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2014 ends on note that faithful to rest of the year, lawmakers & commissioners trading barbs

LACONIA — The year ended as it began, with the Belknap County Convention and the Belknap County Commission at daggers drawn on New Year's Eve over the county operating budget, when the Executive Committee of the convention met to consider the commission's requests to transfer funds to cover payroll at the county nursing home.

Altogether the commission presented six requests totaling nearly $100,000, of which $73,165 was required to meet the payroll for the nursing home that falls due at the end of this week. The remainder of the funds were requested to defray fuel and utility bills.

The committee approved the transfers to meet payroll, ensuring the uninterrupted operation of the nursing home, but denied one request to pay a fuel bill and tabled requests to pay water and sewer bills.

Representative Herb Vadney (R-Meredith), convened the meeting in response to what the commission described as an emergency, explaining that without funds to meet the payroll, the staff of the nursing home would have to sent home. The situation arose from the temporary injection issued in August by Justice James D. O'Neill of the Belknap County Superior Court prohibiting the commission from spending more than the convention appropriated for the year from any line item or transferring more than $300 from one line to another without the approval of the executive committee.

Vadney opened the meeting by remarking that "most of us have had a hard time believing that this last minute crisis couldn't have been been foreseen." He said that others "did better than this 30 years ago before computers with pencils" and lamented "the level of brinksmanship on both sides during the last several weeks."
He was echoed by Representative Brian Gallagher (R-Sanbornton), who suggested the county administrator and finance director could have more accurately projected expenditures.

Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia) noted that in January the convention rewrote the budget recommended by the commission with little or no advice from either the department heads or the commissioners. In particular, the convention failed to fund the increased cost of health insurance for county employees as required by the collective bargaining agreements with the unions representing them.

To meet the county's contractual obligations in that area, the commission transferred funds, prompting the convention to file the suit resulting in the injunction. Philpot said that since August funding the operations of the county and complying with he court's order has posed a day-to-day challenge for the county administration.

After the meeting Philpot said that in criticizing the commission and administration for failing to accurately project expenditures, the committee was overlooking the fact that the convention, not the commission, made the projections and prepared the budget. He anticipated that actual expenditures would more closely approximate the appropriations originally recommended by the commission than those made by the convention.

Representative Michael Sylvia (R-Belmont), who alone dissented from the vote to fund the payroll at the nursing home, pointed out that most of money was drawn from a $50,000 appropriation by the convention to hire two correctional officers. Noting that the commission refused to hire the officers, Vadney remarked that the appropriation was "turned into a slush fund". Philpot reminded Vadney that although the convention appropriated funds for the officers' wages, it withheld funding for their health insurance, without which they could not be employed.

"You knew that," Philpot said.

The committee declined to approve transfers to pay fuel and utility bills, which are payable in January, because they did not represent an emergency. Finance Director Glen Waring confessed he was "confused" after being taken to task for failing to project impending expenditures in a timely manner then being denied the means to meet expenses projected well in advance.

"This goes back to the two-year argument we've been having, " Vadney replied. He said that new county commissioners will take office next week and "this will give them something to do."

Last Updated on Friday, 02 January 2015 12:13

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After 8 years, today is Drew Seneca’s last day of serving lunch downtown

LACONIA – After eight years of serving New York-style deli sandwiches and homemade soups, Drew Seneca of the Downtown Deli is calling it quits with today being his last official day.

For the last two years, Seneca had been operating the lunch counter at the Laconia Antique Center – operating it much the same way as during its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s when the building was J.J. Newberrys, and getting a seat at the lunch counter could involve a long wait.

"It's just not here," said Seneca yesterday afternoon as he served three teenagers "frappes" or what the rest of the world calls milkshakes.

Seneca and his wife Elisa opened the Downtown Deli on Pleasant Street about eight years ago. As the recession set in, the Senecas looked to scale down their operation and jokingly thought they would move it to the recently opened Laconia Antiques Center.

Laconia Antiques Center owner Charlie St. Clair didn't think it was a joke and the Senecas gave it a whirl.

They added ice cream treats to the menu, continued serving locally-roasted coffee and Seneca donned the white coat of a soda shop operator. Elisa went to work elsewhere, and for Seneca it was a one-man show.

He said many people would come in and "wax nostalgic" about how their grandparents used to take them to the soda bar and buy them a "frappe," some ice cream or a burger.

"There's just not enough money coming in to keep it going," Seneca said yesterday.

Seneca said he is very emotionally involved in the Downtown Deli and downtown Laconia. He said he'll miss all the people who used to come in and visit, noting it was a favorite stop for many people – but just not enough of them.

