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Momentum building for city putting $400,000 into second phase of WOW Trail but details of TIF spending on riverwalk still up in air

LACONIA — After weighing the recommendations of the Downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District Advisory Board for the eighth time at a special meeting this week, the City Council inched closer to approving a borrowing to finance construction of stretches of the WOW Trail and downtown riverwalk.

After winnowing its original proposal to five projects, the board recommends investing $400,000 to extend the WOW Trail between Main Street and Fair Street, $25,000 to add signage and kiosks to the riverwalk and WOW Trail, $181,000 to connect the Main Street Bridge to the riverwalk behind the Landmark Inn, $121,800 to extend the riverwalk through the adjuacent Walgreen's property, and $300,000 to carry the riverwalk from behind the old police station (now Binnie Media) up to the Church Street bridge.

In August, the council agreed to spend $275,000 improving the area at the foot of Main Street, in order to ensure that the improvements were incorporated into the design for reconstructing the Main Street Bridge. In October the council approved spending $35,000 to extend a 10 inch water main from Main Street to Veteran's Square to service the former Evangelical Baptist Church, which is being converted to a restaurant.

Altogether the estimated cost of the seven projects is $1,337,800. They would be funded by borrowing $1,350,000 against the annual revenue to the TIF account at an estimated interest rate of four-percent over 20 years. The TIF account has a current balance of $311,353 and projected revenue of $173,687 in 2014 and an additional amount each year thereafter for a total of $4,250,212 during the next 20 years. City Manager Scott Myers has assured the council that the revenue accruing to the TIF fund is sufficient to service the proposed debt and, within a reasonable time, support another borrowing.

The council deferred its decision on what projects to approve and expenditures to authorize, but agreed to revisit the issue when it meets on December 23. Although the projects may be approved by simple majority vote, a two-thirds majority vote will be required to authorize the borrowing to finance them.

At the special meeting this week, Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4) questioned investing in the WOW Trail while Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) suggested that the riverwalk along the north bank should be completed before beginning work on the stretch on the south bank.

Although Baer expressed her support for the WOW Trail, she doubted that it would contribute to revitalizing downtown, which is the purpose of the TIF fund. Warren Murphy, past chairman of the Planning Board and resident of South Down Shores, also said that while he favored the trail, he advised against applying public funds to the project.

Public investment at an unprecedented level would lend an additional measure of momentum and legitimacy to the project, the next phase of which is planned to cross the western shore of Paugus Bay, where many property owners at South Down Shores are set on resisting it.

On the other hand, the Belknap Economic Development Council, which prepared a study projecting that once complete the WOW Trail would bring $1.8-million a year to the city, and the Main Street Initiative urged the council to fund the project.

Alan Beetle, president of the WOW Trail, told the council that the private WOW Trail board has raised $300,000 and with $400,000 in municipal funding could raise the additional $200,000 required to construct the second phase of the trail, from Main Street to the Belmont town line, in 2014. Without the city's contribution, he said that the project could take between four and six years.

Lipman proposed deferring expenditure for the segment of the riverwalk running through the Walgreen's property on the south bank of the river, explaining that it "doesn't go anywhere" because those to either side of it are not yet on the construction schedule. His view was shared by the Main Street Initiative, which in a written statement called for completing the riverwalk on the the north bank before investing any TIF funds on the south bank.

However, Planning Director Shanna Saunders said that she since easements on two adjacent privately owned lots are being negotiated and the city owns the Meredith Bridge Cemetery the riverwalk along the south bank could be completed to Fair Street Bridge relatively soon.

The Main Street Initiative repeated its request to complete the section of the riverwalk connecting Beacon Street West (the former Allen-Rogers property) to Main Street, intended to cross the mouth of the Perley Canal near the Main Street Bridge, which the advisory board did not include on its list. Saunders explained that the project was omitted because the original plan for the crossing was a "concept" and an alternate route was later chosen.

Saunders said that Chinburg Builders, the developer of Beacon Street West, originally intended to reconstruct a building over the canal that collapsed under a snowload and incorporate the riverwalk in the project as a cantilevered walkway over the water. However, the firm abandoned it plan to rebuild and chose to convert the large commercial building on the property to apartments. As part of its site plan, Chinburg proposed an alternate route for the riverwalk, which the Planning Board approved in 2008. Instead of following the riverbank, the pathway will pass through the residential complex to join Beacon Street West significantly north of the bridge.

