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Mitchell tells Rotarians his run for mayor is part of 'natural progression'

LACONIA — "Leadership is something I am familiar with," said Kailief Mitchell, the second of the two mayoral candidates to field questions before the regular weekly meeting of Laconia Rotary Club in as many weeks. Ed Engler, president and editor of The Laconia Daily Sun, addressed the group the week before.

Mitchell, who works as an academic aid at Spaulding Youth Center in Northfield, described his decision to run for mayor as "a natural progression" from his longstanding commitment to civic affairs that began with Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts when he was a schoolboy at Woodland Heights Elementary School, Holy Trinity School in Laconia and Bishop Brady High School in Concord.

After a year at Maine Maritime Academy, he became an optician, eventually serving as president of New Hampshire Board of Opticians. Since 2002, Mitchell has served in the U.S. Navy Reserve and is president of the New England chapter of the Chief Petty Officers Association. As a corrections officer, he worked at the Lakes Region Facility. He has served as a member of the city's Conservation Commission and as moderator in Ward 5 since 2006. Referring to the leadership positions he has held, Mitchell said he was confident that his experience prepared him for the responsibilities of mayor.

Mitchell said that after speaking with outgoing mayor Mike Seymour, he approaches the office as "a liaison position," meaning that the primary role of the mayor is "representing the community to the City Council." He acknowledged that "if the council is polarized, the mayor must step in. But, first and foremost," he continued, "the role of the mayor is to represent the people to the council." He described the mayor as "the eyes and ears of the community."

The incidence of drug abuse and trafficking, Mitchell said, represented the biggest challenge to the city. "We're seeing more and more drug busts," he noted, adding that the number of arrests is not a sign of "the problem getting worse, but of the solution getting better."

He also pointed to the stagnant and aging population of the city as an impediment to growth and prosperity. "The aging can be a concern, but it's that people aren't staying," Mitchell said, adding that although he returned to Laconia, he is not sure his children will.

Remarking that opportunities "kind of present themselves," Mitchell said that the natural setting of the city, marked by a chain of lakes and ringed by wooded mountains, was perhaps its greatest attraction. "People love the look of Laconia," he said. However, he called for steps to create more jobs, increase property tax revenues and draw more visitors to the city. He suggested that big box stores would generate entry-level jobs for young people as well as attract retail shoppers while "some sort of additional venue," like a casino or resort, would be an attraction for tourists. When the weather, too much rain in the summer and too little snow in the winter, deters visitors, the ripple effect is felt throughout the economy. Other than providing tax incentives to businesses and developers he doubted there much the city could do to attract and support commercial enterprises.

Calling the tract on North Main Street that once housed the Laconia State School "spectacular," Mitchell recommended that the city work with the state to attract a private buyer rather than purchase the property itself. The site, he suggested, could be redeveloped for a hotel, resort or casino — "something that will bring people to our community." Likewise, without commenting on tax increment financing, he said "we can't just spend money to make the city look pretty. We must have something to bring people here."

Mitchell said that the WOW Trail "accents our best asset — the river and waterfront and serves much like a city park." He agreed that the project warranted some public funding. On the other hand, he expressed concern about the prospect of a new county jail. "It's in our backyard and it's an asset to us," he said while asking "how much are we willing to invest in it? Should we sign up for the bill or is there another option?" Noting that the original estimate of $45-million was high, he wondered if county officials have considered adding a second level to the existing facility, which would reduce the cost of the project.

"Good communication is always key," Mitchell said of the sometimes strained relationship between the City Council and School Board. Conceding that "breakdowns" are sometimes unavoidable, he stressed "you have to be as transparent as you can." Without taking a position on the recent decision of the council authorizing the School Board to pursue a $1.8-million loan to fund renovations at the high school, Mitchell stressed the importance of deciding "what is a necessity and what is not." With the sluggish economy, he that "everyone must tighten their belt."

Mitchell said he would not support a "Pay-As-You-Throw" program, insisting the collection of trash and garbage should be a service funded by property taxes. At the same time, he said that the city should continue to promote recycling and acknowledged "we're not doing enough yet."

Mitchell and Engler will appear together, along with the candidates for City Council, at a forum sponsored by Weirs Action Committee at the Weirs Community Center on Thursday, Oct. 24, beginning at 7 p.m.


