Lawmakers assert jurisdiction over county grant appropriation process

LACONIA — The Belknap County Convention has formed a grant subcommittee to establish procedures to ensure that all state and federal grants to the county are part of the county budget process and must be approved by the convention before any funds are expended.
Convention Chairman Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) named Herb Vadney (R-Meredith), convention vice chairman and chairman of the convention's Executive Committee, to the committee along with Rep. Michael Sylvia (R-Belmont), Rep. Peter Varney (R-Alton) and Rep. Valerie Fraser (R-New Hampton).
Tilton raised concern over the grant policy over a year ago when as chairman of the Executive Committee he pointed out that a $297,3000 grant which was received in the summer of 2013 by the Belknap County Sheriff's Department wasn't included in the 2013 budget summary nor referenced in the proposed 2014 budget.
He said at that time that the funds need to be appropriated by the county in order for it to be able to track all of its expenditures.
At a subsequent convention meeting, Curt Magee of Sanbornton reminded the convention of a statute (RSA 24:21-a) that provides that "all moneys to be appropriated by the county must be stipulated in the budget on a 'gross' basis, showing revenues from all sources, including grants, gifts, bequests and bond issues, as offsetting revenues to appropriations affected."
The convention then proceeded to adopt a policy which required that all state and federal grant requests go through the budget process and gain convention approval.
At this Monday's convention meeting a copy of the county commissioners' procedures for federal and state grant application and acceptance was circulated. The policy was adopted in March of 2009 by then county commissioners Christopher Boothby, Ed Philpot and Richard Long and makes no reference to any need for county convention approval of grants.
Rep. Sylvia said that he was under the impression that the policy which the convention adopted last year was in effect but Tilton said there was nothing in writing which had been communicated to commissioners, whom he maintained had ignored the convention's vote.
Vadney said that he thinks it is important that the convention evaluate all grants for overall impact and whether or not they will require funding from the county in the future as well as any restrictions they may carry.
''We want to make sure it's from a reputable source, not ill-gotten money.'' said Vadney, who last year said that the convention needs to assume control of the grant process in order to protect taxpayers. "It puts the delegation as an oversight group of the county so that we don't accept money from nefarious sources.''' He maintained that the county's acceptance of federal stimulus funds had created a level of spending which the county couldn't sustain
Tilton asked that a written policy proposal be presented to the convention for its consideration.

Gilmanton was gold standard for voter participation this time around

BELKNAP COUNTY — A greater number of residents of the towns in Belknap County governed by the Official Ballot Act (SB form of town meeting — so called "SB-2 towns" — participated in annual town meetings this year than their counterparts in towns that have retained the traditional town meeting format.

The 10 townships in Belknap County are evenly divided between the two forms of government. Alton, Belmont, Gilford, Gilmanton and New Hampton have adopted SB -2 while Barnstead, Center Harbor, Meredith, Sanbornton and Tilton hold traditional town meetings.

In the five SB-2 towns voting for both town officials and warrant articles is by a single secret ballot on the second Tuesday of March. In the other five towns voters cast their ballots for town officials by secret ballot on the same Tuesday and vote on warrant articles at town meeting on that same night, or later.

The difference in participation was most marked by the number of registered voters casting ballots on warrant articles, which was significantly higher in the five SB-2 towns, Turnout was 42.4 percent in Gilmanton, 21.2 percent in Alton, 19.5 percent in New Hampton, 17.9 percent in Gilford and 13.9 percent in Belmont.

By contrast, the largest share of registered voters attending town meeting to vote on warrant articles was in Center Harbor, where 8.5 percent took part, followed by 7.9 percent in Sanbornton, 3.6 percent in Barnstead, 3 percent in Tilton and 2.4 percent in Meredith. Discounting the results in Gilmanton, the percentage of voters casting official ballots exceeded those attending town meetings by margins ranging from one-and-half to 10 times. In numbers, attendance at town meeting was highest in Sanbornton, where 173 took part, while 114 were present in Meredith, 110 in Barnstead, 70 in Center Harbor and 71 in Tilton.

However, in the voting for town officials, the monopoly of the top spots by SB-2 towns was broken. With 42.4 percent of voters casting ballots, Gilmanton again led the field. But, Sanbornton, where 24 of voters cast ballots, topped the other four SB-2 towns. Alton, with turnout of 21.2 percent, was next, followed by Meredith, where 19.7 percent of voters went to the polls. New Hampton at 19.5 percent and Gilford at 17.9 percent followed, but Center Harbor, with turnout of 15 percent, edged Belmont, the remaining SB-2 town, where 13.9 percent of voters cast ballots. Turnout was lowest in Barnstead at 12.2 percent and Tilton at 11.7 percent.

