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Gilford selectmen will again address fireworks issue, tonight

GILFORD — For the second time in as many years, tonight selectmen will be discussing whether or not the town should amend its current ordinance that bans fireworks.

Newest Selectmen Richard "Rags" Grenier said yesterday that supports allowing fireworks in Gilford but wants their use tied to a noise ordinance and not be absoutely prohibited.

"I'm not a big fan of government control," Grenier said yesterday.

Fireworks are banned in Gilford and have been since 1988. Last year, selectmen voted two-to-one to continue the ban and to increase the penalties for violations to $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second offense and $500 for the third offense.

Selectmen Gus Benevides voted against the ban. He said he wasn't comfortable banning something in Gilford that was sold legally in the state of New Hampshire.

He said he feared legal challenges from someone who is penalized and doesn't want what he considers an already over-burdened police department to use its valuable resources on fireworks when the town faces more serious issues like drug abuse, drunk driving, domestic abuse, and property crime.

Benevides also said there was no way for the police to enforce the rules for the island residents which, in a sense, creates a two-tiered society. He also said that many summer residents wouldn't know about the ban.

Selectman John O'Brien is a strong supporter of banning fireworks. He said he considers it to be a public safety issue and that the role of government is to enact ordinances that keep the public safe.

O'Brien said people who are using fireworks are often consuming alcohol and "common sense and beer don't go together." He said fireworks are a distraction for people who don't use them and can present a fire hazard when used improperly.

Retired Selectmen Kevin Hayes said the phone calls he received concerning fireworks were from residents who felt they were dangerous. He supported O'Brien and the ban stayed in effect, along with the harsher penalties.

Now that Hayes is retired, Grenier becomes the swing vote in what was last year a clearly polarized board when it came to fireworks.

Fire Chief Stephen Carrier said as a public safety official he could not support lifting the ban on fireworks.

"They're dangerous and can often get into the hands of people who shouldn't have them," he said.

Fireworks are also banned in Alton but are allowed with some restrictions in Belmont, Laconia and Meredith. Those restrictions are usually consistent with noise regulations except in Meredith where those using fireworks are expected to get a permit.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 August 2014 12:45

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Wanna buy a Caterpillar, cheap?

LACONIA — City police are investigating two separate reports of a scam that involves the fraudulent sale of nonexistent construction equipment.

Police said that twice within the past few days, victims have gotten phone calls from a male offering them a great deal on a piece of construction equipment. Sgt. Bob Cameron said the price is usually around $400 dollars for an excavator or similar type piece of equipment.

He said the caller makes arrangements for the victim to meet him or one of his associates at a location in Laconia where the two exchange cash for what ends up being a false bill of sale with a fictitious Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).

The agreement is that the seller will have the equipment delivered to the buyer's home later in the day.

He said the victims so far have not lived in Laconia.

Cameron asked that anyone who has any information or who has received one of these phone calls should contact the Laconia Police at 524-5252 and ask for Officer Kevin Shortt at ext. 560 or Officer Anna Croteau at ext. 529.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 August 2014 12:41

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Council directs pointed questions at zoning board members

LACONIA —Two members of Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) found themselves under close questioning this week when they appeared before the City Council seeking reappointment.

Steve Bogert, chairman of the ZBA since 2007, and Suzanne Perley, who has served one term on the board, were asked about decisions to deny the requests of John Ganong and Charles Gulbicki to sell used cars on their properties in the Commercial Resort district, where the use requires a special exception. Earlier the board granted a similar request by Benson Auto, Inc. to operate a used car lot on property near the intersection of Route 3 and Rollercoaster Road, which is also in the Commercial Resort district. When Ganong brought his concerns to the council last month, Councilor Armand Bolduc (Ward 6) said he was "flabbergasted" by the ZBA's decision.

Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5) asked Perley why, after allowing used car sales at one location in the district the board chose not to approve the same use at two other locations. Without naming either Gulbicki or Ganong, Perley said that in both cases "we were dealing with a scenic drive," a reference to the location of the two properties on Weirs Boulevard. Gulbicki operates a repair shop and towing service on a 0.22-acre lot near the roundabout at The Weirs and Ganong has a home and office on .52 acres further south on Paugus Bay.

Perley stressed that both properties overlooked the water and that after denying Ganong's request could not grant Gulbicki's without treating the two inconsistently. She said although the lot where Benson Auto was permitted to operate is in the same district, it does not overlook water and is adjacent to other commercial uses. Returning to the properties on Weirs Boulevard, she noted that "used car sales are not in the Master Plan's vision of that scenic road."

