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McLelland, Condodemetraky & Cormier made their cases for selectboard seat

BELMONT — The three candidates for the one available seat on the Board of Selectmen made their final pitch for Belmont voters at a sparsely attended candidates' forum at the High School Tuesday night.

Candidate Dan McLelland, Sr. said his familiarity with Belmont's town government makes him the best qualified candidate. He served as a selectman before resigning his seat to become town administrator, a position he held from 2000 to 2005. Before that he had served on the Budget Committee.

Completely retired now, he said he has the time to devote to the town and said he would address issues that had been before the town since 2000 — the town hall building, the preservation of the Gale School and the completion of one Belmont section of the WOW Trail.

He said he inherited the Belmont Mill (as town administrator) when it was about three-quarters finished and he said there were a lot of problems then and he's not surprised there are problems today.

Incumbent Ron Cormier said he is running for a fourth term because he wants to see the Belmont Village Revitalization project through to its completion.

Born in Belmont, Cormier is raising his family and said he got interested in town government when he took over his family home in 2005 and got his first tax bill.

Since then, he said he's learned that "it's not as easy to lower a tax bill" as he thought it would be.

He said his goal shifted to finding ways to make the town better and that the Belmont Village Revitalization project is part of that goal.

The work Cormier said he wants to see through completion is the work on the Belmont Mill, the use of the former Northway Bank Building, the installation of a footbridge in the village center, and some landscaping and paving that must be done this spring to complete the water and sewer portion of the project.

George Condodemetraky has been a selectman twice before.

He said the town needs more long-term planning and that Belmont should have a growth plan in place. "Instead of reacting to problems we should be planning for them."

He said he is concerned with protecting Belmont's agricultural land because someday, residents will have to think about where they're going to grow their food.

Condodemetraky supports recycling and noted that Belmont is one of the only towns left in the area that doesn't have some kind of mandatory recycling program.

He also wants to protect the aquifer that run beneath the town and said it is unfortunate that the land above it was zoned for industrial uses before the town knew it was an aquifer.

"Industry and aquifer don't mix," he said. "We can't afford to loose the quality of our water."

Condodemetraky also said he has a plan to bring money into Belmont but he won't tell anyone what it is unless he is elected.

In response to a question about bringing business and industry to town, Both Cormier and McLelland agreed that Belmont is primarily a residential community and that its lack of infrastructure makes it difficult to attract commercial business and industry to town.

Cormier said studies have been done on the Route 106 corridor relative to water and sewer but adding those services is very expensive.

Referring to a planning charrette, he thinks Belmont's future lies in making it a destination center using the village as an anchor. He said the design is such that the area can be used for concerts and fairs and, coupled with the Riverwalk, he said the goal is for the village merchants to gain some revenue from that.

"The industrial piece just isn't there," he said.

Condometraky said the town is sitting on a gold mine but nobody knows about it except him.

"My plan that I'm not going to tell you about will attract plenty of money," he said.

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 March 2014 01:07

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11-5 Convention majority approves more conservative budget

LACONIA — After weeks of often acrimonious deliberation, the Belknap County Convention last night adopted the 2014 county budget, which appropriates $25,596,863, more than $200,000 less than last year, and raises $13,663,314 in property taxes, a decrease of 1.6 percent.

The convention reduced the budget recommended by the Belknap County Commission by more than $974,000, or 3.6 percent.

The budget carried by a margin of 11 to 5. Four of the five Democratic members of the convention — Reps. Beth Arsenault and David Huot of Laconia, Ian Raymond of Sanbornton and Lisa DiMartino of Gilford — dissented along with Republican Dennis Fields of Sanbornton.

The Republican majority consisted of Reps. Colette Worsman, Bob Greemore and Herb Vadney of Meredith, Jane Cormier and Stephen Holmes of Alton, Michael Sylvia and Charles Fink of Belmont, Frank Tilton and Bob Luther of Laconia, Richard Burchell of Gilmanton and Guy Comtois of Barnstead.

