Price of gas below $2 at handful of local stations

LACONIA — Three of the 10 filling stations in the city reporting to the Gas Buddy website, which closely monitors fuel prices in the United States and Canada, are selling regular unleaded gasoline for less than $2 a gallon for the first time in nearly six years.

Yesterday Oasis Gas and Mini Market at the foot of Prescott Hill and Premium Mart on Court Street posted the lowest price of $1.97 per gallon, followed closely by Shop Express at the corner of Union Avenue and Gilford Avenue. Prices at eight of the 10 stations were below the average price in New Hampshire of $2.20 per gallon, 10 cents above the national average. Prices are also below $2 per gallon at the Irving stations in Belmont and Tilton and at the Citgo station at the Airport Country Store & Deli in Gilford.

In the past year the average price of gasoline in the state has fallen $1.20, from $3.40 to $2.20 per gallon, or by more than a third. In the last month , and has dropped n 50 cents per gallon in the last month alone and by more than a dime in the last week.

"It's a crazy market," said Dave DeVoy, who owns and operates the Gilford Mobil Mart. "We're changing prices every day." He expected every station in the local market to be selling at less than $2 per gallon by next week. He was at $2.02 on Tuesday.

With rapidly falling and frequently changing prices, DeVoy said that he aims to hold on to his regular customers by pegging prices to his major competitors, Irving and Cumberland Farms, maintaining his profit margins. He said that because stations like Oasis Gas and Mini Market and Premium Mart purchase unbranded gasoline for less than the cost of branded gasoline he cannot meet their price. But, he added that when prices fall sharply, consumers, who are paying significantly less to fill their tanks, are less likely to shop around to save a penny or two than they are when prices are rising.

Apart from tracking the competition, DeVoy said that the 2 percent he pays on credit card transactions also factors into his pricing strategy. "When I started in the business," he recalled, "20 percent of customers paid with credit cards, but today its 80 percent. For every dollar of gas I sell on a credit card, I get 98 cents."

Wholesale price declines, which have outpaced price cuts at the pump, have significantly reduced costs and raised profits to station owners. According to the Oil Price Information Service for the past five years retail prices have exceeded wholesale prices by about 17 cents, a difference that has stretched to more than 21 cents. Butt, discounting for credit card fees and other operating costs, the National Association of Convenience Stores reports that the net profit of gasoline sales averages approximately three cents,

DeVoy acknowledged that his costs have dropped, but cautioned that as prices continue to fall, he must price to avoid the risk of paying more for the gas he purchases than he receives for the gas he sells. "I can't sell below cost," he said flatly, "but I'll take low gas prices any time. The only ones getting hurt are big oil and big banks."

At City Council, mayor addresses ‘disinformation’ about Belknap Mill

LACONIA — When the City Council met last night Mayor Ed Engler took the opportunity to correct what he called "misinformation and disinformation" about the financial challenges facing the Belknap Mill Society and the position of the council with respect to them.

Chris Santaniello, president of the Belknap Mill Society has informed the council that it lacks the resources to sustain its ownership of the historic building and has offered the property to the city for an undisclosed price. The council declined the offer and urged the trustees of the society to seek alternative arrangements with other partners. A meeting of the members of the society will be held tomorrow at 7:30 a.m. at the mill to address the situation.

The mayor said that it has been said, both on the radio and in the community, that the council has agreed to act as "the buyer of last resort," which he insisted "is not a true statement. Engler repeated that the council has met with trustees of the mill and "discussed a number of alternatives," but stressed "there is a large difference between discussions and decisions." He insisted that the council has made no decision or taken any votes either in public or in private.

Likewise, Engler said that some have claimed that the two law firms renting space in the mill — Attorney Matt Lahey, a sole practitioner, and the Mitchell Municipal Group P.A. — pay "unfairly low rents," which is the root of the financial problems that beset the society. He said that he has read and analyzed both leases and has some understanding of the market for office space. Describing the market as glutted and soft, he said both tenants "could relocate for comparable, if not lower rents, than what they pay at the mill."

Moreover, Engler dismissed the suggestion that lack of rental income is the cause of the financial troubles of the society. He pointed out that until recently there were three tenants at the mill and the annual rental income was $35,000, a small share of the society's operating budget of about $200,000.

"Good, honorable people can have differences," the mayor remarked, then recalled the old adage that "everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts."

New county commissio-ners to seek more affordable jail solution

LACONIA — New Belknap County Commissioners Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) and Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) told members of the Belknap County Convention last night that the Belknap County Jail needs to be fixed and that they would like to follow the approach taken in Sullivan County (Claremont), where officials ditched plans for a new $38 million county jail in 2008 and opted instead to build a $5.6 million community corrections facility.

''It would be a great disservice to the county if we just ignore it (the jail),'' said Burchell, who said that the new commissioners are working with Belknap County House of Corrections Superintendent Dan Ward to develop a plan which they will present to the convention in the coming months.

''We will have a specific recommendation coming forth,'' said Burchell, who said that finding money in the current proposed budget will be difficult but that he hopes a recommendation can be developed which will see the entire cost of a new jail, including the developing of a design for the project, as well as renovations and improvements to the current facility, included in a bond issue.

DeVoy said that he was committed to bringing in the project costs so that the Laconia tax cap wouldn't be exceeded.

Burchell used a hypothetical number of $8 million for such a project, which would be similar to the costs associated with the Sullivan County project, which also saw that county spend $1.3 million on renovations at the county jail. The project saw a 72-bed Sullivan County Community Corrections Center, a 20,000-square-foot facility, built adjacent to existing county jail in Claremont in 2009. The center has 32 treatment beds, 16 work release beds and 24 beds for female offenders.

The corrections center provides work-release opportunities and a focus on treatment and programming for inmates close to release, and is designed to better help inmates transition back into the community.
The project, which is the first of its kind in the state, represents a new direction in the handling of inmates for the county as it concentrates efforts and resources on re-entry instead of incarceration, according to Sullivan County officials, who first discussed plans to improve facilities and programming in 2005, following a study that revealed more than 80 percent of inmates booked into the county jail required some form of treatment programming.
More than $1.8 million in grants were received by the county between 2009 and 2012 which helped pay for the programs offered at the community corrections center, according to Ross Cunningham former Sullivan County Superintendent of Corrections, who is now Assistant Corrections Superintendent in Merrimack County.

He said that staffing for the Sullivan County Department of Correction was 35 to 37 people in 2008 before the project broke ground and has gradually increased to 55 staffers as of last year.

''We sort of grew into the facility,'' said Cunningham, noting that it has cut recidivism in the county to about 17 percent, which compares to the state Department of Corrections at 51 percent and Carroll County at 52 percent.

DeVoy has said that among the people he and Burchell talked to was Kevin Warwick, president of Alternative Solutions Associates, Inc., who serves as a consultant to Sullivan County's Department of Corrections and is a recognized national leader in establishing community-based programs.

Improperly vented pellet stove starts fire in Gilford

GILFORD – Firefighters extinguished a chimney fire that had begun to extend into a house at 193 Chestnut Drive early yesterday morning.

Fire Chief Steve Carrier said firefighters were initially called at 5:03 a.m. by the homeowners who smelled smoke.

While en route, Carrier said additional information came in that there was a fire in the house and the supervisor called for a first alarm bringing Laconia, and Belmont to the house and Meredith and Tilton-Northfield to provide station coverage.

"It appears the fire started as the result of improper venting of the pellet store on the first floor," said Carrier. He said the fire department will be investigating the installation of the stove.

Carrier said the driveway was very steep and slippery but no firefighters or occupants were injured. He estimated damage at about $5,000.