Sanbornton boards to huddle over wedding-on-farm flap


SANBORNTON — Tim Lang, chairman of the Sanbornton Zoning Board, also is a legislator who believes in giving new laws a chance to work.
Next week, that process will play out in Sanbornton, where a recently passed law defending the right of farms to host weddings will be at the heart of a discussion between members of two local boards who collided over the best way to regulate agritourism.
On Tuesday, Feb. 28, Sanbornton Planning Board Chairman Evelyn Auger is scheduled to appear before the Zoning Board to discuss how the town approved weddings at KREBS Farm.
The owners of the farm, the Rathjens, asked the Sanbornton Zoning Board to overturn a Planning Board decision to deem wedding functions a commercial use that would require a variance. Instead, the farm owners wanted this use permitted under the banner of agritourism, based on recent state law. The farm is located in a General Residential Zoning District.
The Zoning Board voted 4 to 1 to consider the Rathjens' project as agritourism, exempting it from a variance, or an exception for the particular commercial use.
Rather than fight the Zoning Board, the Planning Board granted a site plan for weddings on the farm. Last week, Auger announced she would be signing the site plan for KREBS Farm, but she said she didn't agree with the Planning Board's Feb. 2 vote, from which she abstained.
Auger said she wanted to meet with the Zoning Board to discuss the conflicting views.
The new law, Senate Bill 345, redefined agriculture to include marketing, and extended the umbrella of marketing to include agritourism, "which means attracting visitors to a farm to attend events and activities that are accessory uses to the primary farm operation."
Legislators passed the law in the wake of lawsuits over weddings on farms, typically by neighbors who complained of noise and crowds.
Lang said the Zoning Board deferred to the new law when granting KREBS Farm permission to proceed with weddings.
"We were the first ones who had the benefit of the law," Lang said.
Auger said she wholly supported the Rathjens and their plan to host weddings, but she wanted them to do so through a special exception in the zoning ordinance rather than through the state law.
"I'm coming as the chair of the board but not representing it. I'm representing only my opinion. Basically, what I want from them is where they came up with the fact that it wasn't commercial. How did they reach that decision that it wasn't commercial?" Auger said.
Lang said the Zoning Board went down a checklist.
"What it came down to, there were three options," he said.
The farm's wedding plan could be deemed a residential business, which didn't seem appropriate. It could be classified as a commercial business, which would be outside of zoning for the area. The third option was agritourism.
Auger said, "They negate the very fact that some of these things are commercial ventures. There's a very fine thread that ties them to agriculture."
Auger insisted that weddings on farms are commercial activities, and that they should fall under local zoning requirements.
"The other part of their decision which bothered me is they made the motion that our decision was wrong, and then they started saying that they needed to have information about parking, and what about the noise – that's a site plan. You get that when you decide the kind of business that this person is going to put in," Auger said. "The fact that it is commercial and they have to give permission for it is what triggers the site plan."
Lang said the Zoning Board felt that "the obvious intent" of the state law "was to encourage farms to have alternative revenue streams."
"The big question that was really before us was are people coming to that location because it's a farm or are they coming because it's a beautiful location?" The answer, he said, was both.
"We felt it was a natural extension," and that weddings were an appropriate activity, Lang said.
Auger said she only balked at the process used to allow weddings at KREBS Farm.
"I would have loved to be able to vote yes. I support agriculture, I support agritourism," she said.

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Laconia School District seeks funding for after-school programs


LACONIA — The future of the after-school programs offered by the Laconia School District will hinge on the renewal of the federal grant that has funded them for the past five years.

Christine Gingerella, program director, told the School Board this week that the five-year 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant, administered by the New Hampshire Department of Education, is set to expire and the application to renew it is underway. The five-year grant provided $452,000 a year to support three programs — ProjectEXTRA (Enriching eXtensions to Raise Achievement), Expanded Learning Opportunities and PIQUES (Providing Individualized Questioning & Understanding of Essential Skills Opportunities) — as well as a summer learning camp. Additional funding for ProjectEXTRA has been provided by the Curran Foundation.

Since 2002, more than 16,500 students have been provided with more than 9,000 hours of programming outside of school hours while $6,750,000 has been invested in offering opportunities for students, most from low- and moderate-income households, to expand and enrich their education.

For example, PIQUES provides instruction in mathematics and literacy with a certified teacher in small but individualized settings. Expanded Learning Opportunities enable students to design their own learning experiences, which range from pursuing a core academic credit to exploring a prospective career by collaborating with or shadowing a professional from among the program's community partners.

