With inflation measuring near zero, tax cap space will be limited next year

LACONIA — As preparation of the 2016-2017 municipal budget gets underway, City Manager Scott Myers has directed department heads not to increase operating expenses in anticipation that rising personnel costs will exhaust the increase in the amount to be raised by property taxes permitted by the city's property tax cap.

The tax cap limits the annual increase in total expenditures funded by property taxes to the rate of inflation, measured by the Consumer Price Index — Urban (CPI-U), for the prior calendar year, plus an additional amount representing the value of new construction, which is calculated by multiplying the value of building permits less the value of demolition permits issued between April 1 and March 31 by the prior year's property tax rate.

In 2014 the CPI-U was 1.6 percent, which enabled property tax revenue to rise by $640,036 without breaching the cap. The value of new construction was $29 million, which represented additional property tax revenue of $649,600. Altogether the tax cap enabled the amount raised by property taxes to increase by $1.3 million, which was divided between the city, school district and county according to their respective, traditional shares of the total property tax commitment.

But, this year, for the first time since the tax cap was introduced in 2006, the CPI-U is projected to be at or near zero. In other words, the only increase in the amount to be raised by property taxes will be that represented by the value of new construction. Between April 1 and September 30, the value of new construction was $24.9 million and Myers expects that by March 31, 2016 it will reach the $29 million recorded in the last tax year.

The 2015 property tax rate remains to be set, but at the projected rate of $22.58 per $1,000 of assessed value, new construction would represent an increase of about $655,000 in the total amount raised by property taxes — less than half the increase of a year ago— with approximately $252 allotted to the city, $362,000 to the school district and $41,000 to the county.

Myers said that he does not expect any significant increases in revenue from sources other than property taxes that would mitigate the effect of the tax cap. He projected the return from motor vehicle registrations, the single largest source of revenue, to increase this year by $150,000, from $2,175,000 to $2,325,000, but through September receipts are only $2,323 ahead of the pace set last year. Nor does Myers anticipate any major increase in revenue from the state in the form of highway block grants or rooms and meals tax distribution.

Meanwhile, Myers said that a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) of 2.5-percent, awarded by the collective bargaining agreements negotiated with the four unions representing municipal employees, will add some $250,000 to the city payroll, which approaches $10 million. In addition, some employees will be eligible for step increases and rising wages will trigger increases Social Security payments and retirement contributions. Finally, Myers expects the employer's share of health insurance premiums to increase.

Oct. 22 date set for 2016 N.H. Pumpkin Festival in Laconia

LACONIA — The Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce announced on Friday that the N.H. Pumpkin Festival in 2016 will he held here on Saturday, Oct. 22.

The annual festival was held in Keene from its inception in 1991 through 2014, when disturbances involving hundred of drunken college students congregating near Keene State led city officials to think twice about the renowned event. The City Council eventually voted not to issue a permit for a 2015 festival and the organizing company, Let It Shine, began looking for a new host.

Laconia enthusiastically volunteered and on Oct. 24 hosted a festival that drew rave reviews. Thousands of people from across the northeast were drawn to downtown Laconia and nearly 10,000 jack-o-lanterns were lit simultaneously in the early evening. Keene's pumpkin eventually reached an astounding 30,000 but did not reach the 10,000 mark until its fourth year in business.

The Chamber of Commerce took the lead in organizing Laconia's version of the festival, with Let It Shine as a guiding partner.

"The community collaboration was amazing and truly responsible for the success of our first Pumpkin Festival event," said chamber Executive Director Karemn Gilford in making the announcement.  "With the leadership of Let It Shine and its event manager, Ruth Sterling, we created a festival that brought joy to attendees and an economic boost to our local economy. We are ready and looking forward to a full twelve months of planning to make the 2016 Pumpkin Festival even more successful!"

"The N.H. Pumpkin Festival torch is being passed," continued Gifford. "The Lakes Region Chamber, City of Laconia and community at large are very grateful for the support of Let It Shine and ready to start carving out the next N.H. Pumpkin Festival in Laconia.


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Political signs can be placed in public rights of way, but only with the actual property owner's permission

LACONIA — Although there are less than a handful of competitive races on the ballot for the municipal election on Tuesday, in the waning days of the campaign signs touting individual candidates have begun to disappear from places they, legally, do not belong.

This week signs have been removed from the roundabout at The Weirs as well as traffic islands and road sides elsewhere in the city.

Chapter 109-1 of the City Code, entitled "advertising", stipulates that "the placing of billboards or advertising signs and the posting of bills, posters, notices or other forms of advertising on any bridge, building or other municipal property of this city are hereby forbidden." City Manager Scott Myers said yesterday that he understands the ordinance to require that political signs be placed only on private property with the consent of the property owner.

Likewise, state law (RSA 664:17), reads "no political advertising shall be placed on or affixed to any public property including highway rights-of-way or private property without the owner's consent." However, the statute continues to say that "political advertising may be placed within state-owned rights-of way as along as the advertising does not obstruct the safe flow of traffic and the advertising is placed with the consent of the owner of the land over which the right-of-way passes."

Furthermore, state law forbids any person, other than private property owners or law enforcement officials, from removing, defacing or destroying political
advertising improperly placed on either public or private property. The statute requires signs removed by public officials before the election to be kept at a designated location for one week after the election where they can be recovered by candidates.