Mayor Ed Engler pressed Perley to show where the zoning ordinance distinguishes between the property at Route 3 and Rollercoaster Road and those on Weirs Boulevard or where it requires that properties with views of water must be treated differently from others in the same zoning district.

"We're volunteers doing the best we can with the information we have," she replied, repeating that the ZBA agreed that used car sales are not an appropriate use on a street bordering Paugus Bay.

"Zoning is a unique little monster," remarked Bogert, who voted to grant Ganong a special exception but to deny Gulbicki's request. "Each property requesting a special exception or variance must stand on its own," he said, adding that the ZBA made three decisions based on whether the three different properties could meet the five criteria required for a special exception.

Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) questioned Perley about the response to the sign ordinance drafted by the Zoning Task Force, which she chairs. Although the council approved the ordinance in May, Lipman expressed concern that by requiring a special exception for electronic signs it was unnecessarily restrictive. He asked how many applications had been submitted. "Not one," Perley answered.

Council is expected to vote on the requests for appointment at its August 25 meeting.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 August 2014 12:39

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County government feud personalized in Burchell v. Thomas contest

BARNSTEAD — When the two GOP candidates for the Belknap County Commission in District 2— incumbent John Thomas of Belmont and challenger Richard Burchell — addressed the Barnstead-Alton-Gilmanton Republican Committee this week, Burchell asked "why didn't the Democrats put up a candidate?"

Answering his question, he said "they didn't need to, because they've got John Thomas."

The tenor of this primary campaign not only echoes the bitter disputes that have roiled county government for the past two years, but also reflects the rift between veteran lawmakers and insurgent newcomers within the GOP. Thomas, served seven terms in the New Hampshire of Representatives, where he was among the leaders of the Republican majority and a member of the Belknap County Convention. Burchell, who has retired from a successful business career, is completing his first term in the House and a member of the convention.

The tension between the two was evident from the toss of the coin to determine who would speak first. Thomas won the toss, but deferred to Burchell, who declined to choose, remarking "I'm not going to speak for you."

Thomas recalled that the commission restructured the county administration and reduced the county payroll as well as introduced the "county conversations" to open a dialogue with the municipalities. With federal funds distributed by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act , he said that the county courthouse and nursing home were improved. Thomas said that despite falling revenues, increases in both county expenditures and property taxes have been limited.

"There are quite a few problems in the county," Burchell began. Referring to the dispute between the convention and the commission over their respective budget authority, he said "the commissioners are not following the law." Last month Burchell, as clerk of the county convention, filed suit asking the Belknap County Superior Court to affirm the authority of the convention over each of the individual line items within the budget and prohibit the commission from spending more from any line item than it appropriated. He charged that the commissioners have failed to protect the interests of taxpayers in negotiating contracts with the unions representing county employees and warned against the runaway cost of health insurance benefits. Likewise, he suggested the growth of county spending has been excessive and claimed that federal stimulus funds were used to hire additional personnel. After saying that the issue of the county jail "is beyond the scope of this meeting," he said that "we should scrap and start over" the process of planning a facility in "the $10 million or $11 million range."

When the floor was opened to questions Barbara Howard of Alton immediately returned to the question of the jail. Thomas said that "we're not just building a jail. We're building a criminal justice system, which includes a community corrections component with a mental health and drug court. He said that the planning is based on two studies, one by David Bennett Consulting and another by RicciGreene Associates.

"We have no intention of building a $42 million jail," Thomas insisted. "We can't afford that."

Instead, he anticipated a project costing between $30 million and $35 million." He said that the jail population has already reached Bennett's 10-year projection. "We can have a county facility or a federal facility paid for by residents of Belknap County," he warned, alluding to the risk of litigation arising from conditions at the existing facility.

"I disagree with everything John Thomas has said," Burchell countered.

While acknowledged he learned a great deal from Bennett's report, he rejected its economic and demographic projections, which led him to exaggerate the growth of the inmate population. Likewise, he said that RicciGreene significantly exaggerated the size and cost of the facility the county required. "We should scrap these studies and start over," Burchell concluded.

Elaine Swinford, a former representative and candidate for the House seat in Alton, Barnstead and Gilmanton, remarked "every year we don't do anything, the cost goes up because the cost goes up."

District 2 consists of the towns of Barnstead, Belmont, Gilmanton and Tilton. Primary election day is Tuesday, Sept. 9.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 August 2014 11:47

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