John Moriarty, president of the Main Street Initiative, said that he learned that the route had been changed in advance of this week's meeting but chose to present the recommendation in hopes that the original route will ultimately be followed.

Jack Terrill, a resident of the Beacon Street West condominiums, told the council that the segment of the riverwalk bordering the development should be fenced on the north side. "We have a trespassing issue until we establish a perimeter," he said, adding that with a fence "we (residents) would have a backyard of our own."

Saunders and Kevin Dunleavy, who chairs the advisory board, were surprised by the request. Dunleavy told the council that in designing the riverwalk fencing on the side away from the water was not anticipated. Beacon Street West is only one of a number of privately owned properties on both banks of the river where easements have accommodated the riverwalk.

Last Updated on Friday, 13 December 2013 01:40

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Newfound told its been improperly handling trust funds for years

By Thomas P. Caldwell
BRISTOL — The Newfound Area School Board hopes to address a technical problem with funds administration by drafting a warrant article to establish a trustee for those accounts.
School Administrative Unit 4 Business Administrator Michael Limanni told the school board on Monday that the N.H. Department of Revenue Administration has been unable to find a record of the district voting to name the Town of Bristol as the trustee of those funds, although the town is the appropriate body to oversee the funds, and has been doing so for years. He said none of the votes to establish the various trust funds named a trustee as required by law.
Vice-Chair Ruby Hill of Danbury said she cannot imagine the seven towns that make up the Newfound Area School District agreeing to place the money with a single town, saying she would prefer to have a trustee from each town administering the funds. She later offered a motion to direct an attorney to draft a suitable warrant article to address the problem, with one of the options being to establish a board comprising one trustee from each town.
Chair Vincent Paul Migliore asked Limanni whether the school board could administer the funds but Limanni said it needed to be an independent party. The DRA said Bristol is the appropriate party since that is where the central office is located.
The trustee of trust funds serves to ensure that money appropriated for a specific purpose is utilized for that purpose and is not applied to other areas outside the scope of the trust fund. The district has a number of expendable trust accounts and contingency funds, as well as scholarships and other funds that currently are held in an investment pool. In order to access those funds, the district must ask the trustee for their release.
Limanni, recently hired as the business administrator for SAU 4, said that, in reviewing the district's finances, he discovered the problem and the DRA told him the district needed to address the issue to comply with the law. According to statute, the district should have named a trustee when it formed, or when the first fund was established; however, officials have been unable to find any record of the district having done so.
While the DRA said the trustee should be the Town of Bristol, the Newfound board probably could name any of the towns as trustee, although the DRA would have to approve the decision, Limanni said.
The business administrator agreed to draft some sample warrant articles to run by an attorney as a way of avoiding the cost of having an attorney draft an article from scratch.
In other business, board members who serve on both the SAU 4 Board and the Newfound Area School Board — both of which met on Monday — reviewed the proposed SAU and school district budgets, reiterating some disagreement on the spending.
Although the Newfound board already voted for a proposed 2014-2015 budget that now is being reviewed by the school district budget committee, some members would like to see further cuts.
During the School Administrative Unit 4 Board meeting, Lloyd Belbin of Bristol said he could not understand why, with 61 fewer pupils in the district, the superintendent was looking to add a $100,000 curriculum coordinator. (The position actually would pay $80,000 plus benefits.)
Superintendent Stacy Buckley said she was reducing other areas of the budget to fund the position which she felt was essential in bringing the curriculum in line between schools so each grade would be receiving appropriate instruction. Students from outlying schools currently have some difficulty when reaching the middle school because of differing levels of instruction.
When Belbin said, "Kids today don't get the basics," Buckley replied, "That's because no one oversees the K-12 curriculum to see that it happens."
When asked who currently is responsible for curriculum, Buckley said it's part of the superintendent's job, but with other duties, she and the previous superintendents have not had sufficient time to properly address it.
Hill agreed: "It wasn't really getting done with the superintendent trying to do it."
Limanni reiterated that the curriculum coordinator's position was being funded by reallocating the budget and he pointed out that the total proposed budget is $150,000 lower than the current-year spending.
During the Newfound board meeting, another position that met with some opposition was that of a $72,500 school resource officer. While the school district would be funding the SRO position, the officer would be part of the Bristol Police Department.
Belbin repeated his opposition to that position as not being necessary and as something to further increase the school district budget.
Some members of the Newfound Area School District Budget Committee, including former Alexandria Police Chief Harold "Skip" Reilly, also have voiced opposition to the SRO position.
Belbin noted that, despite the school district having reduced the current-year budget, declining student enrollment and the resulting reduction in state aid resulted in the school tax rate increasing by $1 per $1,000 of net assessed valuation, and Bristol taxpayers have been asking why. Other school board members agreed that it is difficult to explain the increased taxes to their constituents.
Migliore said he personally objected to the use of the term "level-funded" when comparing the budget proposal to the previous year. "When we educate fewer kids with the same budget, I don't consider that 'level-funded'," he said.

