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Car Dealers Report Strong February Sales

LACONIA — Despite the cold and snow three of the largest car dealerships in the Lakes Region enjoyed strong sales in February, which they take to signal even more brisk business with the coming of spring.

Autodata Corporation reported that nationwide sales were flat as the 1.2 million vehicles sold last month matched the volume during the same period a year ago. But, AutoServ of Tilton recorded 326 sales in February, the most for the month in its 25 years in business, while the Irwin Automotive Group posted 90 sales, 35-percent more than in 2013, and Cantin Chevrolet reported "robust sales."

"There is certainly something going on in central New Hampshire," said Dennis Gaudet of AutoServ. "We're bucking the trend."

Gaudet, along with Chris Irwin of Irwin's and Don Deprospo of Cantin's, all said that low interest rates, stable fuel prices and a recovering economy underlay a rebounding market for vehicles, in which manufacturers are competing aggressively for market share.

Irwin stressed that car makers are offering attractive incentives, including 0 percent financing for extended terms and generous leasing programs. "We're seeing the highest incentives in a long time," said Deprospo. "There is an underlying rebate war going on," Gaudet agreed.

All three dealers emphasized the role of pent-up demand in spurring the market.

When the economy slumped in 2008-2009, car sales plummeted as cautious owners kept their existing vehicles. Irwin noted that the average age of vehicles on the road has reached 11.2 years, as high as it has ever been. He said that the trend began to reverse itself last year when new care sales touched 15 million. "We expect this pent-up demand to buoy the market for new vehicles this year and next," he said.

Gaudet said that the recession not only slowed, but also changed shopping for vehicles. McKinsey & Company, a global consulting firm, found that instead of traipsing from one dealership to another, consumers do their comparison shopping on-line. The average buyer now visits 1.6 dealerships compared to five just a decade ago, a change Hans-Werner Kaas, a senior partner at McKinsey & Company calls the most dramatic in buying habits to affect the industry in 50 years. Gaudet believes that this trend provides dealerships, like AutoServ and Irwin's, offering multiple brands at one location a competitive edge.

Gaudet, Irwin and DeProspo were all confident that the factors that combined to boost sales in February would persist into the spring and would be enhanced by a break in the weather, which they conceded has been challenging for all retail businesses through what has proved a long winter.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 01:04

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Councilors draw direct line between overtime savings & retaining 4 newest firefighters once federal grant expires in April 2015

LACONIA — The City Council this week gave a first reading to a resolution authorizing the City Manager Scott Myers to establish a non-capital reserve account aimed at sustaining funding for four additional firefighters that were funded for two years with a federal grant that expires in April, 2015.

Monies assigned to the account would come from any savings realized in the Fire Department's annual operating budget for salaries. Normally, those savings would flow into the city's general fund.

The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant of $642,028 funds the salaries, overtime and benefits of the four positions for two years, with no requirement to retain them after that. The city bore the cost of outfitting the firefighters with turnout gear and equipping them with handheld radios, which was about $15,000.

City Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4), on Monday, immediately spoke against the resolution. She reminded the councilors that when Fire Chief Ken Erickson first asked the council to accept the grant they voted four-to-two to decline it, fearing when the grant expired, the city would lack the means to retain the additional personnel. Baer said that the council reversed itself on the recommendation of Municipal Resources, Inc, (MRI) of Meredith, which it commissioned to review coverage, overtime and scheduling at the Fire Department, and then on the understanding that the positions would be funded, long-term, by reducing overtime.

Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3), chairman of the council's Finance Committee, explained that the non-capital reserve account was intended to serve as "the vehicle for the Fire Department to put aside those funds." As for Baer's assumption that the positions would be funded by reduced overtime, Lipman said "I completely agree with you. If we can't find the funds, our intent is clear."

Likewise, Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5) said that the non-capital reserve account was simply a mechanism for accounting for the requiring funds, which he also expected to accrue from reducing the cost of overtime. He noted that MRI suggested that adding four firefighters would contribute to reducing overtime.

When the council accepted the grant both Erickson and Myers emphasized that the purpose of the funds was not to reduce overtime but to shorten emergency response times and expand fire suppression capability while reducing the risk of injury to firefighters. Nor do the minutes of the meeting at which the council voted unanimously to accept the grant make mention of reducing overtime. Instead, Lipman explained he decided to reconsider accepting the grant because he was "prepared to work with the Fire Department to come up with a plan to finance the continuation of the personnel at the conclusion of the grant."