This year Gilmanton was an outlier, with turnout ranging from between twice and 20 times higher than the other nine towns in the county, which reflected the number of controversial issues on the ballot. These included the budget, funding for the Year-Round Library, rescinding SB-2, two petitioned warrant articles requesting the removal of properties from the historic district and an article to appoint rather than elect the road agent.

Likewise, the relatively high turnout to elect town officials in Meredith, where almost nine times as many voters cast ballots as attended town meeting, was driven by the contest among eight candidates for the two open seats on the Board of Selectmen.

In traditional town meeting towns, the difference between the number of voters who cast ballots for town officials on March 10 and the number who voted on warrant articles at town meeting was striking. In Barnstead, less than a third (375 - 110) of the number of people who cast ballots turned up at the town meeting. In Meredith the number dropped from 945 to 114 and in Sanbornton the total went from 531 down to 173. Tilton did not better – 282 residents cast ballots and only 71 went to town meeting. The difference between the two numbers was narrowest in Center Harbor, where 124 people cast ballots and 70 voted at town meeting.

Laconia Music Center, on Long Island?

NEW HYDE PARK, NY — "Greeks were coming in asking if we had bouzoukis," said Ray Noguera, who with his wife Joan owns and operates the Laconia Music Center in this Long Island city. "So I bought some bouzoukis and strings and no one has come in looking for bouzoukis since."

Noguera explained that his store took its name not from the province in Greece or the city in New Hampshire but from Laconia Avenue, a major tnorth-south thoroughfare in the Bronx, where "three intense cheapskates" first opened the business in 1960. He said that before the decade ended a hurricane left the small frame building in ruin and the business moved first to Queens and in 1986 to its present location in New Hyde Park in Nassau County.

Noguera, who acquired the business in 1991, said he considered changing the name from Laconia, but realized "it was well-known for good or bad, but mostly bad." He recalled a baby boomer who managed a hedge fund came into the store with tarnished saxophone in disrepair, explaining that it was purchased at the store when he played in his high school band. "If we'd changed the name he never would have found us," he said, adding the man paid more than $1,000 to have his instrument restored. "We kept the name and improved the reputation," Noguera remarked.

The store specializes in band instruments for individuals and schools. "We don't sell a lot of electric guitars," Noguera said, "so we never hot chicks coming in." In addition, some 16 teachers offer lesson for students of virtually every instrument.

The Laconia Music Center was voted the best on Long Island by readers of the Long Island Press.

Some years ago a customer brought Noguera a poster from Motorcycle Week in N.H. "There was this hog looking guy on a big black Harley-Davidson and a woman with her breasts hanging out," he said. "What am I going to do with that? Put it up in the store?"

Noguera said that he and his family have vacationed in Maine and may make a detour to visit the City on the Lakes the next time they come to New England.


Belknap population grows just a little but deaths exceed births

LACONIA — Belknap County was among six of the 10 counties in the state where the population increased between 2010 and 2014 according to estimates released yesterday by the United Census Bureau, but the rate of growth was slowest of the six.

Altogether the Census Bureau estimates that the population of the state rose by 10,347, from 1,316,466 to 1,326,813, a rate of growth of 0.8 percent.

The Census Bureau estimates that the population of Belknap County grew only 0.4 percent between 2010 and 2014, adding just 213 people to rise from 60,092 to 60,305. During the period the number of deaths exceeded the number of births by 401 — 2,712 to 2,311. However, 585 people migrated to the county, 293 of them from abroad and 292 from elsewhere in the state or the country.

Strafford County, with the cities of Dover, Rochester and Somersworth, posted the highest rate of estimated growth at 2 percent, as an increase of 2,458 raised the population to 125,604. The populations of Rockingham and Hillsborough counties, the two most populous in the state, increased 1.8 percent to 300,621 and 1.1 percent to 405,184 respectively while Grafton and Merrimack counties grew by 0.6 percent and 0.5 percent.

The population shrunk by 4.2 percent in Coos County, 1.5 percent in Sullivan County, 1.3 percent in Cheshire County and 0.9 percent in Carroll County.

Deaths outnumbered births in five counties: by 686 in Coos County, 555 in Carroll County, 401 in Belknap County, 80 in Sullivan County and 51 in Grafton County.