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Winter that wouldn't leave claims another victim: traditional 'Mount' shakedown cruise

LACONIA — For the first time since the mid-80s, the M/S Mount Washington cruise ship will not be holding its traditional "shakedown cruise". It's another casualty of the long and cold winter that held New Hampshire in its grip from December through mid-April.
''We had to make a decision on sending out invitations and weren't sure that the ice would be out by the first week in May.'' said Mount Washington Cruise Lines Fleet Captain Leo O'Connell, who said that another factor in the decision to not hold a pre-season cruise this year was the impact of the cold weather on routine maintenance operations.
O'Connell said the decision to cancel was made with the thought that it would be very difficult to have guests scheduled to attend and then have to cancel at the last minute. Ice-out was declared on Wednesday, April 23 this year after some observers had predicted that it would take until early May before the Big Lake was ice-free.
O'Connell said that in addition to the annual maintenance operations over the winter, the main deck bow area of the ship was redone and the lower galley area was completely renovated.
The cruise, which has served as an official state inspection voyage, has for years has given state and local officials, members of New Hampshire's tourism industry, and the media the opportunity to climb aboard and observe the ship as she moves through her annual operating maneuvers on Lake Winnipesaukee.
''We've been doing it for the tourism industry and the public ever since we lengthened the ship in the 1980s,'' said Jim Morash, captain and part owner of the Winnipesaukee Flagship Corporation.
Both O'Connell and Morash said that the vessel has already been inspected this year by the Marine Patrol Division of the Department of Safety as well as the State Fire Marshal's Office and has passed.
Friday it made its first trip out its winter home in Center Harbor to its summer home at the Weirs Beach docks.
The M/S Mount Washington's official season runs from late May to late October. Daily cruises depart from Weirs Beach and service the ports of Meredith, Wolfeboro, Center Harbor and Alton Bay. With a capacity of 1,250 passengers, the Mount Washington serves as the largest restaurant in the state and a popular gathering point for school proms, college reunions, large corporate celebrations and weddings.
In addition to operating the 230-foot long 'Mount,' the parent corporation also owns and operates the 74-foot U.S. Mail Boat Sophie C., and 68-foot Doris E.

Last Updated on Saturday, 03 May 2014 01:11

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New law aimed at preventing dealers from using next winter's money to buy this winter's oil

LACONIA — Curtis Stafford of Stafford Oil Company, Inc. applauded the Legislature for tightening the regulation of pre-buy contracts for the purchase of heating fuels. "I think it's going to protect the consumer and have a positive impact on the industry," he said yesterday.

This week House Bill 1282 carried the New Hampshire Senate by a voice vote after the House of Representatives passed it by a convincing majority of 226 to 98 in March. Although the bill will be referred to the Senate Finance Committee in accord with Senate Rules, this week's vote is unlikely to be reversed.

The legislation addresses an issue that has dogged the Legislature for the past five years. In that time, according the Attorney General's Office, three independent heating oil firms have failed, leaving customers $650,000 out-of-pocket. This past winter was marked by the struggles of Fred Fuller Oil & Propane Co., among the largest home heating oil dealers in the state, to make timely deliveries to its prepaid customers, which prompted the Attorney General's Office to intervene.

Stafford said that perhaps the most important provision would forbid dealers from advertising or soliciting prepaid contracts earlier than May 1 or later than October 31. He explained that the current law, by allowing such contracts to be closed after January 1 — before the next year's heating fuel season begins on May 1 — enables dealers to apply funds for future purchases to current operations. By changing the date, Stafford explained, the bill intends to ensure that the proceeds from prepaid contracts fund future purchases at the contracted price and not finance operations during the remainder of the current season. He said that in effect the bill would manage dealers' cash flow.

Current law requires that within seven days of entering into prepaid contracts dealers must commit to a futures contract or other arrangement that guarantees the purchase of fuel representing 75-percent of the maximum number of gallons their prepaid contracts bind them to deliver. Alternatively dealers may post a surety bond payable to the Attorney General equal to at least 50-percent of the amount paid by customers for prepaid contracts or a letter of credit, also payable to the Attorney General, representing 100 percent of the dealer's cost of the fuel required to fulfill prepaid contracts. The bill would add a fourth option by allowing dealers to acquire an inventory of fuel amounting to 75 percent of the volume their prepaid contracts require them to deliver.

The bill would further require dealers to register their intent to offer prepaid contracts with the New Hampshire Secretary of State by May 1 each year as well as file annual reports with the agency by December 1. The annual report must demonstrate how the dealer has complied with the statute, including how prepaid contracts are secured.

Finally, the bill adds both making false statements and failing to deliver contracted fuel violations of the Consumer Protection Act.

"The bill gives the law a lot more teeth," said Stafford, a director of the Oil Heat Council of New Hampshire, which assisted lawmakers in drafting the bill.

Last Updated on Saturday, 03 May 2014 01:05

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Question raised as to whether residents of other Belknap towns should again be able to serve on Laconia Airport Authority

LACONIA — Mayor Ed Engler, who serves as chairman of the Laconia Airport Authority, earlier this week briefed the City Council on the possibility of changing the composition of membership of the authority in order to reflect the regional nature of the facility and expand the pool for the recruitment of members.

