County Convention’s across-the-board cuts to outside agencies come under fire

LACONIA — The Belknap County Convention's decision to impose a 5 percent across-the-board cut in funding for six so-called "outside agencies" came under fire at Monday night's meeting of the convention, at which it finalized the county budget.
The agencies were slated to receive a total of $441,409, about 1.5 percent of the $27 million county budget. The cut, which was passed on March 9 by a 12-5 vote, amounted to a little over $22,000.
The six agencies are the UNH Cooperative Extension Service, which was slated to receive $163,000, the Belknap County Conservation District, $97,304, the Belknap Economic Development Council, $75,000, Genesis Behavioral Health (the regional mental health agency), $34,2000, the Community Action Program, $60,905 and Greater Lakes Region Child Advocacy Center, $11,000.
The cut was proposed last week by Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith), who said that the convention, through gradual reductions of outside agency funding, should ''set them on a path of independence by setting a goal where we get out of the business of subsidizing them.''
At this Monday's meeting former Meredith selectman Miller Lovett recalled that Eliza Leadbeater, former executive director of the BEDC, had once called the outside agencies ''the crown jewels of Belknap County'' and said that an attempt to gradually decrease their funding and ultimately end it was ill-advised.
Lovett said that cutting county funding would result in an increase in local property taxes and said that the gradual reduction of state and county support for Genesis, which he said is being squeezed little by little, is part of ''the scandal we're on the verge of'' when it comes to mental health funding.
Former representative David Huot of Laconia expanded on that theme, providing some historical context to what Lovett had said was an emerging scandal. He explained that in the wake of the closing of Laconia State School in the 1980s New Hampshire developed a community mental health system which was ''second to none'' — with Genesis being one of the regional mental health centers.
He said that since that time state mental health programs have been starved for funding, resulting in the state being sued and agreeing to a settlement which provides for $27 million in additional state funding.
''If the state doesn't live up to the bargain, the people who brought the suit can go back to court in case in which there's no way we can win. And that will costs us a lot more than $27 million.''
He said that he viewed outside agency funding as an investment in the county and said all of the agencies provide services to the county's communities and are better funded at the county level than at the community level.
Paula Trombi of Meredith said she didn't agree with Vadney at all, which prompted him to respond that ''the people spoke loud and clear in the election and they want to cut spending.''
Rick DeMark of Meredith said that the work done by the conservation district and the extension service helps support agricultural activity in the county which he says provides a strong boost to the local economy, a view supported by John Hodsdon of Meredith, who has been involved with the Conservation District.
Jan Hooper of Center Harbor, former head of the Belknap County Conservation District, said it wasn't sensible to consider phasing out the agencies. ''Think about the ramifications. At some point your family may be affected.''
Center Harbor Selectman Richard Hanson said that he thinks the convention is mistaken in cutting agencies which he says provide needed services. ''I respect the desire to save money, but I don't think these cuts do that,''he said, maintaining that costs would be passed along to the towns.

Cactus Jack's bringing mini carnitas to Taste of the Lakes Region on Sunday; T-Bones will feature clam chowder

by Rachel DiMaggio

MEREDITH — This year's Taste of the Lakes Region event on Sunday evening will include two dishes from the Great New Hampshire Restaurants' family. Cactus Jack's and T-BONES Great American Eatery in Laconia both plan to bring an item that shows off their flavors. The Altrusa Club of Laconia's annual, much-looked-forward-to fundraiser will take place at Church Landing from 4 to 7 p.m.
Megan Robinson has been with Great New Hampshire Restaurants for over three years and has been director of Catering and Events for the past year. Although Cactus Jack's is known for Southwestern flavors and T-BONES has a classic American menu, there is something these restaurants share. Robinson said both restaurants focus on made-from-scratch cuisine; the soups and even the sauces are made in house.
The Cactus Jack's menu offers house specialties like Chicken Espinica with spicy cheese sauce and kid-sized burgers and fajitas. They will be serving miniature carnitas tacos (seared shredded pork with traditional fixings). The carnitas have been popular at the Manchester location, and will be a new addition to the Laconia menu this summer.
The menu at T- BONES includes steaks, burgers, seafood, and other American favorites. Robinson shared the story of the T- BONES dish, as well. "Since we're representing Laconia, we chose to do our award-winning clam chowder."

