Council passes city budget without making further cuts

LACONIA — With one dissenting vote, the City Council on Monday night adopted the 2015-2016 municipal budget, which with a grand total appropriation of $63,989,938 represents an increase of $1,679,516, or 2.7 percent, over the budget for the fiscal year that ended on June 30.

Only Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4), voted against the budget, primarily because it funded the positions of four firefighters who were originally funded for two years with federal funds. Councilors Ava Doyle (Ward 1), David Bownes (Ward 2), Henry Lipman (Ward 3), Bob Hamel (Ward 5) and Armand Bolduc (Ward 6) all backed the budget.

The council trimmed $184,600 from the budget recommended by City Manager Scott Myers, with $42,500 to replace radios and $50,000 to reduce overtime at the Fire Department representing the largest reductions to city appropriations. At the council's direction, the School Board agreed it could live with having its appropriation cut by $100,000 by elimination one full-time position at the middle school, a part-time position in the elementary schools and deferring a program intended to provide every student access to a computer.

The total amount to be raised by property taxes is projected to $41,699,930, which includes $4,402,329 from the state education tax, an increase of of $1,105 032, or 2.7 percent over the tax commitment in 2014-2015. The property tax rate, including the state education tax rate of $2.43, is projected to rise from $22.40 per $1,000 of assessed value to $22.59, an increase of 19 cents.

Before the council turned to the budget Mike Persson of the School Board, who stressed that he was speaking as "a resident, business owner and taxpayer," urged the council not to reduce the city manager's budget. "These cuts are unlikely to catastrophic impacts on city services this year," he said. "However, these cuts will carry forward to future budgets and will erode the amounts that can be raised by taxes in future years."

Persson explained that the mechanics of the property tax cap limit the annual increase in the amount to be raised by property taxes to the percentage increase in inflation and taxable value of new construction. When both significantly limit the allowable increase, he warned, the council will face the choice of reducing municipal services or overriding the tax cap.

"All indications are that next year is likely to be such a year, " he continued, alluding to the negative rate of inflation that has prevailed in the first five months of this year.

Persson calculated that the budget reductions proposed by the council will spare the owner of an average home, priced at $146,000, about $16 in property taxes — "the cost of a burger and a beer at the Holy Grail."

Bownes, offered a motion to restore $50,000 to the school budget. Lipman seconded the motion "for discussion", then referred to Persson's statement only to discount his concerns. "We can manage through a zero percent inflation rate," he said. "I'm comfortable we can work together to overcome next year's financial challenge."

Lipman's reference to the undesignated fund balance or accumulated surplus prompted Mayor Ed Engler to ask Lipman if he intended to compensate for any shortfall by drawing from it. This year the city applied $835,000 from fund balance to supplement revenue and next year will apply $935,000. In response, Lipman suggested the fund balance could be part of a package to address a shortfall. "I think we can get through this," he repeated.

With that Bownes's proposal failed five-to-one and the budget was adopted by the same margin.

4-3 vote endorses sale of city lot to Irwin Marine

LACONIA — With Mayor Ed Engler casting the deciding the vote, the City Council on Monday night declined to reconsider its decision to sell the lot the city has leased to Lakeport Landing for the past 30 years to its neighbor and competitor Irwin Marine.

Councilors Ava Doyle (Ward 1), Henry Lipman (Ward 3) and Bob Hamel (Ward 5) voted against reconsideration while Councilors David Bownes (Ward 2), Brenda Baer (Ward 4) and Armand Boluc (Ward (6) voted in favor, leaving the mayor to break the stalemate.

Erica Blizzard, the owner of Lakeport Landing,offered $331,400 for the property in anticipation of the expiration of the long lease on October 31, 2015. Irwin Marine offered $335,000. The city commissioned an appraisal of the property, which set its value at $480,000. Last month City Manager Scott Myers wrote to both parties outlining the conditions of a sale specified by council and asking each to submit their "highest and best offers" in a sealed envelope. Irwin Marine offered $528,000 and Lakeport Landing stuck with its original bid but asked for time to commission a second professional appraisal. When the council met on June 8, councilors discussed the situation privately for almost an hour then voted four-to-two to accept the offer from Irwin Marine.

Two weeks later, Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4), who with Councilor Armand Bolduc (Ward 6), voted not to sell to Irwin Marine, asked the council to reconsider its decision.

When the council met Monday Mayor Ed Engler explained that before voting to reconsider its decision two-thirds of the councilors must vote to suspend the rule that requires motions to reconsider be made at the same meeting the vote was taken or by written notice at the next meeting. The council voted unanimously to suspend its rules.

Then, Engler explained, a councilor who voted in the majority when the decision was made must offer a motion to reconsider that vote. Bownes offered the motion, which was seconded by Baer, which again opened general debate on the issue.
Baer reminded her colleagues that on May 26 the council authorized Myers to conduct "informal conversation" with both parties. She added that in his letter to the marinas, which he did not share with the councilors, Myers wrote that it was "not intended to be a comprehensive bid document." Baer said that by soliciting bids, later in the letter, Myers contradicted his instructions from the council and the disclaimer.
Baer also referred to a meeting of the City Council in September, 2005, when The Daily Sun reported that the council granted the late Paul Blizzard, Erica's father, an option or right of first refusal to purchase the lot. "To be fair," she said, "we should give consideration to Lakeport Landing."
Several of those who present at the meeting in 2005 offered their recollection of what action the council took. Judy Krahulec, then a city councilor who chaired the Land and Buildings Subcommittee, said that the council "decided not to sell , but gave him (Blizzard) a first option to buy it." She said "it was voted on" and noted that Blizzard "didn't want it sold to anyone else."

