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Council cuts a little from Wow Trail before adopting FY2015 budget

LACONIA — The City Council formally adopted the 2014-1015 municipal budget on Monday after approving a mix of budget adjustments — revenue increases and expense reductions — that trimmed the amount to be raised by property taxes by $122,000 and kept the projected rise in the property tax rate to about 25 cents.
The grand total appropriation for the fiscal year that began July 1, including the city budget, school district budget and county assessment, is $62.3million, an increase of $2.7 million or 4.5 percent. However, since revenues from sources other than property taxes grew $1.7 million, or 7 percent, to $26.3 million, the amount to be raised by property taxes rose by $988,873, or $2.8 percent, from $35-million to $36-million.

The property tax rate is projected to increase from $22.08 to $22.33, although the exact number won't be determined until the state certifies the total value of taxable property in the city.
After weighing changes to the budget originally proposed by City Manager Scott Myers in March two weeks ago, the council confirmed them this week. Myers recommended raising the projected revenues from motor vehicle registrations by $30,000, from $2,150,000 to $2,180,000, reducing the appropriation for the employer's share of health insurance premiums by $30,000 and eliminating a $20,000 appropriation for preparing the Master Plan to reflect receipt of a grant for the purpose.
At the same time, the council agreed to eliminate $25,000 for a study of the intersection of Court Street and Fair Street from the capital outlay budget and reduced the appropriation for Lakers Region Public Access Television by $10,000. School Superintendent Terri Forsten and members of the School Board the council agreed to increase School District revenues by $30,000 and council agreed to decrease expenditures by the same amount for a net impact of $60,000.
Meanwhile, the council agreed to appropriate an additional $50,000 to the Police Department to strengthen targeted patrolling for drug enforcement as well as to coordinate community programs aimed at preventing and treating drug abuse. Councilors also added another $10,000 to the overall budget, $7,000 to service the debt on the high estimate to construct a new fire station and $3,000 increased dues to the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association. Altogether the additional expenditures amount to $60,000.
Altogether the adjustments, higher revenues and lower expenses amount to $175,000. Less the $60,000 in additional expenditures, the net effect reduced the tax commitment by $115,000.

In addition, the council, by a vote of five-to-one, endorsed a proposal by Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4) to reduce the appropriation for the Winnipesaukee-Opechee-Winnisquam (WOW) Trail from $15,000 to $8,000, to bring the total reduction in the amount to be raised by property taxes to $122,000.
Two other proposals failed to gain a consensus of the council. Baer proposed eliminating the $32,000 appropriated to fund the salaries, benefits and related expenses of four firefighters for five weeks. The firefighters were hired with a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant of $642,028 from the federal government, which expires in April 2015. Baer said that since there is no plan for funding the positions once the grant expires and the additional personnel have not led to a significant reduction in the cost of overtime, she believes the positions should be eliminated for the last five weeks of fiscal year 2015 budget.

Although a majority of the councilors shared Baer's view that it is unlikely the four positions will be funded when the grant expires, only Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2) supported her motion, which failed by a vote of four-to-two.

The council agreed to apply $500,000, received from the Concord Regional Solid Waste Resource/Recovery Cooperative, to the contingency account. Myers explained that the funds, not previously anticipated, represented monies escrowed in anticipation of closing the ash landfill in Franklin, the cost of which is projected to be less than originally estimated.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 July 2014 12:01

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3 eaglets in a nest on island in Squam Lake

HOLDERNESS — A pair of bald eagles nesting on an island in Squam Lake is raising three eaglets this year. The nest, located on Long Island in the middle of the lake, is viewable on special lake tours conducted by Squam Lakes Natural Science Center. Bald eagles have nested on the lake since 2003 and have been very successful in the number of chicks reared.

This is the third set of triplets raised in this nest in the last four years, making it one of the most productive nests in the state.

Iain MacLeod, executive director of the Science Center and a raptor expert has been monitoring the success of this pair and other Lakes Region eagles for several years. Last year the pair failed in their nesting attempt during a day-long ice storm in April, so MacLeod is delighted to see them bounce back this year.