Democrat Ruth Gulick of New Hampton, who has challenged the validity of an earlier vote on the budget in court (see related story on page 9), abstained and Republican Don Flanders of Laconia was absent.

"I'm satisfied now," said Tilton. He said that the convention applied $1,775,000 of the county's undesignated fund balance to offset property taxes, less than the $2 million recommended by Belknap County Commission, and $65,000 less than the projected surplus in 2013. "We're adding $65,000 to our fund balance," he said.

Tilton said that the budget funds the salaries and health benefits of two additional corrections officers, addressing among the county's most critical needs.

Finally, Tilton explained that when the 2013 and 2014 budgets are adjusted for eliminating the appropriation for the Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid Association from the county budget and billing municipalities directly, the increase in the amount to be raised by taxes is 2.3 percent. The increase matches the projected increase in the tax commitment permitted by Laconia's property tax cap.

Worsman, who chairs the convention, congratulated her colleagues for what she called "a tremendous job," conceding that "a 2.3 percent increase in taxes is not what any of us wanted to do."

Tilton proposed a motion reaffirming the convention's authority over line items in throughout the budget, which has set the convention and commission at loggerheads for the past two budget cycles. It carried by 10 to 6, with Republicans Luther and Fields joining four Democrats — Huot, Gulick, Raymond and DiMartino in dissent.

Speaking for the commission Steve Nedeau, the only commissioner at the meeting, read a prepared statement. He began by refuting a number of accusations that Worsman leveled against County Administrator Debra Shackett in an an e-mail to the commissioners.

Turning to the budget he reminded the convention that the commission is contractually bound to pay $3.1 million in health insurance premiums in 2014 and said that "to knowingly and intentionally underfund nearly $540,000 of that obligation, with no plan how to implement such a radical cut, and then claim no responsibility for your actions is certainly not acting in the public's best interest."

"We have continued . . . to cater to your attempts to micro-manage, to respond to your conjecture and accusations of both staff and elected officials," Nedeau continued. "We sit here meeting after meeting while you misinform the public (and each other), ignore anyone who doesn't support your view, and then take action, based on false information."

Nedeau said that "the arbitrary and reckless cuts to the county budget will unfortunately result in employee layoffs," explaining that reducing health insurance costs by over $500,000 is "not an option."

Raymond proposed including Nedeau's statement in the minutes of the meeting, but his motion failed on a tie vote of 8 to 8

"How can it not be included in the record?" asked Luther.

When the meeting was opened to the public, Dave Devoy congratulated Worsman on her leadership and assured her "the silent majority is with you." 

Hunter Taylor of Alton also endorsed the work of the convention, but chided both Republicans and Democrats, telling them "it's time you behaved like adults."

Last Updated on Wednesday, 05 March 2014 03:22

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Residents along remote Meredith roadway want to form village district

MEREDITH — Eight of the 10 property owners on Maple Ridge Road, a steep, winding graveled track about a half-mile long that comes to a dead-end 750 feet above the western shore of Lake Winnisquam, have petitioned the Board of Selectmen to establish an official village district that would improve and maintain the road.

Village districts in New Hampshire have taxing authority and are managed by an elected board of commissioners.

At a workshop this week, Marshall Hubbard, who moved to Maple Ridge Road in 1978, six years after the town approved the subdivision, told the selectmen that he tried to form a residents' association, but wound up maintaining the road himself for 20 years. Since the Maple Ridge Association was formed two years ago it has budgeted for the upkeep of the road.

David Desmarais said that by forming a village district, with the sole purpose of maintaining the road and authority to raise and appropriate funds, would ensure sufficient resources "year in and year out" to plow, sand, grade, gravel and ditch the road. "We want to take responsibility ourselves," he said, adding that the residents understood that an improved road would enhance the value of their properties as well as benefit the town by providing safe access for emergency vehicles.

Mike Poirier, who spent 30 with years with the New Hampshire Bureau of Emergency Management, pointed out that N.H. village districts qualify for federal disaster assistance administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Although Maple Ridge Road has suffered several washouts, he said that so far it has been spared a catastrophic event, but warned that "sooner or later it's going to happen."

