City manager fears health insurance spike will add significantly to budget building hurdles

LACONIA — When the City Council met this week City Manager Scott Myers suggested that preparing a city budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year that complies with terms of the property tax cap promises to be no less a challenge next year than last.

The tax cap limits the annual increase in total expenditures funded by property taxes to the rate of inflation, measured by the Consumer Price Index — Urban (CPI), for the prior calendar year, plus an additional amount representing the value of new construction, which is calculated by multiplying the value of building permits less the value of demolition permits issued between April 1 and March 31 by the prior year's property tax rate.

Myers recalled that last year the rate of inflation was a mere 0.1 percent while the value of new construction was $27.2 million. This year, after 10 months, the values of the two multipliers are reversed as the CPI has risen to 1.1 percent, but the value of new construction has fallen to $13.8 million. From these numbers Myers has calculated that city expenditures can increase by approximately $367,000 without breaching the tax cap.

But, contributions to the New Hampshire Retirement System alone, Myers said, will increase by some $200,000. He said that the city has yet to receive a "not to exceed" projection of the increase in its contribution to the cost of health insurance premiums for its employees. but projections received by other municipalities, he said, were "mostly in double digits," which Myers found "very scary." This fiscal year the city budgeted $2.6 million for health insurance. An increase of 10 percent would represent an additional cost of more than $260,000. "Right now it's ugly," Myers said. He said when asked what keeps him awake at night, "personnel costs we can't control."

Meanwhile, the collective bargaining agreements with the four unions representing city employee— the Laconia Professional Firefighters, Laconia Police Association, State Employees Association and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — expire in June. Myers said that negotiations for new contracts presented an opportunity to address some costs.

Myers noted that he has no reason to anticipate significant increases in municipal revenues from sources other than property taxes to supplement the budget. Instead, he referred to a report issued last summer by the New Hampshire Municipal Association, which tallied the revenues withheld from and the expenses transferred to cities and town by the state during the past six years. He urged the councilors to press local legislators to begin restoring state funding to municipalities, especially municipal revenue sharing and proceeds from the rooms and meals tax, as well as the state's share of the contribution to the New Hampshire Retirement System for municipal employees. "We need to engage our delegation," he said, referring to the 18 members of the House of Representatives from Belknap County and especially the five who represent the city.

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Brother says short-handed N.H. Major Crimes hindered in efforts to solve Bobblie Miller murder

By Bea Lewis

GILFORD — As the sixth anniversary of the unsolved murder of Roberta "Bobbie" Miller has come and gone, her family has updated a billboard on Route 104 in Meredith, to publicize a reward that has grown to $55,000 for information that leads to the arrest and prosecution or the person or persons responsible for her death.

Miller, 54, was discovered inside her 123 Country Club Road home in the early evening hours of Nov. 1, 2010 and investigators have released few details other than that she and her beloved yellow Labrador mix dog 'Sport' were both fatally shot.

A year after her death, investigators said they had determined that the murder occurred between 4 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 31 and 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 1.

Miller's death certificate filed to allow her estate to be probated discloses that she died on Halloween as a result of shotgun wounds of the head and neck, and that she sustained perforations to her skull, brain, left carotid artery, aorta and lungs.

While investigators have remained tight-lipped about the case, based on probate court filings it appears that that theft was not a motive. In 2012, Gilford police released cash and checks totaling $35,211found inside the home where the killing took place. Miller had purchased the ranch-style home just 10 days before she was killed.

A copy of her will filed as part of the probate process shows it was signed just four days before her death. Just two months earlier, Miller had concluded a bitter three-year long divorce in CarrollCounty. Thought finalized, Miller and her ex-husband Gary Miller, wholived in Wolfeboro for about 20 years, were still in court battling over payment issues related to taxes.

Two- days before she was killed, a three-season camp on Great East Lake in Acton, Maine, that Gary Miller received in the divorce was destroyed in a fire determined to be arson. No one has been charged in connection with the blaze.

Ken Dionne, the victim's brother, said while authorities are stillworking to solve her murder, he takes it hard that the state has
limited resources to devote to the effort.

He laments that there are just 14 troopers assigned to the New Hampshire State Police Major Crimes Unit, only half of which actually work in the field, and none of whom focus exclusively on homicides.
The Major Crimes Unit is also tasked with handling computer crimes,missing persons, providing forensic crime scene services and investigating crimes that occur in state correctional facilities.

