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Survey suggests support for higher parks budget

LACONIA — To date, the 120 responses to the "Budget Survey," which invites residents to register their opinions on how their property tax dollars are spent, indicate that while a minority believes the city is spending too much, most consider current levels of funding about right or too low.

The survey asks residents to rank 11 city departments — administration, planning, city clerk, parks and recreation, library, public works, police, fire and water and sewer — in order of priority and indicate whether they think the funding for each should decrease, increase or stay the same.

The Parks and Recreation Department attracted the strongest support from respondents. While a minority of 53 or 46 percent of all respondents, deemed the budget sufficient, a majority of 60 or 52 percent called for it to be increased and only 3 respondents wanted it cut.

Similarly 56 respondents or 48 percent favored maintaining current spending at the Department of Public Works, but another 58 or 50 percent favored increased spending on maintaining and improving infrastructure. Only 3 respondents found the department's budget excessive.

Likewise, the current budget of the Fire Department found support from 56 or 48 percent of respondents, but another 50 or 43 percent opted for increased expenditures for emergency services and just 11 or 9-percent .

The results were much the same for the Police Department. Only 14 respondents or 12 percent favored reduced spending while 63 or 54 percent considered the budget sufficient and 39 or 34 percent though it should be increased.

Administration, which includes the city manager, assessing department, legal expenses, finance office and welfare department, drew the highest number of responses in favor of reducing expenditures — 47 or 40 percent — and the fewest in favor of raising expenditures — 8 or 7 percent.

Only 21 respondents, or 18 percent, called for cutting spending by the Planning Department, which includes code enforcement, while 69, or 59 percent, found current funding sufficient and 27, or 23 percent, though it should increase.

Three-quarters of respondents found the budget of the City Clerk's office appropriate while only 13, or 11 percent, considered it excessive.

A majority of 55 percent favored maintaining the library budget at its current level while the 20 percent of respondents wishing to reduce it were outnumbered by the 26 percent preferring to raise it.

The City Council will resume its discussion of the 2014-2015 city budget recommended by City Manager Scott Myers when it meets on Monday, April 28 at 6 p.m.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 April 2014 12:50

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Grants headed to Laconia & Gilford total $1.4M

CONCORD — The New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority (CDFA) yesterday announced the the award of four Community Development Development Block Grants to augment financing of three projects in Laconia and one in Gilford.

The Laconia Area Community Land Trust received a $250,000 grant, which it will apply toward the construction River's Edge, the three-story apartment building with 32-units overlooking the Winnipesaukee River near the downtown Avery Dam.

Another $250,000 grant was awarded to the Boys & Girls Club of the Lakes Region to defray part of $700,000 cost of purchasing the former St. James Church, which is being converted into the first permanent home the club has enjoyed in seven years.

A third grant of $500,000 was given to the Laconia Housing Authority for the renovation of the Strafford House, or The Tavern, at the corner of Main Street and Church Street. The 100-year old building provides 50 units of low-income housing, which require electrical, heating and plumbing improvements. Lower operating costs, especially energy efficiencies, will offset the cost renovation.

In Gilford, the Old Lake Shore Cooperative, a manufactured housing park, received a grant of $418,000 for improvements to the infrastructure, particularly the water system which suffers from leaks and contamination and fails to comply with federal environmental regulations.

Altogether the CDFA awarded 14 CDBGs with an aggregate value of $5.27, of which the grants to Laconia and Gilford represented $1.4-million. State Senate Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia), whose district includes both municipalities, noted that "these are competitive grants, so it is a testament to our communities that we have been granted such a large portion of the the total funds allocated in this round."

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 April 2014 12:46

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Shaheen helps send PMHS robotics team off to St. Louis

ALTON — U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen on Tuesday joined the entire student body of Prospect Mountain Road High School for the send-off of the school's first robotics team to qualify for FIRST — the world robotics championships in St. Louis.

For 18 years the robotics team has been working on some form of Bob 319 — the nickname for the Prospect Mountain robot. "319" is the number assigned to the school's entry.

Although the school has won a number of regional contests, this is first time the school will go to the championship and compete against 399 of the best robotics teams in the country.

"In New Hampshire alone, we need 43,000 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) jobs for the jobs we're going to create," said Shaheen addressing the student body.

"We need them in this county if we're going to compete internationally and I hope Big Bad Bob does well," she said to cheers from the audience.

