MIA state representative says he'll attend his first convention meeting on Monday

LACONIA — First time New Hampshire house member Robert Fisher, who represents Laconia and Belmont from Belknap County District 9, says that he will make his first appearance at a Belknap County Convention meeting Monday night. The convention is in the midst of pouring over the 2015 Belknap County budget and must approve a bottom line number by the end of the month.

Convention membership consists of the 18 state representatives elected from Belknap County. Collectively they are also referred to as the delegation.
Fisher, the manager of Same Day Computer on Union Avenue, says that a busy work schedule has prevented him from being able to take part in a single convention meeting since he took office.
He also owns a Same Day Computer business in Portsmouth and says that the loss of a key employee there has increased his workload.
''I'm working training a new employee and it's been really hectic,'' says Fisher, who defeated incumbent Democrat Beth Arsenault running as a Republican last fall after having been unsuccessful in his bid for a house seat in Laconia in 2012, when he ran as a Democrat.
He said that he thinks a brings an important perspective to the legislature as a young person who runs his own business.
''Most legislators are retired people who don't have current experience in the economy. I know what it's like to be running a business and paying rent and know that it's actually quite difficult. I'm not disconnected from the actual economy.'' says Fisher.

CAPTION For PIX Slugged Fisher.
Rep. Robert Fisher of Laconia says that he will be attending his first Belknap County convention meeting Monday night. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)

Delegation will take up economic development funding again

LACONIA — When the Belknap County Convention meets Monday night it will be looking at a proposed $50,000 cut in the appropriation for the Belknap Economic Development Council, which was tabled by a 7-6 vote at Monday's meeting.
The move to cut the funding from $75,000 to $25,000 was initiated by Rep. Ray Howard of Alton, who serves as a member of the convention's Outside Agencies Subcommittee and whose motion to reconsider the BEDC funding had drawn majority support from the 13 members present.
Howard said he was opposed to county funding for the BEDC because he didn't think public funds should be used ''to pick winners and losers in the private sector.''
Dennis Fields, also a member of the same subcommittee, said ''we have done it (funded BEDC) since I was here and it's something we have to have.''
County Convention Chairman Frank Tilton of Laconia said he had some of the same feelings as Howard when he first joined the delegation, because he was convinced that Laconia wasn't getting the benefit it should from the organization.
''I made the same speech 10 years ago,'' said Tilton, who said that the economic development organization was started in 1992 in response to a severe recession and was originally envisioned as becoming a self-supporting group which wouldn't need public funding.
He said that since he raised his questions representatives of the organization have come before the convention and made convincing presentations on the organization's work, helping build support for continued funding.
Representative Robert Luther of Laconia said that he had experienced similar feelings to those expressed by Tilton. ''It would literally bring tears to my eyes when it drew businesses to Meredith and Belmont but not to Laconia'' said Luther, who has since supported the funding and noted that BEDC is not a profit-making organization.
It was suggested that those who have questions about what the organization has done should go and meet with them.
Representative Russ Dumais of Gilford, who was a selectmen in that town when the organization was formed, said that he recalled that it served as a source for funding for those businesses who were having trouble obtaining funding in the open market. ''It was designed to be an incubator for new companies.''
Following further discussion Rep. Michael Sylvia of Belmont moved to reduce the BEDC line to $25,000, and, when asked by Dumais about the sharp reduction said ''I'd go to zero but that would be a little extreme.''
Rep. Guy Comtois of Barnstead supported the cut, saying ''we should be getting our fiscal house in order instead of being a cheerleader for everything else coming down the pike.''
Fields said ''we've got some people who just don't want anything'' and said he supported BEDC ''because of all the good work they've done.''
Rep. Peter Spanos of Laconia moved to table the motion until the following Monday for discussion, prompting Sylvia to protest that his motion was still on the floor.
But Tilton said that a motion to table an item takes precedence over a motion on the floor and the motion to table passed by a 7-6 vote.
Representatives of the BEDC have been asked to provide a 10-15 minute presentation on the organization's need for funding at Monday night's meeting.

BEDC is currently chaired by Laconia City Councilor Henry Lipman.

