Gilmanton was gold standard for voter participation this time around

BELKNAP COUNTY — A greater number of residents of the towns in Belknap County governed by the Official Ballot Act (SB form of town meeting — so called "SB-2 towns" — participated in annual town meetings this year than their counterparts in towns that have retained the traditional town meeting format.

The 10 townships in Belknap County are evenly divided between the two forms of government. Alton, Belmont, Gilford, Gilmanton and New Hampton have adopted SB -2 while Barnstead, Center Harbor, Meredith, Sanbornton and Tilton hold traditional town meetings.

In the five SB-2 towns voting for both town officials and warrant articles is by a single secret ballot on the second Tuesday of March. In the other five towns voters cast their ballots for town officials by secret ballot on the same Tuesday and vote on warrant articles at town meeting on that same night, or later.

The difference in participation was most marked by the number of registered voters casting ballots on warrant articles, which was significantly higher in the five SB-2 towns, Turnout was 42.4 percent in Gilmanton, 21.2 percent in Alton, 19.5 percent in New Hampton, 17.9 percent in Gilford and 13.9 percent in Belmont.

By contrast, the largest share of registered voters attending town meeting to vote on warrant articles was in Center Harbor, where 8.5 percent took part, followed by 7.9 percent in Sanbornton, 3.6 percent in Barnstead, 3 percent in Tilton and 2.4 percent in Meredith. Discounting the results in Gilmanton, the percentage of voters casting official ballots exceeded those attending town meetings by margins ranging from one-and-half to 10 times. In numbers, attendance at town meeting was highest in Sanbornton, where 173 took part, while 114 were present in Meredith, 110 in Barnstead, 70 in Center Harbor and 71 in Tilton.

However, in the voting for town officials, the monopoly of the top spots by SB-2 towns was broken. With 42.4 percent of voters casting ballots, Gilmanton again led the field. But, Sanbornton, where 24 of voters cast ballots, topped the other four SB-2 towns. Alton, with turnout of 21.2 percent, was next, followed by Meredith, where 19.7 percent of voters went to the polls. New Hampton at 19.5 percent and Gilford at 17.9 percent followed, but Center Harbor, with turnout of 15 percent, edged Belmont, the remaining SB-2 town, where 13.9 percent of voters cast ballots. Turnout was lowest in Barnstead at 12.2 percent and Tilton at 11.7 percent.

This year Gilmanton was an outlier, with turnout ranging from between twice and 20 times higher than the other nine towns in the county, which reflected the number of controversial issues on the ballot. These included the budget, funding for the Year-Round Library, rescinding SB-2, two petitioned warrant articles requesting the removal of properties from the historic district and an article to appoint rather than elect the road agent.

Likewise, the relatively high turnout to elect town officials in Meredith, where almost nine times as many voters cast ballots as attended town meeting, was driven by the contest among eight candidates for the two open seats on the Board of Selectmen.

In traditional town meeting towns, the difference between the number of voters who cast ballots for town officials on March 10 and the number who voted on warrant articles at town meeting was striking. In Barnstead, less than a third (375 - 110) of the number of people who cast ballots turned up at the town meeting. In Meredith the number dropped from 945 to 114 and in Sanbornton the total went from 531 down to 173. Tilton did not better – 282 residents cast ballots and only 71 went to town meeting. The difference between the two numbers was narrowest in Center Harbor, where 124 people cast ballots and 70 voted at town meeting.

Laconia Music Center, on Long Island?

NEW HYDE PARK, NY — "Greeks were coming in asking if we had bouzoukis," said Ray Noguera, who with his wife Joan owns and operates the Laconia Music Center in this Long Island city. "So I bought some bouzoukis and strings and no one has come in looking for bouzoukis since."

Noguera explained that his store took its name not from the province in Greece or the city in New Hampshire but from Laconia Avenue, a major tnorth-south thoroughfare in the Bronx, where "three intense cheapskates" first opened the business in 1960. He said that before the decade ended a hurricane left the small frame building in ruin and the business moved first to Queens and in 1986 to its present location in New Hyde Park in Nassau County.

Noguera, who acquired the business in 1991, said he considered changing the name from Laconia, but realized "it was well-known for good or bad, but mostly bad." He recalled a baby boomer who managed a hedge fund came into the store with tarnished saxophone in disrepair, explaining that it was purchased at the store when he played in his high school band. "If we'd changed the name he never would have found us," he said, adding the man paid more than $1,000 to have his instrument restored. "We kept the name and improved the reputation," Noguera remarked.

The store specializes in band instruments for individuals and schools. "We don't sell a lot of electric guitars," Noguera said, "so we never hot chicks coming in." In addition, some 16 teachers offer lesson for students of virtually every instrument.

The Laconia Music Center was voted the best on Long Island by readers of the Long Island Press.

Some years ago a customer brought Noguera a poster from Motorcycle Week in N.H. "There was this hog looking guy on a big black Harley-Davidson and a woman with her breasts hanging out," he said. "What am I going to do with that? Put it up in the store?"

Noguera said that he and his family have vacationed in Maine and may make a detour to visit the City on the Lakes the next time they come to New England.


Belknap population grows just a little but deaths exceed births

LACONIA — Belknap County was among six of the 10 counties in the state where the population increased between 2010 and 2014 according to estimates released yesterday by the United Census Bureau, but the rate of growth was slowest of the six.

Altogether the Census Bureau estimates that the population of the state rose by 10,347, from 1,316,466 to 1,326,813, a rate of growth of 0.8 percent.

The Census Bureau estimates that the population of Belknap County grew only 0.4 percent between 2010 and 2014, adding just 213 people to rise from 60,092 to 60,305. During the period the number of deaths exceeded the number of births by 401 — 2,712 to 2,311. However, 585 people migrated to the county, 293 of them from abroad and 292 from elsewhere in the state or the country.

Strafford County, with the cities of Dover, Rochester and Somersworth, posted the highest rate of estimated growth at 2 percent, as an increase of 2,458 raised the population to 125,604. The populations of Rockingham and Hillsborough counties, the two most populous in the state, increased 1.8 percent to 300,621 and 1.1 percent to 405,184 respectively while Grafton and Merrimack counties grew by 0.6 percent and 0.5 percent.

The population shrunk by 4.2 percent in Coos County, 1.5 percent in Sullivan County, 1.3 percent in Cheshire County and 0.9 percent in Carroll County.

Deaths outnumbered births in five counties: by 686 in Coos County, 555 in Carroll County, 401 in Belknap County, 80 in Sullivan County and 51 in Grafton County.