Joining Shaheen was N.H. Republican gubernatorial candidate Walt Havenstein — a former CEO of defense contractor BAE Systems, one of the sponsors of the Prospect Mountain Robotics Team.

"I've watched 319 go from being a regional competitor to a world competitor," said Havenstein who lives in Alton.

In his remarks, he reminded the group of students who are going to St. Louis to remember the 17 teams of students who preceded them and their contributions to the robotics program.

Prospect Mountain High School showed spirit and style at yesterday's second period pep rally and send-off. The high school band played, the choir sang the Star Spangled Banner, and many of the students and parents who were there sported orange T-shirts with BOB emblazoned across their chest.

According to Principal J. Fitzpatrick, the the team did very well in at a competition in Lewiston, Maine and took Bob 319 to Boston where they finished "on the bubble", or on the waiting list.

He said four teams were unable to come up with the $5,000 entry fee so Prospect Mountain was contacted and the students went on a "blitzkrieg" of fund-raising coming up with the entry fee in just three days and raising just shy of $14,000 in a week to pay for the transportation and lodging in St. Louis.

Fitzpatrick said the Barnstead School Board alone contributed $5,600.

"I can't tell you if it was from their own pockets or what but all I can say is thank you very much," Fitzgerald.

Fitzpatrick also said that the high school's participation in the St. Louis FIRST competition adds a new dimension to this year's school accomplishments. He noted the schools athletic teams have done very well but succeeding in a non-athletic competition has brought the school together in an even more profound sense.

"There are some very diverse students on the robotics teams," Fitzpatrick said, adding the team includes athletes, musicians, honors math students, welders, computer programer and woodworkers.

Fitzpatrick said once the team returns, they are scheduled to bring BOB to the elementary school for a demonstration in the hopes that more younger students participate in FIRST Lego which is the elementary version of the middle and high school robotics teams.

CUTLINE: U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (brown suit) joins the Prospect Mountain High School Robotics Team at a pep rally at the school on Tuesday morning. Later in the day, team members left for their FIRST Robotics World Championship in St. Louis. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Gail Ober)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 April 2014 12:31

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Most Belmont boards have no issues with putting meetings on television

BELMONT — The majority the chairmen of the town's various boards and committees said yesterday they would like to see their meetings broadcast on public access television.

The one initial holdout was Planning Board and Zoning Board of Adjustments Chair Peter Harris whose voiced reluctance was not one of transparency but of understanding.

He told selectmen that so much of the planning process takes place at the department level and because a single plan can take upwards of a year to be processed he fears some viewers may not understand and will jump to conclusions.

"I also don't want (the boards) to seem like a rubber stamp," Harris said.

The Board of Selectmen have been wrestling with videotaping and broadcasting its own meetings via Lakes Region Public Access (LRPA) televiiosn since 2010, when the town voted to spend $12,500 to purchase video equipment for the Corner Meeting House.

While the equipment is there, coverage of the selectman's meetings has been spotty because there is no money in the budget to hire anyone to operate the video system. For the past few months a Belmont High School student with an interest in media and visual arts has been volunteering but Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin said last night he is not always available.

Videotaping the meetings became a hot topic during budget preparations late last year when selectmen questioned paying LRPA an annual fee to air the meetings that weren't being taped. Members of the community pushed back, saying they would not only like to see the selectman's meeting taped and broadcast but would like all of the meetings held in the meeting house to be broadcast.

Selectmen agreed and met last night with an eye toward creating a part-time or stipend position so that all of the town's meeting could be aired. Selectman's Chair Ruth Mooney explained that without the support of the other committee's it wouldn't make financial sense to pay for someone to tape meetings.

She also agreed with Harris that it is likely someone who sees a meeting on television isn't going to understand the background but said she hopes that those viewers will use their lack of understanding, anger or support for a decision or a discussion to become more involved in the town.

After hearing from other department heads, Harris said that if there was some preliminary tapes made to explain each committee's role and how its members came to their conclusions, he would support the two committees he chairs being taped.

Harris chairs two of the four committees whose members are elected that meet in the Corner Meeting House. Ron Mitchell chairs the Budget Committee and he said he supports and encourages having his meetings taped.

Linda Frawley of the Heritage Commission and Ken Knowlton of the Conservation Commission support having their respective committee meetings being taped but said since they are appointed by selectmen they will do whatever the selectmen want.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 April 2014 12:22

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