Asked if there was any action taken by the city of Blizzard after the option was granted, Krahulec replied "That was out of our job description." She said she believed that Erica Blizzard, as her father's successor, holds the option.
Mark Fraser, who was mayor in 2005 said that he had "no clear recollection of a right of first refusal" and "certainly do not recall a vote." He stressed that "the votes were not there to sell the property" and "no action was taken other than renewing the lease."
Former Mayor Matt Lahey, who attended the meeting, told the council he "remembered the council voting on an option" and added that he also recalled Bolduc, who served on the council, "carrying the water on that issue."
Hamel, who also served on the council 2005 in place of Rick Judkins who resigned, said he had no recollection of a vote to grant Blizzard an option. Nor, he said, was any action taken to formalize an option. "It should have been taken care of back," he remarked, "and it wasn't."
After making no mention of the option during the 10 months the council has wrestled with the issue, Bolduc, who served on the council in 2005, volunteered that Blizzard was granted an option. "I can't understand why the council has ignored that," he said. "I was in shock. I'm in disbelief. This was not done in the right way."
Whatever occurred in 2005, Engler pointed out that apart from a note in the minutes that a reference to Lakeport Landing was removed from the agenda of the Land and Buildings Committee, the paper trail runs cold. He said there is no record of a resolution to provide a right of first refusal or of a request of the city attorney to draft documents specifying the terms of an option.
Lipman said that this time around council was advised not to negotiate exclusively with one party and that the two bids were "very far apart." He suggested that the council could have negotiated a sale with both parties, but only if the bids were close.
Doyle agreed that "the disparities in the offers was too big to ignore." As for the supposed option, she stressed that "anything that has to do with real estate has to be in writing" and asked "where is the paperwork? I don't know who dropped the ball," she continued "or even if the ball was put in play."
"Not undoing this is the wrong thing to do," insisted Bownes. "Why didn't you bring up the option?' he asked Bolduc, then quickly added "I don't expect an answer.' Remarking that "I'm mindful of all the fuzzy history," he said "I can't ignore the decision of the prior council. Urging the council to vote to reconsider and rescind its earlier decision, he snapped, "that's my two cents."
Aware that he held the deciding vote, Engler said he would not vote to reconsider. He said there was no consensus among the councilors about which of a number of factors was decisive and explained that he believed that Irwin Marine took Myer's letter, particularly its request for "highest and best offers," at face value. When Baer reminded Engler that the council, when instructing Myers, did not mention highest and best offers, he replied "I will not dispute that. But, Irwin took the city manager at his word."
"There is no right with this whole thing," Hamel remarked. "It should be a good neighbor type of thing," he continued. "The other business should let Lakeport Landing remain there."

New Hampshire Humane Society Stretched to Limit by Recent arrivals (506 w/cuts from Karen)

LACONIA — The New Hampshire Humane Society has found its resources stretched to the limit by recent events, which saw 70 cats come into their care last week as well as 22 dogs which were taken into protective custody in Carroll County.

''We had been cruising along rather comfortably until this happened,'' says Marylee Gorham, executive director of the society, which is headquartered on Meredith Center Road.

She said that 55 of the cats were turned over locally by an individual who the society has been working with for several years by providing free spaying and neutering services, but who became overwhelmed by recent new litters.

''Fortunately we were able to work with the Rozzie Mae Animal Alliance of Conway, which provided free spaying and neutering for 33 of the 55 cats who are now available for adoption,'' says Gorham.

The Rozzie Mae group has a van which is equipped with an operating room which allows the organization to bring its services to all parts of northern and central New Hampshire.

Gorham said that another 15 cats were brought to the society late last week from another local location, and on the same day Ossipee police removed 60 dogs from a boarding shelter in that town, 22 of whom ended up with the Humane Society with the others going to humane societies in Ossipee and Conway.

She said that the humane society's new veterinarian, Dr. Sioban Bach, is examining the animals to identify health problems and possible infections.

''We've already named all the dogs but because they're in protective custody they can't yet be adopted,'' said Gorham, who says that her favorite is a Black and Tan Coonhound who has been named ''Pippi'' in honor of Pippi Longstocking. ''She was the only dog that wasn't barking when they brought her in. She was just sitting there and looking around sort of like she was trying to figure out what kind of a situation she was in.'' says Gorham.

She said that the dogs which were brought in were thin, showing they we undernourished, and that their fur was coated with feces and one dog's coat was yellow from urine.

''We've been feeding them four times a day and constantly bathing them,'' says Gorham, who says that she is hoping that some of them will soon be able to go into foster homes.

She said that it was apparent that some of the dogs haven't been outside for some length of time, as they appeared almost afraid to walk on the grass. ''It's sort of what I would call Doggie PTSD'' says Gorham.

The Humane Society is looking for donations of laundry detergent as well as canned dog food and would also be grateful for any monetary donations.

''We've got ourselves some new animals which means we're using a lot of our space. But the good thing is that summer is the high time for animal adoptions and we're hoping that they'll all be finding forever homes in the near future,'' says Gorham.