Last Updated on Friday, 18 October 2013 02:33

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11 candidates apply for 2 open seats on Gunstock Area Commission

LACONIA — The Belknap County Convention will interview 11 candidates for two vacant seats on the Gunstock Area Commission when it meets next Tuesday at the Belknap County complex.
The interviews were originally scheduled for October 8 but were cancelled when it was discovered that members of the convention had not been properly notified of the meeting (a copy of the agenda in their mail), necessitating the rescheduling of the interviews.
Convention Chairman Colette Worsman (R-Meredith) says that the interviews will begin around 5 p.m. and that she is hopeful that they will be completed within two hours.
She provided a list of names of the candidates but said she was not certain that she has the authority to release background information provided in their application letters and resumes until members of the convention received them. Worsman deferred the decision on releasing them to Belknap County Administrator Debra Shackett, who said that the applications were part of the public record and released the information.
There are two vacancies on the five-member commission, which was established in 1959 to oversee the operations of the county-owned Gunstock Recreation Area in Gilford and whose members serve five-year terms. Open now is the five-year term of Chuck Lowth of Meredith, who has served on the commission for 15 years, and a two-year term to complete the commitment of Christine Blackstone of Alton, who recently resigned.
Lowth, a project manager consultant who has a long background in industrial and commercial construction, says that he would like to be considered for the two-year term and see the commission continue to operate as a cohesive group.
Other applicants are:
— Atty. Philip Brouillard of Gilford, who served 18 years as a member of the Board of Fire Engineers in Gilford and was a volunteer member of the Gunstock Ski Patrol for 26 years and has developed residential, retail and rental properties.
— Chris McDonough of Gilford, owner and chief financial officer of Fratello's and Homestead restaurants and a director of both the Gunstock Ski Club and the New Hampshire Lodging & Restaurant Association.
— Stephan Nix of Gilford, a practicing attorney and land surveyor who has been a member of the Gilford ZBA and Land Conservation Task Force and has been skiing at Gunstock since he was a young child in the 1960s.
— David Nielsen of Gilmanton, former Belmont Police Chief and the official caretaker of the Old Man of the Mountain and president of the Old Man of the Mountain Museum and Preservation Association.
— Doug Lambert of Gilford, founder and production and sales manager of DGF Industrial Innovations Group, a former member of the Gilford Municipal Budget Committee and avid user of Gunstock's facilities year-round.
— Alan Glassman of Barnstead, a board member of the Gunstock Munition Historic Preservation Society who has an information technology background in the financial services industry and is chairman of the Belknap County Republican Committee.
— John Cameron of Gilford, an attorney with a solo practice who is Gilford School District moderator. A certified mediator, he held management positions with Digital Equipment Corporation and Nashua Corporation before entering the field of law.
— Ruth Larson of Alton, a retired attorney who worked for CIGNA Insurance in New Jersey before establishing her own private practice in Princeton, New Jersey. She retired in 2010 and moved to Alton and has resumed downhill skiing after many years off from the slopes.
— Edward Rushbrook of Gilford, a self-employed civil engineer who over the past 35 years has worked as project manager for wastewater projects in many New Hampshire communities and for 20 years has worked with Jiminy Peak Ski Area in Hancock, Mass.,
— Michael Gillepsie, a season pass holder at Gunstock who is executive vice president and chief revenue officer of ZGS Communications, based in Arlington,Va., which operates 12 television stations and 3 radio stations. Gillespie submitted a letter before the deadline but no resume was received until this Thursday.

Under the state law that established the commission, no more than two members of the board may reside in the same Belknap County municipality. Laconia is currently the only such municipality currently represented by more than one — Sean Sullivan and Bob Durfee. John Morgenstern of Gilford is the fifth member of the current board.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 October 2013 01:14

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City will pay half the bill to extend water main to new restaurant location

LACONIA — The City Council this week unanimously authorized the expenditure of up to $35,000 toward the cost of installing a 10 inch water main-line to the former Evangelical Baptist Church on Veterans Square, which David and Maureen Kennedy of Hampton, owners of Holy Grail Food and Spirits, intend to convert to a restaurant and pub.

The council acted on the recommendation of the Downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Advisory Board to draw half the cost, up to $35,000, of the water line from the TIF fund, which has a current balance of $311,353 and projected revenue of $173,687 this year. The Kennedys will bear half the cost extending the line from Main Street to the lot.