The annual cost of the four positions is approximately $321,000, significantly more than the $247,000 budgeted for overtime in the Fire Department in the current fiscal year.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 11:58

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Full-day K will be put before Inter-Lakes voters in 2015

MEREDITH — The Inter-Lakes School District is aiming to put a proposal supporting all-day kindergarten before voters next March, giving a special committee formed by the district a full year to research it.

School Curriculum Coordinator Kathleen Hill told the School Board on Monday that there are multiple people in the three Inter-Lakes communities who have signed up for the committee and came before the board to seek a school board volunteer.

Meredith member Mark Billings volunteered to serve.

"It's terribly important to have Sandwich involvement because of their multi-aged system," said Sandwich member Howard Cunningham.

According to Superintendent Mary Ellen Ormond, Sandwich Center School has one section of kindergarten that lasts about four hours. She said the educational time is about equal to the 2 3/4 hours kindergarteners spend in Inter-Lakes Elementary School in Meredith because Sandwich has "specials" like art and music.

She said they don't have "specials" at Inter-Lakes, which has four half-day kindergarten sessions.

Ormond explained yesterday that Sandwich also has multi-aged classrooms – meaning grades are paired in the same room.

She said the school board has been taking about full-day kindergarten for at least two years and some members wanted to bring a proposal before district voters this year.

Ormond said the board and the administration agreed to take this year and establish a committee, and, should the school board agree, bring the plan forward next year.

Included in the committee's study, she said, are the logistics of having a full-day of kindergarten including the number of teachers needed, classroom space, busing schedules and district costs.

As to the people in the three communities, she said the board wants "clear and open communications" with all of the stakeholders including the business community.

She also said the committee is tasked with including an early childhood education component whereby the district would reach out to parents and expectant parents to let them know that kindergarten is available and how they can work with their children before they enter formal schooling.

At this point in time, she said the Special Education director works with parents of children with special needs long before they reach school age but the rest of the younger children either go to day care or stay at home with a parent.

In addition, Ormond said an early outreach program could also help the district better understand the size of the incoming class.

"Kindergarten (in New Hampshire) is not compulsory," said said, saying that alone makes it even harder to know how many young students can be expected, something nearly all public school districts wrestle with annually.

"This (school) year, we heard from (parents of) six kids who were in pre-school and ended up with 12 new kindergarten students," she said.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 11:48

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LRCC To break ground soon on automotive program building

LACONIA — Work on the next addition at Lakes Region Community College, a 15,000 square foot $3.3 million automotive classroom/lab building, is expected to start in late spring, according to college president, Dr. Scott Kalicki.

Kalicki told the 80 or so people attending a legislative breakfast at the college Monday morning that the project will see the current automotive program relocated to the newly built addition and that the 21,000-square-foot space currently being used by the program converted to use by the college's culinary arts program.

He said the culinary arts program's current partnership with Canterbury Shaker Village will be continued and that the program space at the college will have a restaurant facade with a restaurant operated by students which will be open to the public.

Kalicki said that college will also become home in the not too distant future to a mobile diesel technology program, which teaches students to diagnose, service, and repair diesel-powered trucks and equipment. The program, currently located at White Mountain Community College in Berlin, is operating at less than full capacity and is losing in excess of $100,000 a year, due mainly to the reluctance of students to travel that far north.

The program will not move to Laconia until a capital appropriation has been made by the Legislature, according to Community College Board Chairman Paul Holloway, who was at the meeting. The 2016-17 capital budget approved in January by the system's Board of Trustees includes a $5 million appropriation for the new heavy equipment/marine/small engine building on the LRCC campus.

Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) said that funds have already been appropriated for the design of the new culinary center and asked how much of a capital appropriation would be needed. Kalicki said the price to change over the building would be between $500,000 and $750,000.

The college's most recent addition, completed last September, was a $6.4 million, 24,000-square-foot building which houses the nursing, physical science and fire science programs as well as a multipurpose room and faculty offices.

Kalicki touted the virtues of two-year community colleges, noting that a new articulation agreement allows for credits to be transferred to the state's four-year colleges, which can save a student as much as $20,000 in the cost of their education.

He said that the state of the college is healthy, although its costs are high compared to other states. Enrollment has increased to 1,444. Of that number, 488 are full-time students and 956 part-time. But the number of courses being taken has actually shown a slight decline.

Also speaking at the program were New Hampshire's First District Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, who said that education is the keystone of the nation's future.

''We need to continue to make education our priority. We absolutely must be able to compete with the rest of the world.''

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 01:56

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