The three programs have become staples of the Laconia School Districts, popular among students and prized by parents. School Superintendent Brendan Minnihan indicated he was reasonable confident that the success of the programs would ensure their future funding.

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County holds marathon budget session, cuts less than $200,000


LACONIA — Members of the Belknap County Delegation struggled to find cuts in the proposed $28 million county budget in a marathon session Tuesday night which lasted four-and-a-half hours.
By the end of the session, the delegation had approved several cuts, including funds for a county human resources director ($65,540), a full-time dispatcher for the Sheriff's Department ($42,645) and the hiring of two Department of Corrections officers ($53,344) . But they were far short of the announced goal of several members of the delegation to cut $1.2 million from the budget.
Legislators rejected an effort to cut nearly $70,000 from the county attorney's budget and a bid to do away with outside details for the Sheriff's Department, which would have saved $35,000 but cost the county more than $12,000 in revenue. And, while they made several budget cuts of less than $10,000 in other departments, with only the nursing home, restorative justice and outside agency budgets still to review, there appears no way that the proponents of deeper cuts will reach their announced goal when they meet next Tuesday night to renew budget deliberations. Tuesday's cuts amounted to less than $200,000.
Members of the delegation supporting cuts crossed swords with the commissioners over the budget information they have been receiving, maintaining that the numbers keep changing and they're not certain what to believe.
"Every time we come in, we get a different number. How can we do our job if you're playing with the numbers?" said Rep. Norm Silber (R-Gilford), who was joined in his complaints by Rep. Ray Howard (R-Alton) and Rep. Mike Sylvia (R-Belmont.)
County Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton), denied that commissioners are playing games with the budget numbers, saying that assertions by budget cut proponents that the budget was up by $2 million are erroneous. He said that the changes in budgets listed from the previous year in the printouts provided change as the information is updated and are not part of any attempt to manipulate budget numbers.
He said that the 6.3 percent increase proposed by the commission would only be minimal if the legislators hadn't used $605,000 in surplus funds last year to cut taxes.
When Sylvia later in the evening attempted to again question the budget numbers DeVoy said that the whole point of that line of discussion was an attempt to "'undermine what we're doing."
Rep. Dave Huot (D-Laconia) pointed out that the information provided by the commission shows an increase of $917,439 and that cost increases for a few budget lines in the form of contractual obligations total nearly $1 million.
He said that the goal of the community corrections facility, which is a driving factor in the budget increases, is to develop programs "which will in the long run save the taxpayers money." He said that it was "preposterous to think that the you can come to the $26 million level."
Silber proposed cutting the county attorney's budget from $827,269 to $758,866, maintaining that the increase was for hiring an additional attorney. Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) said that the proposed cut was "arbitrary and capricious and being made without consideration of the impact." He cautioned legislators to be careful and cautious as they went through the budget, as they could open the county up to a lawsuit by arbitrarily cutting the budget.
County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen said that Silber's information was inaccurate and that she was not adding an attorney, but fully funding a position which was approved last year for an attorney to help handle the increased case load her department faces due to the Felony First program in which her department takes all felonies directly to Superior Court.

"There's nothing requested for new staff. We do have a union contract and I can't fire anyone except for cause," she said, pointing out that the proposed cut would require her to eliminate an entire position, leaving her without the resources to do her job properly. Her statement was applauded by the audience.
Silber's motion was defeated 11-3 and her budget was eventually cut by only $269.
The proposed county administration budget was cut from $446,992 to $381,145 with the removal of $65,400 for a human resources director and the information technology budget was cut by $1,800 after an attempt by Rep. Howard to cut $6,000 was withdrawn. Rep. Tim Lang (R-Sanbornton) pointed out that Howard's proposed cuts were in already negotiated contracts with providers and couldn't be cut.
Howard also proposed to cut the outside detail budget of the Sheriff's Department by $35,000, maintaining that the deputies were using the department's cruisers on those details which made for more wear and tear on them.
But Sheriff Michael Moyer said that "no one is getting rich on these details," and that the county made a profit from them. Those contracting for the outside duty officers pay the county, not the individual, who receives a portion of the money paid to the county.
The delegation defeated by an 8-7 vote a motion by Lang which would have lifted the prohibition on the commissioners which limits their ability to transfer funds within departments without approval of the delegation's executive committee. He pointed out that there were 99 transfer requests for last year, some for amounts as small as $15, only one of which was denied. He said that the current process is basically a waste of everyone's time.

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