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Mutual Fire Aid budget proposed with 3.42% increase

LACONIA — The proposed 2015 operating budget for Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid is up by about 3.42-percent, with the bulk of the increase reflected for funding for a newly developed capital improvement program.

According to Chief Jim Hayes, in 2015, $43,750 will be directed into the capital reserve fund. He said in 2014, $20,000 of the operating budget was diverted to capital reserve so the net increase to taxpayers for capital improvements will be $23,750.

He said each of the 35 member communities will pay an equal share — or $1,250 — of the capital improvement request because "the infrastructure has to be there."

"No element of it is used by only one community," Hayes continued.

Hayes said this is the first time the LRMFA has developed a working capital improvement plan. He said the goal is to get on a fixed cycle of repairing and/or replacing equipment to keep the budget somewhat level and not have capital costs spike in any particular year.

Aside from the communication center in Laconia, the LRMFA maintains 11 radio towers and countless radios throughout the membership area that stretches from Waterville Valley on the north, to Moultonborough on the east to Alton and Strafford on the south, and to Andover and Danbury to the west.

One of the concerns voiced year after year by elected representatives of the member communities is that they have no control over the development of the budget.

There is a public hearing scheduled for the proposed LRMFA budget on October 7 at 7 p.m. in the Academic Commons Room at the Lakes Region Community College in Laconia.

"The intent is to give people their legitimate voice," he said. "If there is a legitimate or broad concern then it would be the responsibility of the Board of Directors to address it."

Hayes said that each community has a representative on the Board of Directors — usually the fire chief — and it is that person's responsibility to reflect the needs and concerns of his or her community.

He also noted that the public hearing was a time for concerned members of the community to voice their opinions and hear how the LRMFA budget is developed. He said no motions for changes will be taken from the floor but any legitimate suggestions will be taken into consideration by the Board of Directors.

He also said that the monthly board of director meetings are open to the public. Hayes noted that every elected representative of every membership town was invited to the open house at the communications center this past Saturday and only one attended.

This is the second year the LRMFA has directly billed participating communities for its services. Until 2014, its budget was included in the Belknap County budget, which assessed the 11 county communities for their share. The rest of the members paid directly.

In 2014, the LRMFA left the umbrella of Belknap County and created its own assessment formula for all of the member communities.

Ten percent of the total budget is fixed to each community. In 2015 this will be $3,272 for each of the 35 members. Forty percent of the budget is distributed using an equalized valuation while 50-percent is assessed to communities according to population.

For Belknap County communities this means if this budget is approved by the board of directors that the town of Alton will pay $66,667 for an increase of 3.19-percent; Barnstead will pay $37,793 — an increase of 2.49-percent; Belmont will pay $55,452 — an increase of 2.36-percent; Center Harbor will pay $19,601 — an increase of 6.16 percent and Gilford will pay $79,690 — an increase of 2.29-percent.

The town of Gilmanton will pay $33,561 — a decrease of .12-percent; the city of Laconia will pay $128,848 — a decrease of .28-percent; Meredith will pay $78.053 — a decrease of 2.37-percent; New Hampton will pay $22,237 — an increase of 4.96-percent; Sanbornton will pay $29,488 — an increase of 6.07-percent and Tilton will pay $33,944 — an increase of 3.9-percent.

The proposed operating budget is up 1.4 percent from $1,139,535 in 2014 to $1,155,451 for 2015. The biggest drivers of the increase are technology and Internet services as well as bank charges and insurance.

Proposed labor costs will drop $21,599 or 2.26 percent from $954,479 to a proposed $932,880. LRMFA employes eight full-time people, three-part time people and seven per diem dispatchers. Only the eight full-time employees are eligible for health insurance that is contracted through the New Hampshire Health Trust — formerly known as the Laconia Government Center.

Projected maintenance costs for the LRMFA facility on Communications Drive are up 6.59 percent, most of which is reflected in a 30-percent increase in heating oil cost.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 September 2014 01:07

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Grants available to fund septic system evaluations

MEREDITH — The Lake Winnipesaukee Watershed Association (LWWA ) is accepting applications for grants to defray a portion of the cost of evaluating, repairing or replacing septic systems from property owners on Lake Winona and Lake Waukewan.

The grants, funded by the United States Environmental Protection Agency through the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES), are intended to assist property owners to comply with the septic system ordinance adopted by the town in 2012. The ordinance requires the owners of undocumented septic systems, designated as high risks of failure, to commission a certified or licensed septic system evaluator to conduct an on-site inspection of them within 24 months to certify that they have not failed. Following the initial certification, property owners would be required to have their systems inspected and certified every five years.