"I drove Maple Ridge Road," said Selectman Lou Kahn. "I didn't drive all the way because I was frightened. I would not want a fire truck or an ambulance on that road." He said that the residents are "doing the town a favor."

Selectman Peter Brothers questioned what administrative costs the town would incur by billing, collecting and distributing the property taxes raised by the village district as well as placing liens and tax deeds on delinquent property owners. Town attorney Laura Spector-Morgan said that the town would recover any enforcement costs when properties were conveyed.

Town Manager Phil Warren asked Spector-Morgan if the village district would impose administrative burdens on the town. "Not if the district is working properly," she replied.

"And if it isn't?" he asked. "It can become a mess," she said.

Spector-Morgan explained that the selectmen, having received a petition, must delineate the boundaries of the district and convene a meeting of the voters, at which they will vote to form the district and elect its officers.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 05 March 2014 01:33

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Democrats challenge budget vote by phone in court

LACONIA — The five Democratic members of the Belknap County Convention have asked Belknap County Superior Court to overturn the vote that thwarted adoption of the 2014 county budget recommended by the Belknap County Commission.

The vote was taken when the convention met in the midst of a heavy snowstorm on February 18. Only 13 of the 18 members were present when the meeting was convened a half-hour past the scheduled hour of 5 p.m. In addition, Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), who chairs the convention, arranged for Rep. Guy Comtois (R-Barnstead), who was tending to a failing roof, to participate by telephone.

Noting the absence of several Republicans, Rep. Beth Arsenault (D-Laconia) offered a motion to adopt the commission's budget, which was second by Rep. Lisa DiMartino (D-Gilford). They were joined in support of the motion by their fellow Democrats — David Huot of Laconia, Ian Raymond of Sanbornton and Ruth Gulick of New Hampton — and two Republicans — Reps. Bob Luther and Don Flanders of Laconia.

The other six Republicans present — Reps. Richard Burchell of Gilamnton, Frank Tilton of Laconia, Michael Sylvia of Belmont and Bob Greemore, Herb Vadney and Worsman, all of Meredith — voted against the motion, along with Comtois, who voted by telephone.

With four Republicans — Reps. Dennis Fields of Sanbornton, Charles Fink of Belmont, and Stephen Holmes and Jane Cormier, both of Alton — absent, the convention deadlocked seven-to-seven and the motion failed.

The suit, naming Worsman and Cormier, the clerk of the convention, alleges that Worsman violated the provisions of the Right-to-Know Law bearing on members participating by telephone. The Democrats note that the convention was not required to allow one or members to participate by "electronic means" and claim the decision properly rested with the convention, not the chair. Moreover, they charge that no notice was given to the convention that Comtois would be permitted to participate by telephone nor was the reason he could not be physically present recorded in the minutes as the statute requires. Finally, contrary to the law, Comtois failed to identify anyone else present at the location from which he was participating.

Consequently, the Democrats claim that since "Rep. Comtois' vote was unlawful and in violation of RSA 91-A:2 " the vote should be overturned.

When the convention met last night (see story on page 1) Worsman sought to amend the minutes of meeting of February 18 to show that before the meeting was convened she and other members referred to the Right-to-Know law and discussed the procedure for allowing Comtois to participate by telephone. Huot reminded her that at the time there was no quorum and not all those who were present were party to the discussion. Arsenault questioned recording a discussion that took place before the meeting in the minutes.

"It's critical and germane," Worsman insisted with an apparent eye to the litigation.

When Worsman's motion to amend the minutes was put to a vote there was much confusion about who was and was not present when the supposed discussion occurred and therefore would be eligible to vote. Ultimately the motion failed five-to-four, with five abstentions.

Obviously troubled by the outcome Worsman tersely noted that the minutes were approved without reference to the discussion of the Right-to-Know law prior to the meeting.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 March 2014 10:29

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