Robinson also voiced her support of Taste of the Lakes Region as a way for the company to be involved in the local community. She said the restaurant staff "really enjoy the opportunity to get out and show people new stuff and meet customers face to face."

In total, 20 regional restaurants are bringing samples of their most popular dishes to the event. And Hermit Woods Winery will also be sampling fruit and honey-based wines.
Tickets for Taste of the Lakes Region are selling for $25 each and can be bought online (www.altrusalaconia.com) or at Hart's Turkey Farm Restaurant, Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Laconia, and Hector's Fine Foods & Spirits. As alcohol will be served from a cash bar, only adults 21 and up may attend.

Lakeport Opera House bought by residential landlord

LACONIA — The building at 781 Union Ave. that houses the Lakeport Opera House was sold last week to KMH Realty Corporation for $40,000.

The property at the corner of Union Avenue and Clinton Street at Lakeport Square, was owned for many years by Gerard Horn. Originally it was scheduled to be sold at auction, but the auction was canceled when Horn accepted the offer of KMH Realty Corporation.

The city currently assesses the 18,000 square foot building and 0.19-acre lot for $224,800, with the building representing $156,400 of the value of the property.

KMH Realty Corporation, formed in 2005 by its president Kevin Michael Hutchinson of 27 Dutile Road, Belmont to purchase, sell and rent real estate, owns a dozen other properties in the city. All are older properties, eight dating to the late 19th century, according to the records of the Assessing Department, and all residential, including seven multi-family buildings and five single-family units. Hutchinson did not respond to telephone calls.

Hutchinson is also vice president of WJK Realty Corporation, whose president Walter J. Hutchinson also lists his address as 27 Dutile Road, Belmont. Both KMH Realty and WJK Realty share the same address — P.O. Box 745, Winnisquam.

Last year, city officials evacuated and shuttered a four-unit apartment building at 145-147 Union Ave., which was then owned by WJK Realty. Fire Chief Ken Erickson described fire code and sanitary conditions in the building as "deplorable." In January, the property was acquired by Wells Fargo Bank. WJK Realty also owns residential and commercial properties at 322 Union Ave. and 322 South Main St.

The three-story frame building at Lakeport Square was built in 1885 and faces Union Avenue. It was known as the Opera House Block for the theater on the second floor, which after staging plays, reviews, concerts and recitals as well as hosting dances, receptions and graduations and finally showing movies went dark about half-a-century ago. For some years the theater has served as storage space.

The Lakeport Post Office once operated on the ground floor, which was home to a variety of retail stores through the years, including a drug store operated by Horn, a pharmacist who is now retired. Most recently a pawn shop and second-hand store occupied the space.

The International Order of Odd Fellows and Darius A. Drake Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of veterans of the Civil War, took rooms on the uppermost floor.

There is about 4,500-square-feet of space on the ground floor and almost 9,250-square-feet of space on the upper floors.

Although structurally sound, the wiring and plumbing date from near the beginning of the last century. Moreover,  the building does not meet current building codes. Horn recalled that some years ago the Streetcar Company approached him about acquiring the building, but abandoned the project after learning that the cost of restoring the theater alone would be close to $1 million.

Astride a busy intersection with limited on-street and off-street parking, the location has been a handicap to commercial enterprises. The single story brick building next door, once home to a dime store, stood empty for several years before a restaurant opened more than a year ago only to close in fewer than three months.

Members of the Heritage Commission toured the building. But, Pam Clark, who chairs the commission, said since no application to demolish the building has been filed, the commission has yet to hold a formal discussion about its future.