The LWWA has extended the period to apply for grants toward the evaluation of septic systems until October 1. To qualify the property must be a single-family home, duplex or seasonal camp within 250 feet of Lake Waukewan in either Meredith, Center Harbor or New Hampton with a septic system more than 25 years old with no record of having been approved by DES. Property owners are eligible to receive a maximum of $250 and there are sufficient funds for 31 evaluations.

Since the program began in November 2013, 12 property owners applied and 10 evaluations have been completed. In Meredith, four systems failed, two passed and one evaluation is pending while another four system were replaced. In New Hampton three systems passed and one evaluation is pending. One system passed in Center Harbor.

This month the LWWA began accepting applications for grants toward the repair or replacement of high risk or failing septic systems within 250 of either Lake Winona or Lake Waukewan. The grants represent one-third of the total cost, not to exceed $4,000, to repair or replace a failing system. With approximately $40,000, there are sufficient funds for ten $4,000 grants.

For more information contact the Lake Winnipesaukee Association at (603) 581-6632 or www.winnipesaukee.org.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 September 2014 01:03

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AG's office says tips still coming in on Miller murder

GILFORD — N.H. Asst. Attorney General Ben Agati said yesterday that the nearly four-year long investigation into the shooting death of Roberta "Bobbie" Miller in her home on Country Club Road is still active and ongoing.

He said as recently as last Wednesday, detectives received another tip that they are following up on.

"This is not a cold case," Agati said, adding that the State Police Major Crimes unit has done a huge number of interviews and continues to do so.

Miller and her dog "Scout" were shot and killed by a shotgun sometime between early October 31 and November 1 when her body was found by a relative.

Miller's death certificate says she died within seconds of a shotgun blast to her head and neck with perforations to her skull, brain, carotid artery and lungs. It also lists her date of death as October 31.

Agati also noted that the $26,000 in cash found in an undisclosed location by police during the course of the investigation was likely not related to her murder. He also said it appears the same shotgun was used to kill the dog and Miller.

Miller was the ex-wife of Gary Miller who once owned two car dealerships in Wolfeboro. The two had a protracted and acrimonious divorce that was finalized in August of 2010 — three months before she was murdered.

One year after her death, Miller's family offered a $50,000 reward for any information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or people who killed Miller.

Anyone with any information is asked to call the N.H. State Police Major Crimes Division at 223-8573 or the N.H. State Police Tip Line at 223-3960.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 September 2014 12:49

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Manager says Meredith can't keep drawing on rainy day fund to keep tax hikes to a minimum

MEREDITH — After seven years of austere budgeting, marked by drawing on the rainy day fund to limit increases in property taxes, Town Manager Phil Warren advised the Board of Selectmen at a workshop yesterday that "consideration must be given to increasing the amount to be raised by taxation" capital improvements, road maintenance and equipment purchases "to ensure the sustainability of our capital assets".

In a memorandum offering guidelines for the 2015 town budget Warren reminded the selectmen that this year $1 million was drawn from the undesignated fund balance to limit the increase in the amount to be raised by property taxes to $192,000. "It is clear," he cautioned, "that the continued use of available fund balance is not a sustainable practice."

Like the budgets of the prior six years, Warren said, the 2014 budget "was neither a level service budget nor a level funded budget". Instead, he noted that as in past years "services have been reduced" and major projects, like the renovation of Main Street and improvement of the town docks, have been deferred.

Warren said that despite reduced expenditures for building maintenance and health insurance and stable revenues from rooms and meal tax receipts, revenues from sources other than property taxes "have not improved significantly in the last year". In particular, revenue from motor vehicle registrations have not risen.

Warren recommended maintaining current level of service without introducing new programs or services. Once again he cautioned against adding new positions, reclassifying existing positions or automatically filling vacancies arising from voluntary separations.

Selectmen Peter Brothers welcomed the memorandum, which he described as "an excellent document", suggesting it be posted on the town website for residents to read. He agreed that "we've exhausted the fund balance for paying down the amount to be raised by property taxes" and suggested that apart from controlling expenses the Selectboard should explore opportunities for raising other revenues in partnership with its representatives in the Legislature.

"We need to modify our overall philosophy going into 2015," Brothers said. "That is the challenge and I think we have to rise to it."

NOTE: The Selectboard approved the request of Mike Faller, director of Public Works, to resurface Main Street and Waukewan Street from the crosswalk at Town Hall to the railroad crossing. "We've got to do something," he told the selectmen, explaining that the project has been deferred in anticipation of the renovation of Main Street, which itself has been deferred. He described the project as "a maintenance fix," which he expected could be completed in two days weather permitting. "It should last five to seven years," he said. "It's going to buy us some time." He proposed applying $121,000 originally allocated to Corliss Road and Livingstone Road to the fund the work. Selectmen Peter Brothers, alluding to the delay in renovating Main Street, endorsed the project as "a good step backwards."

Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 September 2014 12:44

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