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On the ropes, public access TV will try a new business model

LACONIA — Lakes Region Public Access television will change to a new business model later this year, one which will see sharply reduced fees to communities and which will rely on business and corporate sponsorships for revenue to sustain its operations.

Chan Eddy of Gilford, chairman of the board of directors, outlined the new business model at a meeting held at the LRPA studio at Laconia High School last night, which he has previously described as a fee or service model with sponsorships much like those seen on the Public Broadcasting System.
He said the board is grappling with a number of changes, including those being negotiated in a new 10-year contract with MetroCast Cablevision, which will include two direct public access channels (Channel 24 and Channel 26) for each community in the coverage area with Channel 25 remaining a regional channel. It is anticipated that the new contract will take effect on July 1.
One of changes in the yet to be ratified contract will see the annual $30,000 grant which MetroCast has previously provided for LRPA-TV ending. That has raised the concern of City Councilman Bob Hamel of Laconia, who represents the city on the LRPA board, that the loss of those funds, coupled with lower income from franchise fees from member communities, will mark the death knell for LRPA-TV.
''LRPA is going down,'' Hamel told members of the Laconia City Council Monday night as he expressed concern that with each individual community concentrating on its local government and education channels that there won't be enough support to keep the regional Channel 25 operating.
He also questioned whether the communities who will be running their own local channels realize how much it will cost them to do their own programming.
Nancy LeRoy of Laconia expressed concern over what will happen to the WLNH Children's Auction under the new contract but Eddy said that it will continue to be broadcast.
Meredith Town Manager Phil Warren, who represents that town on the board and is a member of the committee negotiating the regional agreement with MetroCast, says that the current LRPA model was going to die this year anyway.
''Two more towns are leaving us. It's just not sustainable to continue to operate it this way.'' said Warren.
Some 13 municipalities, including the 11 in Belknap County, originally contracted with LRPA and paid their agreed upon share the station's overhead through a portion of the franchise fees they collected from MetroCast. However, the number of contracting municipalities has shrunk to a half-dozen — Alton, Belmont, Gilford, Meredith, Laconia and Northwood — which now share less than a third of the franchise fees they collect from MetroCast with LRPA., which has an annual operating budget of $126,000.
Eddy says that budget should be at least $500,000 and has set a $300,000 fundraising goal for the first year.
He said that Laconia, which currently pays $43,000 a year will pay only $1,900 under the new model but expects that the between 50 and 100 corporations will sign on as sponsors in the $1,000 to $2,000 range, which coupled with other fundraising activities will produce the needed revenue.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 02:54

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Shaker superintendent given green light to talk football with Gilford counterpart

BELMONT — The Shaker School Board last night directed Superintendent Maria Dreyer to hold official talks with Gilford Superintendent Kent Hemmingway about creating a joint football program for high school students in both districts.
The direction from the board came after the Friends of Belmont Football met with the board to tell them about the efforts that the group has been making to raise money for the program as well as the progress they have made so far in creating interest among Belmont Middle School and Belmont High School students in playing football at the high school level.
Gilford High School currently has a football team, while Belmont High does not.
Eric Shirley, one of the key figures in the two-year-old Friends of Belmont Football told the board that the group has so far raised about $10,000 for the program. He added that the group is also taking steps to become an officially recognized charity.
Shirley said he was confident that Belmont could provide between 10 and 15 high school students toward a co-operative Belmont-Gilford program.
Shirley said that a similar co-operative arrangement with Winnisquam High School in Tilton appeared unfeasible, largely, he said, because the Winnisquam athletic director is opposed to the idea.
Shirley said that he had met a couple of months ago with Hemingway to discuss the possibility of a Belmont-Gilford venture. He said during that meeting Hemingway said that such an undertaking would require that the Shaker District pay $15,000 a year toward the Gilford program in order for Belmont students to play. Shirley said the came away from the meeting feeling the Hemingway might be open to negotiating a lesser amount. He told the Shaker board that a fee of around $500 per Belmont team member seemed reasonable.
He further suggested that Belmont could enter into a two-year pilot program with Gilford under which Belmont High freshmen and sophomores would play only on the Gilford jayvee team and then become fully integrated with the Gilford program in three to four years.

The two schools have shared a varsity-level ice hockey program for a number of years.
"We are looking for a way for our kids to succeed," Shirley said. "We are here to see if we can get a plan forward."
Dreyer told the board that the arriving at an agreeable money figure was just one of the issues that would need to be worked out. For example, she noted that Gilford's position has been that Belmont's participation in the program would need to be officially funded by Shaker District, and as at this time there is no line item in the School Budget for a high school football program.
Dreyer said she would come back to the Shaker Board with recommendations after she has a chance to meet with Hemingway.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 02:21

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City Council approves extras for bridge project; over Bolduc's objection, railings will be black

LACONIA — City Manager Scott Myers told the City Council this week that after city and state officials reviewed the bids for the Main Street Bridge project the process of awarding the construction to R.M. Piper, Inc. of Plymouth, the low bidder, is underway.

