Towns asked to kick in on county dispatch


LACONIA — Nine towns are being asked to fill the gap in the Belknap County Sheriff's Department's budget to pay for emergency dispatch services. Belknap County Commissioners are looking to plug the $127,000 hole left by the county's budget cuts.

Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) said the department currently provides coverage for nine of the 11 communities in Belknap County. Both Laconia and Gilford have their own 24/7 dispatch operations and do not rely on the county.

Full 24/7 coverage is provided by the Sheriff's Department for six towns – New Hampton, Center Harbor, Barnstead, Alton, Gilmanton and Sanbornton – and evening coverage is provided for Tilton, Meredith and Belmont.

Taylor said that if each of the six towns which get 24/7 coverage contribute $20,000 and those which receive partial coverage pay $6,000, the department would have sufficient funds to continue to provide other services which it is mandated to provide.

The discussions will begin Monday night in Alton when Taylor and Belknap County Sheriff Mike Moyer meet with selectmen there.

“This isn't something we want to do. The commission is committed to regionalization of services and realizes this would be a step back from that idea. We're still hoping to get funding restored in a supplemental budget,” said Taylor.

He said the County Delegation cut a full-time deputy and full-time dispatcher from the sheriff's budget, as well as overtime, and that Moyer has told the commission that there is no way that he will be able to keep from exceeding the budget which was approved.

It was suggested by members of the delegation that the sheriff cut services such as dispatch, the SWAT team and running radar for traffic control.

“Maybe the sheriff should drop some of these extra activities to save money,” wrote Delegation Vice Chairman Ray Howard (R-Alton) in a letter to the editor published in the March 28 Laconia Daily Sun.

Taylor said completely eliminating dispatch services would save the county over $500,000 a year but cause major problems for communities which rely on the services, particularly smaller towns.

Belmont selectmen have not yet been approached by the commission but have expressed “significant concerns regarding the County budget battle being waged in the press” in a letter sent to Delegation Chairman Herb Vadney (R-Meredith).

“We have heard that as a result the County may have to consider closing the dispatch center in order for the Sheriff to meet his constitutional duties. Such a proposal would seriously impact the town of Belmont and its residents/taxpayers. It would require that a minimum of four full-time dispatchers be hired with an impact of $212,780,” the letter reads.

It also criticizes the delegation for cuts made to the Corrections Department staffing budget.

“It is difficult to believe that you would have voted to construct a facility without realizing the budgetary needs it would require and that you would expect other agencies in the county to suffer for your lack of forethought.”

Federal report: Rental housing costs continue rise, NH rents expected to increase this year


LACONIA — A new national snapshot of rental housing costs suggests that New Hampshire will see a continued creep upward in its rents this year.
In the state's surveys, rental costs have been on an upward trend, year after year, said Jane Law, communications manager at New Hampshire Housing.
In the past five years, "the trends have been upward," Law said.
"On a statewide basis, the vacancy rate has been dropping for a number of years," she said, meaning fewer units going for higher prices.
In New Hampshire, officials are working on this year's rental trends report, due out in June, but results in the past five years suggest a continued climb in rents and a shortage of vacancies.
And last month, the U.S. Census Bureau issued an update on rental housing, and the trends were for higher rents and less availability.
Nationally, a $1,507 median asking rent in the third quarter of 2016 was $161 more than the median asking rent of $1,346 in the third quarter of 2015, according to the new report on rental housing trends, "Survey of Market Absorption of New Multifamily Units – Annual 2016 Absorptions."
The Census Bureau designed the survey to provide data concerning the rate at which privately financed, nonsubsidized, unfurnished units in buildings with five or more units are rented or sold, or "absorbed."
Issued last month, the Census Bureau survey does not target information by state, but 59 percent of seasonally adjusted newly completed, unfurnished rental apartments built in the third quarter of 2016 were rented within the first three months after completion. "The 59 percent seasonally adjusted rate in the third quarter of 2016 was six percentage points higher than the 53 percent for the second quarter 2016, but approximately the same as the third quarter 2015, as seasonally adjusted," the report noted.
"The three-month absorption rate by asking rent ranged from 46 percent (units renting for more than $2,450) to 73 percent (units renting for less than $850). The median asking rent for units absorbed within three months was $1,453," the report noted.
The Northeast and Midwest accounted for 14 percent of the new construction during the third quarter of 2016, the Census Bureau reported.
Law at New Hampshire Housing said in June, the agency will issue this year's rental numbers based on April and May data, collected by the survey center at University of New Hampshire.
"Last year, our rents were up, and vacancies were very low," she said.
Demand, particularly in southern New Hampshire, where rents often exceed $1,200 a month, "the market is opening up. There is more rental housing construction going on, especially in the lower tiers of the state," Law said.
"But those units typically go on the market on the high end for rents because it's covering the cost of construction," she said.
In Belknap County, rents hovered just under $1,000 for a two-bedroom apartment, including utilities, in the 2016 report. Vacancy rates were below 5 percent, compared with 1.5 percent statewide.
Southern New Hampshire counties struggled with vacancy rates below 2 percent. A 2 percent vacancy rate is considered a turnover rate, Law said.
In Merrimack County, the median two-bedroom rent was $1,113; in Hillsborough County, it was $1,219; and in Rockingham County, it was $1,270. In Belknap County the median two-bedroom rent was $997.
"It's still up there," Law said. "The cheapest place to rent is in Coos County, and that's $790 for a median two-bedroom rent."
In Belknap County, a three-person household needed a median income of $39,900 to afford the rent. In Rockingham County, the needed median income was $55,800.
To be affordable, housing should not cost more than 30 percent of income, New Hampshire Housing estimated.
"The for-sale housing, that market has become very tight. Purchase prices are up. The housing economy is still very strong and very tight in the state," Law said.
The state has seen almost a 15 percent increase in rents including utilities for two-bedroom apartments since 2011.
For more on the Census Bureau survey, visit
For more on the New Hampshire Housing survey, visit


Laconia raising price of vehicle registration


LACONIA — It will soon become a little more expensive to register a motor vehicle in Laconia.

The City Council decided Monday to increase to $5 a registration surcharge that helps pay for road improvements and other transportation needs.

The charge now stands at $1.50. The city registers about 20,000 vehicles per year, so the $3.50 increase is expected to raise an additional $70,000 annually.

City Manager Scott Myers said the hike will go into effect on July 1.

He said the additional money can be used to help pay costs for a $2.5 million transportation bond that is included in the proposed budget. There is also an additional $1.55 million in transportation funding in the budget as the city works to upgrade roads in need of repair.

Bond debt makes sense as a way to handle large projects in a community, Myers said.

Also, interest rates on a 10-year bond of this type are only about 3 percent.

"From a longer-term perspective, rates are historically low right now," he said. "We would expect more normal levels as the economy improves."

At a council meeting on March 27, Councilor Robert Hamel explained that this fund will be flexible for a number of potential transportation uses.

"All the things this fee can help support go from roads to bridges to bicycle and pedestrian facilities, parking lots, electric charging stations for vehicles," he said.

Councilor Henry Lipman said city roads are in major need of improvement.

"My recollection is we are about $10 million short of where we want to be in terms of having our roads up to condition," he said.

The city manager concurred.

"I think it's a greater number than $10 million, but yes we are many millions behind in bringing everything up to an acceptable average or better condition," Myers said.

The surcharge was created under state legislation, which capped the fee at $5. Hamel said a proposal in the Legislature would increase that cap to $10.