Dionne said his sister is just one of the many victims murdered in New Hampshire in recent years and that without enough manpower devoted to her case, he believes it is unlikely that her killer will be broughtto justice without the public's help.

Anyone who may have knowledge of any circumstances surrounding Bobbie Miller's death is urged to contact the New Hampshire State PoliceMajor Crime Unit at (603) 223-8573, or the New Hampshire State Police Tipline at (603) 223-3960.

Anyone who spoke with Bobbie Miller or saw her the Halloween weekend of 2010, especially between 4:00 p.m. on Sunday and 5:00 p.m. the following Monday, is strongly encouraged to call the New Hampshire State Police.


This billboard announcing a reward that has grown to $55,000 forinformation in connection with the Halloween 2010 murder of Roberta"Bobbie" Miller of Gilford, posted on Route 104 in Meredith hasrecently been updated with a new photograph of the victim in hopes itwill result in the needed help from the public to crack the six-year-old unsolved case. (Bea Lewis/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

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Site plan dispute between Gilmanton Winery & the town's planning board is now is court

LACONIA — The battle between Marshall and Carol Bishop, the owners of the Gilmanton Winery, and the Gilmanton Planning Board escalated into a full-blown legal war on Nov. 18 when the board issued a cease-and-desist order against the business.

After receiving the order on Nov. 22, the Bishops' attorney filed for an emergency temporary restraining order against the Planning Board on Nov. 23 in Belknap County Superior Court, saying that forcing the winery to close for the Thanksgiving holiday would cost his client money as he had already booked seatings for the day.

The two parties declared a court-sanctioned cease fire when the Bishops agreed to withdraw their motion for an emergency restraining order and the Planning Board agreed not to pursue any cease-and-desist order until the court decides on the merits of a preliminary injunction or request to stop an action, which the judge has ordered the Bishops to file before Dec. 9. Once filed, it is expected the town will reply, unless an agreement is reached beforehand.

According to the request for the restraining order, the Bishops have been running the Gilmanton Winery, in the former home of late author Grace Metalious, since 2011. They provided the court with Planning Board minutes from June 9, 2011, in which they say the Planning Board granted them final approval of a site plan.

Quotations from the minutes include "all permitting both state and local have been obtained" and that the application was "granted final approval, as it appears to meet all of the technical requirements of the ordinances and regulations of the Town of Gilmanton."

Recently though, the validity and finality of the site plan has come into question. In addition, the Bishops had been operating a restaurant without the "special exception" to the zoning ordinance they needed to do so. Marshall Bishop went before the town's Zoning Board of Adjustments a few months ago and received his special exception in a 4 to 1 vote.

However, according the to minutes of the Oct. 13 Planning Board meeting, Planning Board Vice-Chair Martin Martindale recommended that Bishop submit a new site plan application and begin the planning process anew. He went on to say that should the Bishops not file a new site plan by Nov. 10, the board should issue a cease-and-desist order that would stop him from operating. A motion to that effect passed by a 9 to 0 vote.

The Bishops say that for the five years their winery has been open, they have operated a thriving business. They also claim that when Marshall Bishop defeated former Selectman Brett Currier in the 2016 election for a one-year seat for selectman, Currier and his wife took out their own personal grudges on him and his business. He also claims that Planning Board Chair Wayne Ogni is a friend of the Curriers.

Legally, he claims that he has complied with all of the laws, regulations and ordinances of Gilmanton and the state and that he is willing to amicably address any "well-founded" concerns the Planning Board may have.

At the Oct. 13 Planning Board meeting, Bishop was asked to attend but sent a letter asking what specific information the Planning Board sought in regard to any violations of the laws and ordinances. He did not attend.

Bishop's attorney responded by saying that without knowing what specific laws or ordinances were being violated, having his client submit a complete new site plan was "premature."

Bishop's lawyer followed up with a second letter asking why the town had not responded to his first request for specific violations regarding the winery. He said the business was receiving letters of concern from its customers and that the Planning Board's actions were starting to harm the business, because people were reluctant to make reservations for the holidays since the board threatened to shut them down.

He restated that the Bishops desire to work with the Planning Board but said that his clients were willing to go to court to if the board continues to harm the business.

The Planning Board's attorney replied on Nov. 18 that the board insists that Bishop doesn't have an approved site plan and that when Bishop was told he needed to provide additional information, he replied that he was in full compliance. That letter contained the cease-and-desist order that was temporarily negated by both parties with the approval of the court.

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