Engler said that Diane Terrill, the manager of the airport, has raised the issue. which was also discussed briefly when the authority met last month. He stressed that no formal proposal has been framed and he would ask the council to consider the matter at a future meeting.

Engler noted that although the airport represents a regional asset that contributes to the economy of both Belknap County and the Lakes Region, for the past 15 years the membership of the authority has been effectively confined to residents of Laconia and Gilford. Apart from failing to reflect regional interests beyond the two communities, this limitation shrinks the pool of suitable candidates to serve as appointed authority members, Engler said.

Meanwhile, selectman Gus Benevides, who represents the town on the authority, put the question to the Board of Selectmen last week, which expressed itself opposed to any change to the composition of the board.

Laconia owns the airport property, which lies entirely in the town of Gilford. As the owner, the city is party to the authority's relationship with the Federal Aviation Administration, while development at the airport is subject to the Gilford zoning ordinance in addition to the approval of the authority and FAA.

Property taxes levied on property at the airport leased to taxable entities, which amount to more than $150,000 a year, flow exclusively to Gilford.

The authority was originally chartered by the Legislature in 1941. Since then the corporate charter has been amended twice and any change would require another act of the Legislature.

Initially the authority consisted of five members — three elected officials, who serve ex officio, and two appointed members. The Mayor of Laconia, or designee, chairs the authority and the Gilford Board of Selectmen and Belknap County Commission each choose one of their number, or designees, to serve on the authority. The appointed members need only have been residents of Belknap County.

In 1983 the charter was amended to expand the board from five to seven members. The three elected officials remained, while two residents of the state were added to the two residents of the county to increase the number of appointed members to four.

The present composition of the Authority was established in 1999, when the Legislature reestablished the charter. There was no change in the three elected officials, but again the membership was increased — this time from seven to nine — with the addition of two appointed members. Moreover, the new charter, for the first time specified that all six of the appointed members must be residents of Laconia and Gilford and assigned four seats to Laconia and two to Gilford. The effect was to assure the city a majority of the membership.

The appointed members are elected by the "appointive agency," consisting of the Laconia City Council, Gilford Board of Selectmen and Belknap County Commission, for four-year terms, but not more than two consecutively.

At present, two 4-year terms are up for appointment and both must be filled by Laconia residents. The appointive agency meets Monday night at City Hall at 7 p.m. to interview four applicants. The election will be held a week later at 5:45 p.m.

Next year the tenure of two more members — one from Laconia and one from Gilford — will expire.

Last Updated on Friday, 02 May 2014 12:53

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House committee crafts RV taxation bill that's now to Laconia's liking

CONCORD — The Municipal and County Government Committee of the New Hampshire House of Representatives this week unanimously amended a bill intended to clarify the taxation of recreational vehicles. The amendment would spare Laconia from losing $2 million of assessed valuation, foregoing $220,000 in property tax revenue and adding a dime to its tax rate.
Senate Bill 333, as introduced by Sen. Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith), would exempt from property taxation recreational vehicles remaining in any one city, town or unincorporated place for fewer than 45 days as well as recreational vehicles stored or placed on a rented campsite at a recreational campground or camping park no matter for how long.
Forrester introduced the bill at the request of the New Hampshire Campground Owners Association to mend what she called "a crazy quilt" by which recreational vehicles are treated differently by different cities and towns. Some are taxed as real estate while others are not. Some municipalities bill the owners of the recreational vehicles while others, unable to identify the owners, bill the campground owners.

However, Laconia Assessor Jon Duhamel discovered that there are more than 400 recreational vehicles sitting year-around on a dozen campgrounds that the city has taxed for years, but would become exempt from property tax if the bill were enacted as written.
When the bill reached the House, city officials voiced their concerns about the erosion of the city's tax base, prompting the Municipal and County Government Committee to seek a formula that would ensure consistent treatment of recreational vehicles, spare campground owners responsibility for collecting or paying taxes and safeguard the interests of municipalities.
The amendment, which the committee adopted 19-0, exempts only those recreational vehicles with a maximum width of eight-feet, six-inches, registered as motor vehicles, bearing a current number plate and located at a campground from property taxation. In other words, so-called "park models," wider than eight-feet, six-inches that cannot be transported without a special permit, and unregistered recreational vehicles less than eight-feet, six inches in width, would be taxed as real estate.
Before April 1 each year campground owners would be required to provide municipal assessors with the name and address of the owners of recreational vehicles at their campgrounds and to identify those exempt from property taxation. Campground owners would not be responsible for the payment of any taxes imposed on recreational vehicles at their facilities.
City Manager Scott Myers said that the amendment mirrors the practice the city has followed since 1999, when the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that trailers meeting certain criteria should be taxed as real estate. He said that the amendment addresses the major issues of concern to both the city and campground owners.
Since the bill bears on taxation, if it passes the House it could be referred to the Ways and Means Committee, which will report it back to the House for a second vote.

If the amended bill clears these hurdles, the Senate, which adopted the bill in its original form, will be asked to concur with the bill as amended by the House or to request a committee of conference to resolve the differences between the two chambers.

"We still have a way to go," Myers remarked.

Last Updated on Friday, 02 May 2014 12:45

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