City: Save windfall

Laconia to be conservative with $840,118 revenue


LACONIA — City Manager Scott Myers has a strong feeling about being fiscally conservative and not using one-time revenue for ongoing expenses.

That's why he is recommending that much of an $840,118 windfall the city is realizing should be placed in reserve funds, instead of being spent on ongoing expenses like adding employees or embarking on more new projects.

“The priority is to use recurring funds for recurring expenses,” he said Wednesday in explaining his budget proposal. “You want sustainable, predictable budgeting; revenue streams and expenses that are predictable.

“If you use one-time revenue for operational expenses, you get into yo-yoing. That would not be a prudent way of managing.”

That $840,118 can be found in a miscellaneous category of revenue in the 168-page spending plan Myers has produced.

His proposal is subject to change. Representatives of various city departments will appear before the City Council in coming weeks to make their budget requests. The budget process will stretch over the summer before the council approves a final plan.

The windfall results from the return of a $238,000 overpayment the city made to the Concord Regional Solid Waste Cooperative and a sale of property in the amount of $508,000.

The city currently leases the property near the intersection of Union Avenue and Elm Street to Lakeport Landing. It will be selling it to Irwin Marine.

Instead of spending the money right away, Myers is suggesting placing much of it in a contingency, or reserve fund. Last budget, $100,000 was put in the contingency fund.

His new spending plan calls for placing $583,000 in this fund. Another $100,000 is to be placed in a non-capital reserve fund.

Mayor Ed Engler said the City Council generally agrees with Myers' prudent approach.

“Philosophically, you could take all that money and spend it on salaries, and that would work this year, but what would you do next year?” he said.

He also said that as the City Council gets further into the budgeting process, it may consider using some of these excess funds for capital outlays not funded in the city manager's budget.

Myers is recommending $2.18 million in capital projects, with $1.55 million of that amount going to street repairs, $125,000 for citywide drainage improvements, $95,000 for Union Avenue retaining wall repairs and $100,000 for a radio tower upgrade.

Left unfunded in his proposal is a $60,000 request for an upgrade of the north end of the Weirs Boardwalk, $100,000 for Court Street reconstruction and $140,000 for Messer Street Bridge rehabilitation.


Court orders mediation for Bishops, town of Gilmanton over winery

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A long-running legal dispute over permitting of the Gilmanton Winery will enter a court-ordered alternative dispute resolution process, according to an April 7 order from the Belknap County Superior Court. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)


GILMANTON — Based on a new court order, a settlement may precede any type of civil trial in the high-profile legal dispute of Marshall and Carol Bishop, owners of the Gilmanton Winery, and the town Planning Board.
The case, over site plan requirements for the historic winery and its associated restaurant, took on political overtones because of Marshall Bishop's role as a Gilmanton selectman. The legal fight even became a political issue in the recent town election, when Bishop's opponents complained about the thousands of dollars spent by the town on the litigation. Bishop won re-election despite the controversy.
Now, the Belknap County Superior Court has ordered alternative dispute resolution, a form of mediation that seeks to save time and money, forge agreements that are more mutually satisfactory and stave off the time and costs of trials, according to court rules.
On April 7, Judge James O'Neill ordered alternative dispute resolution, as part of a "case structuring" order that set out the potential calendar for the case.
By Aug. 31, the Bishops and a representative of the town must complete the form of mediation, according to the order.
Barring a quick mediation, Judge O'Neill scheduled a hearing for 9 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 4, to receive an update on the parties' progress in the case of Marshall Bishop et al v Town of Gilmanton Planning Board. Without a resolution, the bench trial would take place Jan. 4 and 5, 2018.
If a settlement is reached, the public can't expect any of the details to become public. Civil rules of the superior courts in New Hampshire stipulate, "ADR proceedings and information relating to those proceedings shall be confidential unless otherwise agreed in writing by all parties and all counsel."
The legal dispute reaches back half a dozen years. According to a March 17 request for dismissal by the town, Marshall Bishop approached the Planning Board in January 2011 to propose developing a winery, restaurant and bed and breakfast at the historic home of "Peyton Place" author Grace Metalious.
The home's garage was to be converted into a winery and the downstairs area of the home into a dining and function area, according to the plans then unveiled. A third phase called for conversion of the upstairs and downstairs into a bed and breakfast, according to the court filing.
In spring 2011, the Bishops submitted a site plan application to the Planning Board, seeking approval for the winery and function hall. The Planning Board unanimously granted the final site plan approval on June 9, 2011, according to the filing.
"In January 2016, Mr. Bishop defeated his opponent, Brett Currier, and was elected to serve on the Town of Gilmanton Board of Selectmen," the filing notes.
The Bishops alleged a vendetta, a charge the town denied in its filing. In an Oct. 17, 2016, letter to the Bishops, attorney Paul Fitzgerald of Wescott Law of Laconia wrote that "currently pending issues" prompted the Planning Board to require a new site plan for the winery, according to the Bishops.
"Through legal counsel, the Bishops responded to Attorney Fitzgerald's letter on October 21, 2016," the filing continued. "The letter indicated the Bishops believed that the winery complied with all applicable laws, ordinances, and regulations, but would nonetheless like to address amicably any well-founded concerns of the Planning Board."
After more back-and-forth by the parties, the Bishops argued that the Planning Board waged a "public persecution" that damaged their reputations, especially to Marshall Bishop "because it raises the specter of impropriety given that he is an elected town official," the filing reports. The Bishops also received telephone calls from potential customers asking if the winery was still open, evidence that the legal wrangling harmed their business, the couple wrote in their lawsuit. The town denied these allegations in the March 17 filing by the town's legal counsel, Russell Hilliard of Upton and Hatfield of Portsmouth.
The Planning Board has asserted that the Gilmanton Winery has been operating "a full service restaurant with onsite food preparation without appropriate approvals from the Planning Board," according to a "respondent's answer and request for declaratory relief" at the Belknap County Superior Court.
The Bishops' suit argued that the Planning Board began questioning the lawfulness of the winery in 2016 "with the same information that it had in 2011 when it granted the Bishops final site plan approval, and the Bishops have not made any substantial changes to the winery since approval."
The Bishops are asking the court for attorneys' fees and costs.

Weirs parking fee may double


LACONIA — Parking fees in the Weirs Beach area will double to $1 an hour under a proposed ordinance change which will be the subject of a public hearing before the Laconia City Council when it meets on Monday, March 24.
The revised ordinance, proposed by Public Works Director Wes Anderson, notes that the 50 cents per hour fee is only one quarter of that charged at state-owned Seacoast area beaches, where the summer fee is $2 per hour. Portsmouth has fees of $1.75 an hour in high density areas, and Concord, which has a fee of 75 cents an hour, is increasing its fees.
The current ordinance also has different days of operation for the meters for different parking spaces. The revised ordinance would see all meters in operation from the Saturday preceding Memorial Day to the Monday after Columbus Day. It would also change operating hours for meters from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. to 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Parking kiosks will be installed at the Endicott Beach parking lot and the parking fee there will go from $10 a day to $2 an hour, which would mean that someone who parked at the beach for 10 hours would pay $20. It was noted that the change will enable the Parks Department to use the two seasonal positions that presently man the parking booth at the beach parking The city's new parking meter system will go into service on Saturday, May 27.