"The pair chose a new, more sheltered nest site than the one they have used in previous years, perhaps because of the ice-storm trauma in 2013, said MacLeod. "The pair was incubating eggs in their new nest by April 1 (which is a couple weeks later than normal) and hatched their first chick by the first week of May," he added. The chicks are now within a couple week of taking their first flights and the nest is getting crowded reports MacLeod. "As far as we know this is the only bald eagle nest in the state with triplets," added MacLeod.

The Science Center runs Explore Squam cruises every day at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3p.m. through the middle of October as well as additional Nature of the Lakes cruises on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 4 p.m. through the end of August. The 3 p.m. cruise on Mondays and Fridays are special Loon Cruises in partnership with the Loon Preservation Committee. The bald eagle nest is a stop for all Squam Lake Cruises.

For cruise details including pricing please visit http://www.nhnature.org/programs/lake_cruises.php or call 603-968-7194.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 July 2014 01:12

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Changes planned for dangerous stretch of Rte. 104

MEREDITH — A design team from the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (DOT) outlined measures that could be taken next year to enhance safety along the stretch of Rte. 104 between Chase Road and Meredith Center Road for some 15 residents of the area at the Community Center last evening.

Michael Dugas of DOT recalled that the project originated in 2007 when the Lakes Region Planning Commission identified the risks to eastbound traffic on Rte. 104 turning left on to Chase Road and northbound traffic on Meredith Center Road turniong on to Rte. 104. Three year later, officials of DOT, along with municipal and public safety officials conducted a road safety audit, which led the DOT to launch the project.

Dugas said that Rte. 104 carries an average of more than 13,000 vehicles per day throughout the year with the volume of traffic rising to between 16,000 and 18,000 vehicles per day during the summer months. Between 2002 and 2011, there were 16 accidents, seven of them with injuries, near the Chase Road intersection and 23 accidents, 14 of them with injuries, near the Meredith Center Road intersection. The incidence of accidents, Dugas said, qualifies the stretch of roadway for funding distributed through the federal Highway Safety Improvement Program, which will defray 90-percent of the cost of the project.

Jon Hebert of DOT identified major concerns near each intersection. First the narrow shoulders on Rte. 104 west of Chase Road increases the risk of vehicles turning left on to Chase Road being struck from behind by eastbound vehicles. Hebert said that a dedicated left-turn lane was considered, but rejected in favor of adding a tapered by-pass lane, with a guard rail, that would enable through traffic to pass turning vehicles.

Traffic entering Rte. 104 from Meredith Center Road, Hebert explained, have an inadequate line of sight to the west. DOT proposes designating and segregating a lane for eastbound traffic on Rte. 104 turning right on to Meredith Center Road and placing a traffic island in Meredith Center Road before its junction with Rte. 104.

Several residents told Dugas and Hebert that excessive speed was a significant hazard and suggested reducing the speed limit, installing a blinking yellow light and adding extra signage to slow traffic. Dugas acknowledged that speed is an issue, but said that motorists tend to ignore blinking yellow lights and stressed that whatever the speed limit, only close enforcement will foster compliance.

Paula Trombi, whose home is off Rte. 104 just west of Meredith Center Road said that closely following vehicles increase the hazard of turning right into her driveway and suggested that the shoulder of the highway be widened to offer safer access.

Dugas agreed to consider measures to improve access to driveway off Rte. 104 in the course of preparing a final design, which he expected would be complete early next year. He said the project is estimated to cost $500,000 and, if the funding is available, indicated that construction would begin next spring. However, he noted that there is an impending shortfall in the federal highway trust fund that could jeopardize the project.