Good crowd on hand to hear from 7 of 8 Meredith Selectboard candidates

MEREDITH — Seven of the eight candidates for the two open seats on the Board of Selectmen fielded questions from voters about traffic congestion, the municipal budget, meeting times, the senior center, economic development, the town library and an aging population when they appeared before a nearly full house at the Community Center on Thursday night.

Rosemary Landry, the first candidate to enter the race, was unable to attend the forum; Bev Lapham, David Bennett, Michael Hatch, Jonathan James, Ray Moritz, Michael Pelczar and Roland Tichy were all present.

The forum was coordinated by Lakes Region Democrats and moderated by the League of Women Voters NH.

Altogether four of the five seats on the board are vacant. Two with three-year terms, opened by the retirements of Peter Brothers and Carla Horne, will be filled by the election on Tuesday, March 10. After the election the three members of the new board will appoint two persons to fill the remaining seats, opened by the sudden, last-minute resignations of Hillary Seeger and Lou Kahn. The appointees will serve until the next town election in March, 2016.

Although the recommendation of the Routes 3/25 Advisory Committee was rejected, most echoed Hatch, a member of the advisory committee, who said "we've definitely got to do something, but I don't know the answer to that question."

All candidates pointed to the shopping center on Rte. 25 as a major bottleneck while James, Moritz and Bennett also stressed closer control of foot traffic across Rte. 3 at the town docks. Only Lapham suggested reconsidering the committee's recommendations, noting that it eliminated left turns in the corridor.

In response to concern about the growth of the municipal budget, James reminded his listeners that the town portion was projected to rise slightly and the Inter-Lakes School District budget accounted for most of the increase in municipal spending.

James, Moritz, Pelczar and Lapham all cautioned against deferring necessary investment in infrastructure. "I can't sit here and tell you I'll hold the line," said Moritz. "I don't think that's possible."

Likewise, Lapham acknowledged that "it is difficult but impossible to restrain spending. It's a balancing act and a real challenge."

Pelczar noted that the need for a new public works facility.

Bennett claimed a small clique approved expenditures without regard for others and called for greater public participation in budgeting to ensure "we live within our means."

Tichy also questioned the expense of projects like the Community Center, Police Station and Fire Station.

Hatch considered the one-percent increase in the town budget "good for a town the size of Meredith."

When a gentleman said that because the Selectboard has been meeting at 4:15 p.m. working people cannot attend all the candidates favored scheduling meetings in the evening at 6 p.m. or 7 p.m.

The decision by the Belknap-Merrimack Counties Community Action Program to withdraw the senior center from the Community Center aroused concern among all the candidates. Calling senior citizens "the backbone of our town," Pelczar said that "we have this beautiful building and we ought to use it." Lapham noted that the center was built to serve the entire community and suggested a way should be found to fund programs for seniors. For Hatch seniors are "a top priority" and 'deserve a place to go and something to do." James described the center as "a baby sitting facility" and was troubled that "seniors have been shoved out the door." Noting the growth of the senior population, Moritz said "they have a right to expect and demand more services."

While the candidates appreciated the need for economic development to expand the commercial tax base, they favored the growth of small businesses and cautioned against significantly changing the character of the town. Tichy spoke of "businesses that bring something to the town," but warned against strip malls and big box stores. Bennett doubted that the town had sufficient housing, population and land to attract a large employer and called for promoting small businesses with light footprints. Pelczar proposed focusing development efforts along Rte. 104, where some firms operate. Noting that Meredith is a destination for retirees and tourists, Moritz anticipated growth in services that support both, which would "maintain the character of what we have."

The Meredith Public Library drew strong support from all seven candidates. James stressed the beauty of the building while Moritz said "a library is central to a vibrant community." Pelczar said "there's no way we can let anything happen to the library." And Tichy echoed "keep it the way it is."

"That's a tough question," remarked Hatch when asked what can be done to attract younger people to town. James said Meredith found itself in a "Catch-22," explaining "we want good jobs, but we don't want to change." Moritz ventured that a sound technological infrastructure could create diverse opportunities for people working from home while Pelczar suggested that the trades — carpentry, plumbing and electronics — represent steady employment at decent wages.

As a tourist destination, Tichy said the town could become home to artists and craftsmen. Bennett brought the forum to a close with laughter by recalling an old friend who was never out of work — digging graves.