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LFD deputy chief leaving to take a top Dept. of Safety job

LACONIA — After nine years with the Fire Department, Deputy Fire Chief Deb Pendergast has been appointed director of the Division of Fire Standards and Training and Emergency Medical Services at the New Hampshire Department of Safety.

Pendergast alone among the 18 candidates for the position was nominated by Governor Maggie Hassan. She was unanimously confirmed by the Executive Council when it met last week. She will oversee both the Fire Academy, which serves as the Northeast regional training facility for Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Personnel, and the Bureau of Emergency Medical Services.

A graduate of the University of Massachusetts, where she majored in psychology, Pendergast is pursuing a master's degree in pubic administration at the University of New Hampshire. She has spent two decades in the fire service. 11 with the East Derry Fire Department, where she rose to the rank of lieutenant, and the last nine as deputy chief in Laconia, joining the department as the highest ranking female firefighter in the state.

As deputy chief Pendergast secured more than $1.2 million in grants for the department, including most recently $642,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to add four firefighters for two years.

City Manager Scott Myers said that "the state's gain will be Laconia's loss as she is a valuable resource for our community." The community, he noted, should be proud that "the governor thought highly enough of one our own to nominate her to this important position."

Last Updated on Saturday, 05 October 2013 03:24

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After towns react with alarm, 2 state agencies decide they can start setting tax rates in October after all

CONCORD — After announcing on Wednesday that the process of setting municipal property tax rates would not begin until November 7, the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration (DRA) yesterday backtracked in the face of widespread concerns among local officials.

We anticipated a reaction," said Commissioner John Beardmore of DRA, "but it was broader and more intense than anticipated." Beardmore said that in light of the reaction his department will begin setting tax rates between October 18 and 21, noting that typically the process starts in the middle of October and last year began on October 19.

State Senator Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia) said that he heard from Laconia City Manger Scott Myers and town administrators throughout his district soon after the announcement and quickly discovered that his fellow senators were fielding similar calls.

Since the cash flow of cities and towns is at low ebb near the end of the year, the delay in setting the tax rates threatened to slow the process of billing and collecting the revenue required to replenish municipal coffers and fund operations for the next six months. Moreover, municipalities must pay their county apportionments in December. Counties finance a significant share of their operations by borrowing tax anticipation notes (TANs) that come due on December 31 and cannot be repaid without the revenue from the municipalities.

Municipal officials feared that if the setting of tax rates were deferred until November they would be unable to print and mail tax bills in time to collect sufficient revenue to fund operations and obligations without borrowing. At the same time county officials were concerned that cities and towns could find themselves unable to pay their apportionment in time for the county to repay its borrowing.

Hosmer said that there was also some concern for those who escrow their property taxes, explaining that if the bank or firm responsible for paying the taxes failed to mail the check before December 31, taxpayers' ability to claim a deduction on their 2013 federal income tax returns could be at risk.

DRA explained that the delay is the result of legislation enacted in 2012 that requires the New Hampshire Department of Education (DOE) to calculate the amount of state aid distributed to school districts on the basis of their enrollment in the immediately prior school year, not the enrollment of two years prior. In other words, the state aid distributed in the 2013-2014 school year will be calculated from the enrollment in 2012-2013 school year, not the 2011-2012 school year.
The DOE informed the DRA that it will not complete the calculations to measure school enrollment and apportion state aid until November 7, almost three months later than in the past.

Beardmore said that in response to the outcry, Virginia Barry, Commissioner of Education, agreed to provide DRA with estimated enrollments by October 11. He acknowledged that the estimates are subject to change, but described them as "reasonably accurate" and superior to any alternatives. He stressed that DOE "did nothing wrong, but was doing its best to calculate state aid in a compressed time frame."

Beardmore said that "we hope not to be in the same place next year when I hope we will have firm numbers as soon as possible." He said that since state aid to public increased in the wake of the Claremont decisions in the 1990s, this will be the first time tax rates have been set using estimated enrollment figures.

Hosmer said that he "commended commissioners Beardmore and Barry for making a quick about face and working with each other to resolve the situation." He suggested that "the Legislature may want to take another look at the law to what if anything can be done to improve the process."

Last Updated on Saturday, 05 October 2013 03:18

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Huot files bill to give county commissioners more budget management autonomy

LACONIA — Rep. David Huot (D-Laconia) this week became the third member of the Belknap County Convention to file legislation intended to clarify the responsibilities of the commission and convention in preparing and managing the county budget.

Differences between the three Belknap County Commissioners and the county administration on the one hand and the Republican majority of the county convention have roiled county government throughout the year. The majority of the convention has insisted that the convention can rewrite the budget proposed by the commission by adding, deleting, raising or lowering particular line item appropriations. 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.

With equal resolve, the commissioners claim that the authority of the convention is limited to itemizing appropriations in 13 broad categories 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 of the particular categories.

Huot said yesterday that his legislation would apply to all of the 10 counties in the state, but would not override provisions of existing statutes that apply specifically to Hillsborough, Rockingham and Strafford counties. The bill will prescribe a uniform format for county budgets, which the commissions present to the conventions in December, consisting of accounts for departments and functions. County commissions would be authorized to transfer funds between line items within the accounts without the approval of the convention, but transfers or more than $1,000 between accounts would require the approval of the Executive Committee of the convention.

In addition, Huot's bill would require that at least one representative from the minority party in the convention be seated on the Executive Committee.

Throughout the controversy within the Belknap County Convention Huot has noted that that the existing law bearing on county budgeting is open to interpretation. In fact, both the commission and the convention received legal opinions upholding their respective positions and the convention was stopped short of filing suit against the commission by a single vote. Huot conceded that because the different counties operate differently within the bounds of the existing law, his bid to introduce a measure of uniformity would encounter resistance. "I'm poking a stick right in the middle of a hornet's nest," he remarked.

Earlier both Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith) who chairs the Belknap County Convention, and Rep. Tilton (R-Laconia), chairman of its executive committee, also filed bills that would enshrine their view of the convention's authority in an statute applying only to Belknap County.

Last Updated on Saturday, 05 October 2013 03:08

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Laconia mayor candidates debate on Channel 9 on Sunday

MANCHESTER — WMUR television (Channel 9) will feature a half-hour-long debate between the two men running for mayor of Laconia on its Close Up program on Sunday morning. The program was taped on Friday afternoon for broadcast at 10 a.m.

Appearing on the program, one of several the station plans to broadcast featuring mayor candidates in New Hampshire cities, will be Kaileif Mitchell and Ed Engler. Mitchell is a teaching assistant at the Spaulding Youth Center in Northfield and election moderator in Ward 5. Engler is editor and president of the The Daily Sun.

Close Up is hosted by WMUR anchor Josh McElveen. He and station political director James Pindell asked the questions during the debate, which were not provided to the candidates in advance.

The Laconia election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 5.

 

Last Updated on Saturday, 05 October 2013 03:01

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