At the recommendation of the architectural committee gables and cupolas were added to the original design, along with brickwork on the facade.
Gross explained that vehicles will enter the site through the existing driveway at the center of the lot then turn left to Dunkin' Donuts or right to the new building. Traffic will exit the property at its southern and northern corners. Gross said to reduce the congestion in the lane for the drive-up window at Dunkin' Donuts, which can stretch on to Union Avenue, a loop will be added at the northwest corner of the site, lengthening the drive-up lane and doubling the number of vehicles it can accommodate. At the same time, delivery trucks, which have parked in the entryway alongside the Hathaway House would be assigned a dedicated lane to circle the building and park on the south side of the lot.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 06 August 2014 01:11

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Correction: DOT to improve intersection of Jamestown, South Roads in Belmont

BELMONT — An article printed in yesterday's edition incorrectly described the location of an intersection slated for improvement. The intersection the state Department of Transportation plans to improve with federal highway safety money is that of Jamestown Road and South Road.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 06 August 2014 12:33

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Sidewalk Sale Opens Today in Downtown Laconia

LACONIA — A summer tradition returns to Downtown Laconia today in the form of sidewalk sales which will run 10-5 every day through Saturday.

''Everybody's taking part and we're looking forward seeing lots of shoppers,'' says Jeanne Howe Compton of New England Porch Rockers, located on Pleasant Street at the Shops at Vintage Row.
John Moriarty of the Laconia Downtown Initiative said that the Sidewalk Sale Days are about more than just back-to-school items and encompass the many distinctive shops in the Downtown area. The variety, he said, will show that ''we're here for the whole community.''
Kale Poland of MC Cycle says that the four-day sale will provide cycling enthusiasts with a chance to look ahead to fall cycling which will mean fatter tires and the advent of mountain biking season.
Jim Daubenspeck, owner of Daub's Cobbler Shop, says he recently changed the name of the business from LaBelle's Shoe Repair and is proud to offer made in America shoes as part of his business.
''We have a line of ladies' shoes which are made in Bedford. Our men's boat shoes are made in Lewiston, Maine and we have a line of comfort shoes made in Aurora, New York. Our work boots are made in Wisconsin,'' says Daubenspeck.
He says that the shoe polish sold in his store is also local, coming from Rochester Shoe Tree in Ashland.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 06 August 2014 01:13

Hits: 131

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