Messer Street facelift. . . one house at a time

LACONIA — Messer Street has begun to undergo a facelift as a pair of investors have followed in the footsteps of Harry Bean by purchasing and rehabilitating residential properties on the busy thoroughfare.
Bull Fish Investments, LLC, a partnership of Matthew Bull and Ron Haddock, have acquired two older homes, one at 95 Messer Street and the other at 101 Messer Street, which they are in the process of rehabilitating for sale. Two years ago Harry Bean bought and rehabbed the home at 94 Messer Street, which was sold in 2013 for $175,000.
Bull said that work at 101 Messer Street, a one and three-quarter story single-family home built in 1902, is virtually complete. He said that the entire interior of the building was removed and remodeled with new plumbing, electrical and heating systems and a full upper story was added to the building. "It's a brand new home brought back to its old glory," he said. Bull expected to finish the rehabilitation of 95 Messer Street, which currently consists of three rental units in the spring.
Bull, who has also acquired similar properties in Franklin and Ashland, said that the work on Messer Street attracted attention of passersby who were pleased by the improvements to homes in the neighborhood. Bull remarked that because the street serves as a leg of the Winnisquam-Opechee-Winnipesaukee (WOW) Trail, he thought the facelift would be especially welcome.
Bull said that he and his partner intend to focus on properties in Laconia, Gilford and Belmont, adding that the abundance of older single-family homes and multi-family dwellings in the city offered abundant opportunities for acquisition and rehabilitation.

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Man alleged to have committed fraud in Laconia arrested in Manchester

LACONIA – Local police, working with Manchester Police and the N.H. Parole and Probation Department, have arrested a man who was allegedly perpetrating high-value frauds throughout the state.

Police said Shawn Cochrane was arrested in a Manchester apartment Friday morning. Laconia Police said they had been looking for Cochrane for about a month. He was being sought for allegedly perpetrating frauds using a closed TD Bank account and ID.

Det. Kevin Butler said yesterday that Laconia Police got a tip Friday morning that Cochrane was squatting in an apartment in Manchester. He said police and parole officers arrested him without incident at 11:30 Friday morning.

Cochrane is being held in the State Prison and will be appearing at an yet undermined date in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division.

Belmont Mill worth saving, contractor tells selectmen

BELMONT – After hearing a presentation from a masonry expert who said the historic Belmont Mill is worth saving, selectmen asked their general contractor to prepare an estimate in time for a vote at annual town meeting in March.

Scott Whitaker of Building Envelope Specialists – a subcontractor for Bonnette, Page & Stone -- told the board last night that with the exception of the interior portion along the wall that burned in 1992, the masonry is in very good condition.

"At the end of the day, this is a solid building. It is a good candidate for keeping, not demolishing," said Whitaker. "This has a lot of life to it."

Whitaker explained the process he used to evaluate the mortar, telling the board "not all mortar is alike." He said the discolorations in the mortar come from different recipes at different times, but that the brick walls are sound.

He said the south side wall, where he believes the fire either started or burned the hottest, is the only problem area. While the exterior-most wythe -- or a continuous vertical section of masonry one unit in thickness -- was replaced during the reconstruction 17-years ago, the interior wall portions of that wall needed some work.

He said much of the damage to that section likely came during the fire. He said bricks are use to being hot, but what stresses them is when they are hot and then rapidly chilled – like in a fire fought with water.

He said they should leave the outside wythe alone and evaluate and replace the bricks and mortar as needed up to the original 24 inches of base on the first floor and 16 inches on the second floor. Above, that, he said the brick looks good.

Resident Mark Mooney asked Whitaker if he had actually taken apart any of the sections along the wall that was exposed to the hottest fire.

Whitaker said he had not, but had drilled some test holes and determined that some of the wall is spongy and would need some work.

Selectmen unanimously supported the project, but only if it was a repair that would last a minimum of 30 to 40 years.

Whitaker said that with regular maintenance, he feels the building is solid for at least 75 years.

Whitaker, working with Bonnette Page & Stone, said they would have a dollar amount for the proposed work by Dec. 29 or 30.

Selectmen said the Budget Committee has to have it in the form of a warrant article before Jan. 6.

Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin also asked Whitaker to make a presentation to the Budget Committee, the same or similar to the one he made to selectmen. Selectmen also said they would like to host a separate question-and-answer session for the townspeople in addition to the Budget Committee presentation and public hearing.

Selectman Jon Pike said he would like to the session taped and put up on the town Website for those who couldn't attend the question-and-answer session.

Contractors said the final budget estimate would be presented to the Board of Selectmen at 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 29 at the Corner Meeting House.

The date of the question-and-answer session will be set after selectmen get the final estimates.

County Convention picks Tilton as chair

LACONIA — Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) was elected chairman of the Belknap County Convention by a unanimous vote last night with Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) selected as vice chairman and new commission member Brain Gallagher (R-Sanbornton) was elected clerk.
''This is not something I particularly wanted to do but agreed to take on. We have duties to perform here and we have responsibilities here,'' said Tilton, who two years ago was a candidate for chairman but lost 9-7 to Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), who did not seek re-election this year.
Joining the three delegation officers as members of the convention's Executive Committee are Rep. Guy Comtois (R-Barnstead), Rep. George Hurt (R-Gilford), Rep. Don Flanders (R-Laconia) and Rep. Mike Sylvia (R-Belmont)
The Executive committee was scheduled to meet following last night's public hearing on the proposed county budget to take up a request from Belknap County Commissioners for a $2,000 transfer in the maintenance budget. The transfer will allow the county to undertake repairs on a malfunctioning heating system at the Belknap County Courthouse.
County Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia), who did not seek re-election to a third term, served as the presenter for the county's budget request . The commission recommend a $27.3-million budget for 2015, which represents a 6.8 percent increase in expenditures and a 10 percent increase in the amount to be raised by property taxes,
The proposed increase in expenditures is the first since 2009, when the budget rose by 3.7 percent, before decreasing every year since. Likewise, the amount to be raised by property taxes has also fallen every year since 2009, when it grew by 0.9 percent.
The budget proposes expenditures of $27,330,778, which less revenues from sources other than property taxes of $12,296,021, leaves $15,034,757 to be raised by property taxes -- or $1,371,443 more than the $13,663,314 raised this year.
Personnel costs account for the largest share of the increased expenditures. The budget includes a 3 percent step increase for eligible employees, that is, those not at the top of their pay scale, based on their job performance as well as a 1.4 percent cost-of-living allowance (COLA) for all employees. This would be the first pay raise since 2012. The cost of the health insurance plan in which most employees are enrolled is budgeted to rise by 6.4 percent, and the less popular plan by 4.9 percent.
The budget for the Corrections Department funds the benefits of two positions created in the 2014 budget that were not filled this year because funding for the benefits was withheld. It also includes funding for the compensation and benefits of one additional officer. There is also funding for the compensation and benefits of a human resource director, a position that has been vacant for about six months, in the administrative budget.
Only two capital projects are funded by the budget — replacement of windows at the Belknap County Courthouse and a time and attendance system. The commission stripped funding for schematic design of an expanded, renovated or rebuilt county jail along with improvement of the HVAC system at the existing facility. However, the commissioners provided funding for the purchase of four cruisers in the Sheriff Department's budget.
The commission recommends drawing $1,775,000 from the fund balance to offset property taxes in 2015. The fund balance is estimated to have a balance of about $2.6 million at the end of 2014. The budget projects that $500,000 in excess revenue and $300,000 in operational savings will accrue to the fund balance in 2015. Withdrawing $1,775,000 would leave an estimated balance of $1.7 million at the end of 2015..