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 December 2013 02:11

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Commissioners will begin road show today in Tilton

LACONIA — Belknap County commissioners are planning to meet with local officials over the next seven weeks to discuss the proposed $26.6 million county budget for 2014 as well as the ongoing jail planning process.
The meetings start today with commissioner slated to be on the agenda at the 3:30 p.m. meeting of the Tilton Selectboard and at the 7 p.m. meeting of the New Hampton Selectboard.
''We think it's important to have these meetings with town officials,'' said Chairman John Thomas (R-Belmont) when the commission met Wednesday morning. ''We want to go over the budget and our priorities with towns. We realize that it's a major time commitment for local officials to serve and want to keep the meetings as brief as possible, but also be there to answer questions they may have.'' said Thomas.
Commissioners also expect to be questioned about the planning which has been going on for nearly two years on a proposed new county jail, according to Commissioner Ed Philpot Jr. (D-Laconia), who chairs the County Jail Planning Committee.
The committee has been looking at an interim solution to crowded conditions at the Belknap County House of Corrections which would involve a $3.5 million bond issue. The funds would be used for 48-bed temporary housing unit, which would cost $1,584,681 for a three-year contract; $500,000 for a schematic design for a new county correction facility and $1 million for replacing the HVAC system at the current jail.
Next week commissioners will be in Belmont on Monday at 5 p.m. to meet with selectmen and will meet the same day with Gilmanton selectmen at 6:30 p.m.
The commissioners will meet with Gilford selectmen on Wednesday, December 18 at 7 p.m. and with the Laconia City Council on Monday, December 23 at 7 p.m.
Next month they are scheduled to meet with Meredith selectmen on Monday, January 6 at 5:30 p.m.; Wednesday, January 8 at 7 p.m. in Center Harbor; Tuesday, January 14 at 5:30 p.m. in Barnstead and Wednesday, January 15 at 4:30 p.m. in Sanbornton.

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 December 2013 02:03

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Boys & Girls Club hopes to get back to normal in 2 to 3 weeks

LACONIA — Cheryl Avery, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region, said yesterday that work to overcome the damage done to the club by vandals is progressing well.

Avery said that the plan is to reopen the community room, kids' cafe and kitchen as soon as possible in order to restart the club's before-school program. She said that the program, which serves between 15 and 20 children of working families between 6:30 a.m. and the opening of school at 8 a.m., is the immediate priority. Recalling that the club operated in confined space at the Lakes Region Community Services building before moving to its new home at the former St. James Episcopal Church, Avery said that as space is restored and becomes available the club will resume normal operations a step at a time, but expected that two or three weeks would be needed to complete the cleaning and repairs.

Meanwhile, the after-school program will continue to operate at Laconia Middle School until further notice. "The arrangement with the Middle School is working very well," Avery said. "The teachers and staff have been very welcoming."

Vandals broke into the club last weekend, where they caused what Police Chief Chris Adams, the president of the club, called "significant damage," including extensive water damage to the sub-basement. On Tuesday, police announced that three students of Laconia High School, all males aged 14, 15 and 16, were arrested and charged with burglary and criminal mischief, both felonies. The three juveniles will be prosecuted in by the juvenile division of the 4th Circuit Court - Laconia.

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 December 2013 02:00

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