CAPTION: Jon Hebert of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation describes measures the agency proposes to improve safety along Rte. 104 between its junctions with Chase Road and Meredith Center at a public meeting at the Meredith Community Center. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 July 2014 01:05

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Newfound board takes it on the chin from superintendent & teacher

by Thomas P. Caldwell

NEW HAMPTON — A review of school board assessments and a discussion about goal-setting provided the forum for Superintendent Stacy Buckley and teacher liaison Mimi Freeman to re-open old wounds at the July 14 meeting of the Newfound Area School Board.
Both Buckley and Freeman were critical of the school board's decision to modify the school calendar, with Buckley saying it was an example of an area where the board could ask itself how to become a body that listens. She and the teaching staff had advocated for a calendar that had the school year starting in late August and Freeman suggested that the board visit the schools to witness the devastating effect of moving the starting date to September.
Board Chair Ruby Hill of Danbury, who initiated the schedule change, said the school board had been listening to the faculty for years and ignoring the complaints of the parents who objected to such an early start of the school year. This year would have been the earliest start date yet, and she felt it was time to listen to the parents.
Freeman, saying she was "going out on a limb" as a messenger for the teachers, said, "They don't trust you; they don't feel you have the best interests of the district at heart." She added, "I would not have had one positive thing to say (about the board's decisions) in two years."
The teachers were not the only ones giving the school board negative ratings in the surveys which also went to administrators, members of the community, and the school board itself. Board member Jeff Levesque of Groton said he was surprised to see that the administration felt the school board was doing a better job than the board itself felt it was doing.
Two board members answering the survey rated the body as acting before thinking things out, and two felt the board was providing inadequate oversight.
Buckley said she felt she was spending too much time on things she would rather not be doing, such as the facilities study, the evaluation of Bridgewater and Hebron's proposal to withdraw from the school district, and Project Promise, a grant-funded program that has failed to follow grant requirements.
Hill said she felt the school board should be carefully reviewing large, district-wide grants such as Project Promise, to avoid the sorts of problems the district encountered with the program.
Freeman said the teachers have been especially upset by the school board's decision to follow Buckley's recommendations for reducing the paraprofessional staff. "The paras have been a huge part of the 'Newfound family' and the fact that has been decimated has had an effect," she said.
Discussing the material amassed by the board's Data Task Force, Vice-Chair Vincent Paul Migliore of Bridgewater said that following the trends allows the board to "get a handle on things" and he responded to the complaint about the school board not having the district's best interests at heart by saying, "If you look at our spending, we would be spending $20,000 per student if we didn't do anything, so we determined some action needed to be taken. Now we're much more in line with our cohorts."
He continued, "We're supporting a large infrastructure and a large geography. That's why I say, 'Less is more.' If we could reallocate our resources, we could probably do more with what we have left."
That view is part of what prompted Bridgewater and Hebron to consider withdrawing from the district. Without those two towns, the Newfound Area School District might be able to eliminate another building and operate the remaining schools in a more economical manner, advocates say.
Business Administrator Mike Limanni takes the opposite view, saying, "We need to think of ourselves as a cooperative district, rather than seven separate towns. We have a tremendous advantage as a cooperative school district, and there are economies of scale we can achieve." He said that, by eliminating waste, the district could eliminate the reason some of the towns are "constantly looking to secede" from the district.
Hill said that, in addition to a declining student population, the member towns have been seeing declining property values, which push taxes up. "Inter-Lakes, which has a much higher per-pupil cost, has more than double our valuation," she said.
When the board finally got around to setting its goals for the coming year, members attempted to address some of the issues discussed earlier, but, although in general agreement, they had trouble finding language that satisfied everyone.
As finally adopted, the three goals were:
— Successfully negotiate and support a new collective bargaining agreement with the Newfound Area Teachers Association.
— Evaluate the use and purpose of district assets in order to develop a long-range plan that meets the needs of the population.
— Improve two-way communication between the school board and its stakeholders (staff and community).
Limanni advocated the establishment of a six-year capital improvement plan to address needs while smoothing the impact on district taxpayers.
Freeman suggested having a board representative attend one of the faculty meetings, and Migliore said it also would be useful for board members to "physically visit the schools during the school day".
Christine Davol of New Hampton, a teacher by profession, said joining the school board was an eye-opener for her. "My perception has totally changed," she said. "As a teacher, I didn't think the board cared. Now I'm on the other side, and I realize how much is involved. Reviewing the data is very important for understanding what the district faces."

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 July 2014 12:05

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