Shaker schools' long-standing practice of limiting voting period to 1 1/2 hours appears at an end

BELMONT — The Shaker Regional School District will change the long familiar voting hours for its annual school district meetings in order to comply with state law according to Roy Roberts, the school district's moderator.
Roberts says that for decades the voting hours have extended from 6 p.m., an hour before the start of the annual meeting, until around 7:30 p.m.
''We've been doing that ever since I can remember and that's the way it was when I first became moderator in 1990,'' said Roberts.
He said that the new hours for voting for school officials will run from 11 a.m. until around 7:30 p.m. and that he is contacting voting officials in both Belmont and Canterbury to inform them of the change.
The annual school meeting for the Shaker district takes place at Belmont High School and requires supervisors of the checklist from both towns to be present.
Roberts said he learned that the district was in violation of state elections laws through a phone call from a person who told him about a story which appeared in Thursday's Concord Monitor concerning the Merrimack Valley School District, which had similar voting hours.
The story said that in August, Merrimack Valley received a cease and desist order from the N.H. Attorney General's office that the district must follow state law and have the polls open from for a minimum of eight hours.
Roberts said that both Merrimack Valley and the Shaker School District were members of School Administrative Unit 46 for many years until the Shaker District withdrew and formed SAU 80 in the 1990s.
The Shaker District was formed in 1972 by Belmont and Canterbury.
Former Shaker School Board member Tom Goullette, who spent 24 years on the board, said that he thinks the voting hours for the annual meeting were based on what was the practice at that time for the Merrimack Valley School District.
''We modeled our practices after them.'' said Goullette.

Bronze feather missing from Center Harbor's Kona Fountain; town offering $500 reward

CENTER HARBOR — The bronze feather has been taken from the statue of the Indian boy in the Kona Fountain and the town of Center Harbor is offering a reward of $500 for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons responsible or to the safe return of the feather itself.

The theft was discovered on October 14.

The bronze statue, depicting an Indian boy sitting or a boulder and clutching a flapping goose, is the centerpiece of the Kona Fountain, a round watering trough atop a pedestal cut from granite quarried in Concord that stands at the junction of Plymouth Street and Main Street. It was presented to the town in 1907 by Herbert Dumaresq, a wealthy Boston merchant who spent summers at Kona Farm on Moultonborough Neck. The statute was sculpted and cast by Richard Gerry Cook, a protege of Augustus Saint Gaudens.

The Kona Fountain is a significant landmark with significant historical value to the town of Center Harbor and residents of the Lakes Region.

Police Chief Mark Chase urged anyone with information about either who may be responsible or the whereabouts of the feather to call the Center Harbor Police Department at 253-9756.

With inflation measuring near zero, tax cap space will be limited next year

LACONIA — As preparation of the 2016-2017 municipal budget gets underway, City Manager Scott Myers has directed department heads not to increase operating expenses in anticipation that rising personnel costs will exhaust the increase in the amount to be raised by property taxes permitted by the city's property tax cap.

The tax cap limits the annual increase in total expenditures funded by property taxes to the rate of inflation, measured by the Consumer Price Index — Urban (CPI-U), for the prior calendar year, plus an additional amount representing the value of new construction, which is calculated by multiplying the value of building permits less the value of demolition permits issued between April 1 and March 31 by the prior year's property tax rate.

In 2014 the CPI-U was 1.6 percent, which enabled property tax revenue to rise by $640,036 without breaching the cap. The value of new construction was $29 million, which represented additional property tax revenue of $649,600. Altogether the tax cap enabled the amount raised by property taxes to increase by $1.3 million, which was divided between the city, school district and county according to their respective, traditional shares of the total property tax commitment.

But, this year, for the first time since the tax cap was introduced in 2006, the CPI-U is projected to be at or near zero. In other words, the only increase in the amount to be raised by property taxes will be that represented by the value of new construction. Between April 1 and September 30, the value of new construction was $24.9 million and Myers expects that by March 31, 2016 it will reach the $29 million recorded in the last tax year.

The 2015 property tax rate remains to be set, but at the projected rate of $22.58 per $1,000 of assessed value, new construction would represent an increase of about $655,000 in the total amount raised by property taxes — less than half the increase of a year ago— with approximately $252 allotted to the city, $362,000 to the school district and $41,000 to the county.

Myers said that he does not expect any significant increases in revenue from sources other than property taxes that would mitigate the effect of the tax cap. He projected the return from motor vehicle registrations, the single largest source of revenue, to increase this year by $150,000, from $2,175,000 to $2,325,000, but through September receipts are only $2,323 ahead of the pace set last year. Nor does Myers anticipate any major increase in revenue from the state in the form of highway block grants or rooms and meals tax distribution.

Meanwhile, Myers said that a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) of 2.5-percent, awarded by the collective bargaining agreements negotiated with the four unions representing municipal employees, will add some $250,000 to the city payroll, which approaches $10 million. In addition, some employees will be eligible for step increases and rising wages will trigger increases Social Security payments and retirement contributions. Finally, Myers expects the employer's share of health insurance premiums to increase.