The meeting that wasn’t

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Left, 11 members of the Belknap County Delegation shrank from from the gauntlet of demonstrators at the County Complex on Tuesday, ensuring that their dissident colleagues lacked the quorum to reconsider the county budget. Right, Ian Raymond, a Democrat from Sanbornton and former state representative, was among those at the Belknap County Complex on Tuesday supporting the effort of dissident members of the county delegation to reconsider the 2017 county budget. (Michael Kitch/Laconia Daily Sun)

Belknap County budget fails to fund Corrections, Sheriff’s departments, other agencies adequately, say six state representatives, concerned citizens


LACONIA — "Thank you for coming and showing courage," Dave DeVoy, chairman of the Belknap County Commission told the six members of the county delegation who came to the county complex Tuesday evening in hope of mustering a quorum and reconsidering the budget before the deadline for submitting it to the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration by the deadline of midnight on March 31.

The six — representatives Tim Lang (R-Sanbornton), Peter Spanos (R-Laconia), Don Flanders (R-Laconia), Dennis Fields (R-Sanbornton), Valerie Fraser (R-New Hampton) and Dave Huot (D-Laconia) — all voted against the budget when it was adopted by a vote of nine-to six-earlier this month. Their number fell three members shy of the quorum of nine. Although there are 18 state representatives elected in the city of Laconia and 10 towns of the county, Frank Tilton, a Republican from Laconia, fell ill before the election only to be elected but unable to be sworn in and take his seat. That left the delegation with 17 members — 16 Republicans and one Democrat — and required a quorum of nine, or a majority of the 17, to conduct business.

Last Friday evening Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith), chairman of the delegation, canceled the meeting scheduled for Tuesday in an effort to forestall the effort of dissident members to restore funding stripped from the budgets of the Sheriff's Department, Corrections Department and contingency account as well as address revenues included in the budget but unlikely to be forthcoming. Fields said he was "pressured" to avoid the meeting and was echoed by Lang, who said that other "representatives were pressured no to be here."

As members arrived, they passed along a corridor lined by a dozen citizens bearing signs — "Hold the Meeting," "Do Your Job-Fix This Mess" and "Please Do Not Pass A Bare Budget," a play on Rep. Marc Abear's name (R-Meredith), who, with Vadney, was a principal architect of the budget. The meeting room was full of representatives and supporters of the so-called "outside agencies" left empty handed by the budget and county officials given short shrift.

Without a quorum, Lang opened the floor to a "public forum," reminding the public that "the people you need to speak to are not here." Along with Vadney, the absentees, all Republicans, were Abear, Glen Aldrich and Norm Silber of Gilford, Jon Plumer and Michael Sylvia of Belmont, Michael Maloney of Gilmanton, Ray Howard and Peter Varney of Alton, Robert Fisher of Laconia and Barbara Comtois of Barnstead.

"What we have here is a mess on our hands," said Commissioner Hunter Taylor of Barnstead. He noted that although Keith Gray, superintendent of the Department of Corrections, has prepared to open the new Community Corrections Center, "they have pulled the rug out from under him." With insufficient funding for the Sheriff's Department and Corrections Department, he foresaw that, come December, "We'll reach judgment day. One day that month, we'll be in a crisis."

DeVoy explained that the delegation cut funding for the four officers required to operate the Community Corrections Center and said, since the commission has the authority, they will be hired and paid and, turning to the members of the delegation, remarked that "come December when there's no money to feed the inmates and no money to watch the inmates, we'll drop it in your lap."

After explaining the flaws in the budget, Commissioner Glen Waring said flatly "This is a reckless budget."

Sean Sullivan of the Gunstock Commission expressed concern that the budget further depletes the fund balance, noting that it has shrunk from $8 million to closer to $3 million, placing the county's bond rating and ability to borrow at risk. In fact, when the year began, the fund balance was $3.4 million, of which $1.6 million is included in the budget to offset property taxes, leaving a balance of $1.8 million.

"It's not there," Taylor said of the fund balance, which he warned is diminishing far faster than it can be replenished. "There is a tax spike coming," he added, explaining that next year there will insufficient funds to offset an increase in property taxes.

Dick Castrucci of Laconia asked how much the difference between the budget recommended by the commission and the budget adopted by the delegation spared taxpayers. Taylor, who has made the calculation for every municipality in the county, replied that the owner of a $250,000 home will save $24 a year. "You're talking what would have been coffee money 20 years ago," he remarked.

There was much hand-wringing from the public over the budget cuts and especially their impact on the so-called "outside" agencies, the nonprofit corporations that provide social economic, mental health, substance abuse and environmental services throughout the county. However, Diane Lacey of Belmont, the former president of the State Employees Association, was among several who said "We're preaching to the choir." She urged people to take their message to a wider audience and direct their energies to electing responsible representatives to serve on the delegation.

"They ought to get voted out of office if they can't attend a damn meeting," snapped a man from Gilford.

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Ruth Larson, left, a Barnstead Democrat, threw her support to her Republican husband Hunter Taylor and his colleagues on the Belknap County Commission — David DeVoy of Sanbornton and Glen Waring of Gilmanton — in seeking to repair the county budget, which Taylor called "a mess." (Michael Kitch/Laconia Daily Sun)


Nightclubs at Weirs up for debate

City Council approves change to zoning to allow new uses in area


LACONIA — Nightclubs can be fun and profitable, but they can also be noisy.

Therein lies a potential conflict in new zoning rules to be considered by the City Council.

"I think this is the continuation of the age old sleep-versus-entertainment issue," Mayor Ed Engler said at the council meeting Monday.