"Hey, I don't want it to go," he said yesterday. "I really wanted this to work out."

The Downtown Deli is the second downtown Laconia eatery to close this month. The Vintage Cafe closed just before Christmas.

Charlie St. Clair, owner of the Laconia Antiques Center, said that he was sorry to see Seneca leave. "It's definitely been lots of fun," he remarked. "I'll miss him trying to educate people that frappes are really shakes." Pointing to Seneca pictured at the lunch counter by New Hampshire Magazine, St. Clair said "that's how we should look." Although he has no immediate propsects, St. Clair expects to have the lunch counter and ice cream parlor up and running again. "It's a simple turnkey operation," he noted.

Seneca is hosting a New Year's Day party at the Antique Center beginning at 1 p.m. and all of his friends who play music with him will be coming to join him.

"There'll be all kinds of music," he said.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 2014 12:48

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Veteran real estate broker sees Weirs as ripe for development

LACONIA — "Look around the lake," said Frank Roche of Roche Realty, who has plied the property market in the Lakes Region for the past four decades. "The Weirs is the last link of Lake Winnipesaukee to be developed to its full potential. And for the first time in my career there has never been a greater opportunity to come up with a plan."

The number of vacant lots at the center of The Weirs on the market, Roche explained, present this unprecedented opportunity. Of these the largest is the 13 acres at the junction of Endicott Street East and White Oaks Road, once home to the Surf Coaster USA. Overlooking the lake with 2.000 feet of road frontage, the property is listed for $1,650,000. The lot stretched over three zoning districts, but some years ago, when the owner was courting buyers, the Planning Board assigned it to a single zone to enhance its marketability. There is a one-acre lot at the roundabout that has lain fallow since fire destroyed Karl's Restaurant in 2005. With the demolition of the waterslide, the 2.4 acres at the intersection of Endicott Street North (US Route 3) and Lakeside Avenue became ripe for development. Across the street there is the 2.5-acre lot that last housed the Wide Open Saloon, which burned in 2010, offered for $599,000.

Roche said that the largest of these properties represented ideal sites for a hotel. "We need accommodation," he stressed. As the cottage colonies, where visitors booked for a week throughout the summer, converted to condominiums the turnover of visitors to The Weirs slowed, diminishing patronage of the restaurants and attractions. Roche believes that construction of one or more hotels with about 80 rooms apiece, priced to suit working families, would stimulate commercial development, private investment and enhance property values throughout The Weirs.

Russ Thibeault of Applied Economic Research likened The Weirs to Hampton Beach. He said that at Hampton Beach, where fire consumed several blocks of property on Ocean Boulevard, the state invested some $15-million to reconstruct the pavilion, encouraging a private developer to build waterfront condominiums. Apart from the patch of land holding Endicott Rock, there is no state property at The Weirs.

However, the city has established a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District at The Weirs, which serves as a mechanism for funding projects like restoring the beach, reconfiguring the docks, and burying utility lines that could encourage private investment and development. The Weirs Community Park, more than 20 mostly wooded acres with an amphitheater playground and walking trails opened in the fall to provide a significant public amenity for residents and visitors alike. In 2007 a team sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency recommended that the city refine the zoning at The Weirs, most of which lies in the commercial resort district, to encourage a multiplicity and mixture of uses.

The development of luxury homes atop Brickyard Mountain and along Scenic Road by Southworth Development, Roche emphasized, attests to the attractiveness of the Lakes Region in general and The Weirs in particular. He said that Lake Winnipesaukee, with its cultural and recreational attractions, consistently ranks at or near the top of lists of retirement destinations. "We are the playground of New England," he remarked, "and we should focus and improve on what we are." He said that with properties available at reasonable prices and the lowest interest rates in 40 years, the time to aggressively pursue redevelopment at The Weirs is especially opportune.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 2014 02:19

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Alleged hotel rapist waives probable cause hearing

LACONIA – A Gilford man who allegedly forced his way into a woman's room at the Margate Resort and raped her waived his probable cause hearing in District Court yesterday afternoon.

By waiving his hearing in Fourth District Court-Laconia Division, Douglas Fisher, 54, of 51 Lake St., automatically allowed his case to go to Superior Court where he could be indicted by a grand jury. He is being held on $100,000 cash-only bail.

Paperwork from the court claims that Fisher tied up the woman and forced her to have oral sex with him. He also allegedly stole money from her.

Fisher had been on probation for the sale and possession of drugs – a charge brought forward by Laconia Police in 2011. He also has two convictions for driving while intoxicated – one from 2012 and one from 2013 when he backed into a Laconia Police cruiser while he was plowing snow at the Margate.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 2014 12:58

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