Myers explained that the cost of construction is approximately $3.3 million, of which the state will bear 80 percent and the city 20 percent. However, since the state will contribute only to the cost of replacing the existing structure, there are three elements the city has chosen to add to the project that are not eligible for matching funds, but must be funded solely by the city.

These are the widening of the approach along Beacon Street West, overlooks or "bump outs" on either side of the bridge and decorative lighting to closely match the vintage street lights downtown. The council approved the widening early last year and it was included in the design and accounted for in the bids.

The overlooks and lighting have been discussed but not approved. Four overlooks were proposed, two on each side of the bridge, extending four feet from the deck of the bridge. They will be trapezoids, tapering in length from 14 feet to 6 feet and covering about 40 square feet. A light will be placed at each overlook. In addition, there will be lights at each of the four corners of the bridge.

The widening was estimated to add between $50,000 and $55,000, the overlooks $10,000 and the lighting $15,000 — $75,000 to $80,000 altogether — to the cost of the project. However, the bid prices were $23,500, $6,800 and $18,750 respectively for a total of $49,050.

While there was unanimous support for funding all three elements, on seeing photographs of how the bridge would look, Councilor Armand Bolduc (Ward 6) expressed strong misgivings about painting the railings on the bridge black. He reminded the council that the black railings on the Elm Street Bridge soon showed signs of wear and required a fresh coat of paint. Both Myers and Paul Moynihan, director of public works, assured the council that the black paint was a suitable finish for the railings, for which the state is bearing the cost.

Bolduc was insistent, but was the lone dissenter when the council voted to approve the three elements, along with the black railings.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 02:15

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Worman's claim that county overspent administrative budget is hotly contested

LACONIA — A claim by Belknap County Convention Chairperson Colette Worsman (R-Meredith) that the amount appropriated for wages in the 2013 Belknap County administrative budget account was overspent by $63,000 last year brought immediate challenges from Belknap County commissioners and her fellow representatives, none of whom publicly supported her contention, at Monday's night convention meeting.
''We had a clean audit. You mean to tell me that our auditors aren't doing their job?'' shot back Commission Chairman John Thomas (R-Belmont).
Rep. David Huot (D-Laconia) did a quick computation of the amounts appropriated and the amounts actually expended last year which he said showed that the administration salary account was actually underspent by $31,000.
Huot said that he used the budget form which the county is required to submit to the N.H. Department of Revenue Administration to obtain his information and asked how Worsman had obtained her total since her total wasn't on that form.
''You only find it on my spreadsheet, not on any others,'' said Worsman, who earlier in the meeting had circulated her own budget spreadsheet.
At one point during the discussion she said that making the computations was a confusing issue but persisted on saying that there was ''a clear movement of salaries.''
County Administrator Debra Shackett said that she was at a loss to understand how Worsman could come up with the number that she did and said that the money had been spent exactly as appropriated.
Shackett said that part of her salary, 30 percent, is paid for from the nursing home budget, as are parts of other salaries in the administration and finance departments.
''We do it this way because it is in the best interest of the county.'' said Shackett, who said that apportioning the salaries allows the county to recoup state funds through the nursing home budget.
She explained that the county has been apportioning salaries that way or the last five years and that it was recommended by auditors in 2009. A change in the budget format last year resulted in the accounts being moved to different lines but the practice hasn't changed.
Shackett had explained the process for allocating salaries at the start of the discussion of the administrative, finance and IT budgets and said that in past years the salary allocations had been tallied and adjusted at the end of the year but now adjustments are done weekly.
Rep. Robert Greemore (R-Meredith), who chairs the Administration, Finance and IT subcommittee, said that the allocation process was confusing and Rep. Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) suggested that a budget footnote might make it easier to understand. He was supported by Rep. Tilton, who said ''explanations in writing are good.''
Several times during the meeting, representatives asked Shackett for information which she said she would have been happy to provide if she had known what the subject of Monday night's meeting was going to be.
''What is she going to do, use a crystal ball?'' asked Commissioner Thomas, who said that there was no written agenda for what was going to be discussed and as a result all of the county department heads attended the meeting, even though only the outside agencies and administration, finance and IT budgets were discussed.
Shackett and Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia) said that many of the issues discussed Monday night could have been resolved at last year's budget review hearings if members of the convention had asked them questions.
''We weren't allowed to explain any of these,'' said Philpot.
There was also a discussion of the dispute over line item budget authority, an ongoing battle in which the convention has voted to file a lawsuit against the commission but has yet to do so.
Rep. Tilton said that the convention doesn't like the way the commissioners used the contingency line item and that he wanted to see the convention zero out that line and create a contingency fund.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 02:11

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