City Manager Scott Myers explained that the current 1-inch-line water service to the building would not support a sprinkler system, which the building and fire codes require of a restaurant. Furthermore, he explained that extending the larger line to the historic church building would provide capacity to expand water service to other properties in the vicinity, particularly the railroad station.

On behalf of the Downtown TIF Advisory Board, Kevin Dunleavy, director of Parks and Recreation, explained that once the church building is returned to the tax rolls, the TIF fund will begin recovering its investments in property tax revenue. Above all, he said that facilitating the conversion of the property was in keeping with the mission of the TIF District to encourage private investment and economic development in the center of the city.

Kennedy discussed his plans for the building with the city's Technical Review Committee last week and is scheduled to seek the approval of the Planning Board next month. Planning Director Shanna Saunders said that "we fast tracked this project."
Kennedy said that he expects to close on the purchase of the building from the church next month and anticipates completing the conversion in seven months. The restaurant will be the Kennedys' second, both housed in churches. The Holy Grail Restaurant and Pub in what was St. Joseph's Church on Main Street in Epping has twice been chosen as the state's finest Irish pub by New Hampshire Magazine.
NOTE: The City Council authorized City Manager Scott Myers to purchase another 300 recycling toters to sell to residents at a discounted price. Myers said that the Department of Public Works (DPW) sold the last of the initial batch of 1,000 64-gallon toters in August and had a list of some 75 residents wishing to buy if the offer was renewed. He said that the price of the toters has risen from $45 to $55, but suggesting offering them for sale with the same $20 discount. The net cost to the city of $6,000, Myers said could be drawn from the DPW's operating budget without issue.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 November 2013 10:32

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Gilford schools returning $1.5 million to taxpayers

GILFORD — After closing the books on the 2012-2013 school year, district administrators said they have a $1.476-million (6.4 percent) surplus that will be returned to taxpayers in the form of a credit against this year's property tax commitment.

School Board Chair Sue Allen said yesterday that there were no emergency or safety issues that have to be addressed so the plan is to return it all.

"Our goal is always to the mindful of the taxpayers," Allen said.

The 2012-2013 school district budget was $22,992,075 of which $14,049,394 was raised by local taxes. Town Finance Director Geoff Ruggles said the local school budget accounted for $9.21 per $1,000 in assessment or about one-half of the total tax rate of $18.31.

School Business Administrator Scott Isabelle said yesterday that the revised amount to be raised by local taxes in 2013 is estimated now to be $13,089,289 but it hasn't been confirmed by the N.H. Department of Revenue.

Superintendent Kent Hemingway said yesterday that three things contributed to the surplus — an overage in the special education budget, health insurance, and, most importantly, energy savings.

Last year, he said, the school district took some of the previous year's surplus and replaced the boiler at the Gilford High School. He said the district had thought they could get a few more years out of it but at the end of last year realized it was cracked.

"That alone saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars," Hemingway said.

He said the school district budgets for the maximum allowable increase in health insurance every year — a figure guaranteed to them by their insurance underwriter — but last year the actual rates were lower than what was budgeted. Because of the budgeting schedule, the district doesn't typically have the exact rate of increase until well after the budget has been prepared and accepted by the voters.

Hemingway said they also budgeted more for heating oil and credited the school district's participation in a loyal oil-buying consortium that negotiates the best possible price for its oil.

As for the 2014-2015 budget, Hemingway said he and Business Administrator Scott Isabelle are paring down the individual school requests and will have a total draft budget available for the School Board annual budget workshop session on October 28.

Hemingway said replacing the telephone system is the major capital improvement project the school district needs for 2014-2015. He said the existing system is no longer supported by the available software and there is no way to continually service it.
He said the district has a medium range capital goal of repaving all of the parking lots.

Both of those capital requests are part of the town's Capital Improvement Project plan.

Allen said she is equally confident that the school administration will present them with a reasonable annual budget for the next school year.

She said the school district is negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with the teachers' union they hope to bring to voters at the annual district (SB-2) Deliberative Session.

She said members will likely get the draft budget on October 25 and will have the weekend to digest it. The budget workshop is scheduled for 5 p.m. on October 28.

The next School Board meeting is November 4 and the School District is scheduled to present its 2013-2014 annual budget request to the Budget Committee on December 5 at 6:30 p.m. at the Town Hall meeting room.

Last Updated on Friday, 18 October 2013 02:51

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