Eversource shelves deposit policy after Laconia rep draws attention to it

LACONIA — Representative Robert Fisher (R-Laconia/Belmont), who is serving his first term in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, claimed a share of the scalp of Eversource — formerly Public Service of N.H. — last week when the state's largest public utility announced it would suspend and review its policy of requiring extra deposits from customers in arrears.

Fisher said yesterday that he began fielding complaints from constituents last winter, when electric rates rose sharply, then found himself behind in his own monthly bills and pressed to pay a deposit. He turned to an administrative rule that stipulated that in place of a deposit Eversource could "accept the irrevocable written guarantee of a responsible party such as a social service organization, a municipal welfare agency, a bank, or a customer in good standing of the utility as a surety for a customer service account."

Eversource rejected Fisher's offer of a guarantee of a customer — his brother — on the grounds that although he had no history of delinquent balances, he had only been a customer for two months. He appealed to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which last month upheld the company's decision. "They are making up the rules as they go along," Fisher said, claiming that "the PUC is complicit in not enforcing the rules and not making sure people get the protection afforded by the law."

Meanwhile, Fisher said that WMUR-TV reported and Eversource confirmed that the company had requested deposits of 17,000 customers through August, 2015, 40 percent more for the same period in 2014. In the 1990s the company began requesting deposits equal to two monthly bills from customers sent seven or more disconnect notices in a 12-month period in order to shrink write-offs born by all customers and in 2012 reduced the number of required disconnect notices to four. Fisher said that constituents reported requests from deposits ranging between $200 and $1,500. He said that he suspected the report by WMUR-TV prompted Eversource to suspend its policy.

Last week Eversource announced that until April 1, 2016 it would neither seek deposits from residential customers in arrears nor disconnect customers for failing to pay deposits while waiving all outstanding deposits. The company said that it would use the time "to consider the most appropriate and fair method of working with habitually delinquent customers moving forward."

"I'm very happy with the company's announcement and glad to see some relief for customers," said Fisher. "I'm looking forward to the company's decision in April."

In the meantime, Fisher and fellow Representative Nick Zaricki (R-Goffstown) have introduced legislation to restrict the use of deposits. Fisher's bill would prohibit what he called "midstream deposit requests", or those made of customers after they bring their accounts current as a precaution against them again falling in arrears in the future. Zaricki's bill would cap the amount of deposits, which currently cannot exceed the charges for the two months of greatest use as measured by monthly billings.

Re/Max Bayside office announces move from South Main to downtown

LACONIA — Re/Max Bayside has become the most recent business to lay a bet on the future of downtown by leasing space at 600 Main Street, the former home of the Sundial Shop, which was purchased and renovated by Lakes Region Acquisitions, LLC in 2011.

"We'll have big signs in the windows soon,"Chris Kelly said yesterday.

Re/Max Bayside has leased the former home of Melcher & Prescott Insurance at the corner of South Main Street and Court Street since 2010. Kelly said that his firm has become engaged in what he called the "renaissance of downtown" and has decided "to put our money where our mouth is." The real estate firm will occupy the largest and second largest of the units of the building, an area approaching 2,500 square feet, facing Main Street, where it will house between 12 and 15 employees.

Kelly said that Re/Max Bayside is managing the 18 apartments at the Colonial Theatre for the Belknap Economic Development Council, which purchased the theatre complex in July. The eventual renovation and reopening of the theatre, he explained, has sparked interest in downtown. By making a timely move, he said "we're in on the ground floor." Kelly expected to be operating at the new location in December.

To signal Re/Max Bayside's presence downtown, Kelly said the company hot-air balloon will be flying the Pumpkin Festival on Saturday, with flights from Opechee Park from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

John Moriarty, one of four partners in Lakes Region Acquisitions, LLC, said he will be welcoming two tenants before the year is out — Re/Max Bayside and Salon Amara, which will move from Church Street to 1,255 square feet on Main Street. He said he is thinking of Re/Max Bayside as "big ticket retail" and anticipates its presence will increase patronage of other downtown businesses.

After the monicker 600 Main Street ran afoul of 911, Moriarty has taken to calling the building the "center city building," explaining that when Laconia is Googled, the arrow points to the building. He said that since 2011 a number of new businesses have opened downtown, where "the energy has become measurable."

Community Heritage Awards presented by Belmont selectmen, heritage commission

BELMONT — Selectmen and the Belmont Heritage Commission presented Community Heritage Awards to three people at Monday night's meeting of selectmen.
Recipients cited for making lasting contributions to the community's quality of life included Jennifer Shaw (Educator and Cultural Ambassador), Earl Sweeney (Exemplary Leadership) and Wallace Rhodes (Town Historian Emeritus).
The awards were part of the celebration of New Hampshire History Week, held October 19-25.
Monday was a banner day for Heritage Commission preservation efforts. Prior to the selectmen's meeting the comission hosted State Senator Jeanie Forrester, a Legislative member of the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) Board of Directors and New Hampshire Preservation Alliance exceutive director Jennifer Goodman for a site visit to the restored Village Bandstand.
Senator Forrester presented and helped unveil a plaque for the structure, which received major community support and a challenge grant from LCHIP for its full rehabilitation. NHPA's Goodman congratulated the group along with restoration contractor JR Graton and historic painting specialist John Thompson for their outstanding preservation project. Earlier this year the NHPA honored the project with the Elizabeth Durfee Hengen Award for achievement.
The awards at the seletmen's meeting were presented by Linda Frawley of the Heritage Commission.
She said that Shaw was part of the inspiration for saving that 1908 structure and that for the past 13 of her nearly 30 years teaching, Shaw has introduced Belmont's children to music as Belmont Elementary School chorus teacher.
Shaw has been active in a number of Lakes Region performing groups and has followed several of her students' careers as they continued as performers at Belmont High School, where she has helped with the BHS musicals for the past three years.
Her Belmont Elementary students number over 450 and there are over 150 3rd and 4th graders in that school's performance groups. Those BES students have "hit the road" more than a few times since 2003 in more than 40 free community and public performances.
Sweeney walked his first beat as a law enforcement officer for Belmont in 1957 and was promoted to Sergeant in 1960 and named Chief of Police in 1961. He has served as Deputy Commissioner, Acting Commissioner and Assistant Commissioner in the New Hamshire Department of Safety. As Director of the NH Police Standards and Training Council he set the highest standards in communications education and ethics – for police and corrections, probation-parole trainees and even part time law enforcement officials.
His reputation and management effectiveness, resulted in calls for further service as Acting Commissioner of the NH State Liquor Commission and a non-salaried role as Chairman of the state's Board of Parole. As an author and editor, Commissioner-Chief Sweeney has contributed to magazines, journals, training guides and articles – from the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin to treatises on "Law Enforcement in the 21st Century" and "Standards for Police Training Organizations.''
Frawley said that Rhodes served 32 years in the New Hamphire Banking Department as senior examiner and manager. A Belmont native, his collection and identification of vintage local photos showed his predisposition for local history started quite young. A winter photo of children sledding in front of the Gale School was confirmed as 1952, because, he explained "I was in school then and took it."
Rhodes contributed both time and financial support to the Belmont Mill as both organizer and benefactor of the Belmont Library, Province Road Meeting House and the Belmont Historical Society. Over recent years, he built a home close by the Village on Church Hill, across the road from his maternal grandparents (the Fred Piper family) – and next to the Highland Cemetery and Belmont Baptist Church.
''Some years ago the Church asked to purchase the land to build a school and day care facility for children. Wallace obliged quietly, without any public awareness by donating the land they needed.'' said Frawley.