He broke a 3-3 tie on the zoning change and the City Council scheduled an April 10 public meeting on a zoning ordinance that would revise permitted uses in the Commercial Resort Zone, which encompasses The Weirs.

Other changes under the ordinance would prohibit new development of manufactured housing, indoor storage, vehicle dealerships and sexually oriented businesses, but it was the nightclub piece that seemed most controversial.

Existing rules permit developers to build nightclubs and dance halls in the zone. Under the proposal, these establishments could be built only if developers are able to persuade the Zoning Board of Adjustment to grant a "special exception."

The City Council could approve or disapprove the ordinance, or it could send it back to the Planning Board for more work.

Councilor Robert Hamel, who voted against scheduling the meeting on the ordinance, said the provision regarding nightclubs might discourage developers, even someone who might want to build a "five-star resort."

"So that might turn people off," he said. "They've got to jump through the hoops and they might not like that."

On the other side, some residents object to the noise from a nightclub or dance hall.

The Weirs has taken on more of a residential character over the years. Many accommodations that were once rented on a short-term basis by visitors have been converted into apartments and condominiums.

"There are people down there who believe this is a resort area," Engler said. "The other side is that it's changed over the years and is now more traditional, residential."


A mosaic of history and learning

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Belmont Elementary School student Ricky Carroll removes grout from a mosaic while classmates join in Tuesday during the final two days of preparation before a grand unveiling of the artwork on Thursday. Belmont Elementary School's Artist in Residence Lizz Van Saun and art teacher Katie Cotnoir used the art project as a learning experience in history, teamwork and other disciplines. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)

Belmont Elementary students craft artwork, learn larger lessons


BELMONT — A foray into Laconia's Pumpkin Festival sparked the idea of a schoolwide art project. Now, students at Belmont Elementary School are ready for the grand unveiling of their efforts, four mosaics created with recycled stained glass and decorative tiles, depicting the seasons and local history.
Belmont Elementary School hosted an Artist in Residence, Lizz Van Saun of Kast Hill Studio based in Hopkinton, for the lesson in mosaic artwork.
Art teacher Katie Cotnoir said it had been several years since Belmont Elementary School had brought in an Artist in Residence. The renewal of the program came from an unexpected source.
The school participated in Laconia's Pumpkin Festival, and the experience left an impression, she said.
"The entire school collaboratively carved pumpkins, and we all brought them to Laconia. It was really a whole school effort. It inspired me to be able to do something similar, have the entire school take part and be proud of a finished work of art that can be hung on the walls," Cotnoir said. "Every student can go up to the mosaics afterward and touch the work of art."
The four mosaics, contained on horizontal panels, will become a fixture, an installation that the community can enjoy for years to come, she said.
"This will be our first permanent work of art that we'll have as a school. It will be right in front of the office," Cotnoir said.
An unveiling of the mosaics, titled, "Seasonal and Historic Pieces of Belmont," is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 30.
On Monday, March 20, students began crafting the multi-colored panels.
Fourth-grade students have been learning about historical buildings and landmarks in the community. Students brought in drawings that they made interpreting local history.
"They're learning about the history of Belmont," Van Saun said. "They're learning about buildings. The Belmont Historical Society came in and talked to them about the town. They also talked to some of the older people in town about the artwork."
Van Saun said the concept of mosaics — a form of artwork where small pieces of glass or other materials create a larger image — conveyed more than just an artistic discipline.
"They love it. Mosaic making, to me, the whole purpose of it is building community," Van Saun said.
"Everybody comes in and adds pieces. Pieces are really a metaphor for all of us. Each piece represents a person, and without that piece, the mosaic isn't complete. Every person matters. Every piece matters."
Sophia Gilbert, 10, said, "Teamwork was a big part of it so you have to work together to get things done."
Jackson Embree, 9, said he adopted the Belmont Mill as his historical fixture. "Amazing. They took a lot of work, but it was worth it," he said.
Embree said he likes to design things. And the project taught him something new: "The different types of glass, there's stained glass. I didn't even know about stained glass. I just thought there was glass glass."
As a teaching artist, Van Saun is on a roster with the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources that typically provides 10 to 14 Artist in Residence grants every year.
New Hampshire State Council on the Arts grant coordinator Julianne Gadoury said the school received an Artist in Residence grant of $770, with the school matching the grant with school resources and in-kind donated services.
"The goal of the program is to bring high quality artists into the school to enrich the curriculum and give students exposure to an art form and experience that they might not have as part of their school day," Gadoury said.
Van Saun was able to meet with all of the students in the school and share the lesson on mosaics, an important aspect of the program, Gadoury said. The students used cutting tools and learned a vocabulary that was outside of their everyday educational experience, she noted.
Gilbert said she adopted a local church as her historical landmark and she spent a great deal of time building the panel that depicts winter.
"I did a lot of work. I did most of the sky and some of the road," she said. "It was really fun to do, and it was really fun to learn about."


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Belmont Elementary School's Artist in Residence Lizz Van Saun holds up a mosaic that depicts Belmont in the winter. Students (from left) Ricky Carroll, Trace Asselin, Jackson Embree, Ashlee Knox and Sophia Gilbert brush off grouting material. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)

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Belmont Elementary School art teacher Katie Cotnoir joins fourth-grade students, including Jackson Embree (front right), in preparation of a mosaic as part of a school project supported by the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)

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Belmont Elementary School's Artist in Residence Lizz Van Saun (left) joins fourth graders in applying grout to a mosaic that depicts Belmont in the winter. Teacher Katie Cotnoir is joined by (from left) Ricky Carroll, Sophia Gilbert, Jackson Embree and Ashlee Knox. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)