City holds off on accepting untracked money

LACONIA — The City Council voted Monday night to table adoption of a state law which would allow the city to accept and expend sums of less than $10,000 in unanticipated revenues or gifts outside of the normal appropriation process.
Citing litigation filed by former Mayor Tom Tardif which claims the provision violates state law as well as the city charter, the council voted unanimously to wait until that case is resolved before taking action.
Tardif claims the council violated the city charter when it voted 5-0 on Oct. 26 to allow two separate expenditures for a total of $17,891.82 after posted public hearings were held where no one spoke.
In addition, the suit claims that City Manager Scott Myers did not comply to Tardif's Right-To-Know request for information about drug forfeiture money in a timely fashion.
According to an attachment provided in the pleadings, which are now at the Carroll County Superior Court, Myers received an opinion from an attorney at the New Hampshire Municipal Association who advised that the city could use the provisions of RSA 32:95-b — which dictates how towns can spend unanticipated revenues that come after the budget is approved — as long as council authorizes the expenditure vote by a two-thirds majority vote.
Tardif said he disagrees with the advice given by the attorney at the New Hampshire Municipal Association and said giving the manager free reign to spend federal civil forfeiture drug money would be like creating a stream of money flowing through the city for which no one could account.
He has asked the court to stop the expenditure of $8,000 for drug surveillance equipment and $9,891.82 for items not specified. He also wants the court to stop the City Council from taking any action authorized by its October votes.
RSA 31:95-b allows any town or village district to accept and expend, without further action by the town or village district meeting money from state, federal or other governmental unit or private source which becomes available during the fiscal year. It requires public hearings for expenditures of $10,000 or more. It does not specifically mention city councils.
The resolution which was tabled cites RSA 47:1 which provides that all powers vested in towns shall be exercised by city councils and would require public hearings for all expenditures of more than $10,000 in unanticipated funds.
The council did vote Monday night to accept and expend $3,000 in donations made to the city ,$1,000 from New Futures Inc. for use in drug prevention and $2,000 from the Lake Winnipesaukee Association for the removal of milfoil in Black Brook.

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Downtown holiday parade will be colorful with late afternoon start (573)

LACONIA — The annual Laconia Holiday Parade, which for the last four years has been held on a Saturday afternoon, will switch back to a Sunday this year and will feature more than 60 groups and floats.
The parade will get underway at 4 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 29. Held snow or shine, the family-friendly event is organized jointly by the Downtown Laconia Main Street Initiative and the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce. The parade will begin at Wyatt Park and finish at Veterans Square.
"For decades, the Holiday Parade was held on a Sunday", said Karmen Gifford, executive director of the Chamber. "We experimented with Saturdays for a few years, but are returning to Sunday this year by popular demand."
"The parade culminates with the lighting of our city's giant tree in Veterans Square," said John Moriarty, president of the downtown group. "Starting the parade later means the tree will be lit at the best time so it can be displayed to full effect."

The change in time also will highlight the start of plans under way to upgrade the tree lights for 2016.
He said those individuals, families, or groups who wish to register a float still have a narrow window in which to do so by contacting Sue Bullerwell at All My Life Jewelers on Main Street for more information.
"The parade is a festive way for our community to kick off the holidays," said Bullerwell, who chairs the downtown group's Promotions Committee. "We are seeing a lot of groups returning, but with the new opportunities that a nighttime parade offers, we are seeing some new people with new ideas registering, too."
She said many groups are evidently enthusiastic about the new hours of the parade and the opportunity to let their light shine. Bank of New Hampshire's float is called "Gingerbread House on Candy Cane Lane," and, for the first time, will be illuminated.
Other parade participants will include Miss Winnipesaukee and Miss Weirs Beach, the Girl Scouts, the Streetcar Company with "A Christmas Story" theme; the Emergency Veterinary Hospital of Meredith with their canine company; plus the Kiwanis Club; the pace car from New Hampshire Motor Speedway, featuring their mascot, Milo the Moose; and the new Winnipesaukee Muskrats with their mascot, Scrat.
There will also be many classic cars featured, many chosen for their bright colors to show prominently in the parade lighting. Among them will be a handmade tribute re-creation of a 1934 Griffin, whose hues might even rival the holiday tree.
Another milestone of this year's parade involves the marching bands with Laconia, Belmont and Gilford High Schools performing.

"But this year will be the final parade for Debbie Gibson, who is retiring as band director of the Laconia Sachems band," Bullerwell said.
"We have heard a rumor from the North Pole that Santa will also be present and taking part in the lighting of the tree, assisted by elves from the Christmas Village," Gifford said.
Moriarty expressed gratitude for those businesses that contributed, which in turn makes this gift to the community possible.

"This is not a commercial or mercantile stunt" Moriarty said. "This parade brings together children of all ages 'from 9 to 92' from across the Lakes Region and provides a chance to catch up with neighbors and family."
This year's sponsors include All My Life jewelers, Bead Divine, Condodemetraky Engineering, Laconia Village Bakery, MC Cycle & Sport, Polished & Proper Barber Shop, The Studio, Wayfarer Coffee Roasters and Yoga from the Heart.

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Many causes for spike in Gilmanton tax rate

GILMANTON —Hindsight is 20/20, and at least one selectman is now wishing they had taken a half-million dollars from the town's surplus to keep the property tax bill from spiking. They didn't, and now taxpayers in Gilmanton will have to dig deeper to pay their bills.

After reviewing and comparing the 2014 annual budget with the 2015 annual budget, former Selectboard Chairman Don Guarino has identified a number of factors that contributed to the $1.41 increase in the town portion of the 2015 property tax rate, a 34 percent increase. The overall tax rate rose by $3.01, or 13.1 percent, going from $22.93 per $1,000 of property value, to $25.94.

Initially, said Guarino, the board, which consisted of Brett Currier, Steve MacDonald and himself, decided not to take $500,000 from the town's $1.3 million undesignated fund balance or surplus to offset the 2015 tax burden.

"I think we thought at the time that if the Stage Road Bridge failed, we would need $600,000 for an 80-20 state replacement," he said yesterday, noting the bridge replacement is on the state Department of Transportation list for next year.

"In hindsight, I think it was a mistake not to take the $500,000 from (the fund). We took $300,000 for the 2014 budget and $500,000 for 2015 would have lowered the tax rate by about a dollar," Guarino said. "We hurt elderly people and those on fixed income. We need to be more considerate here. It was a mistake. This is their money."

Guarino said the unexpended fund balance of $1.3 million was, at the time, about where it was in 2014 when the board voted to take $300,000 to apply against the tax burden.

A recent email sent to taxpayers by an unknown source and forwarded through the town administrator's officer to The Laconia Daily Sun at the request of Rachel Hatch, who replaced MacDonald on the board during the middle of the year, said the town may "pay down" the tax rate by using the surplus. The memo noted that the town should maintain a balance of between 5 and 17 percent of the annual operating budget.

Seventeen percent of $3.5 million, which is this year's total budget, is $595,000.

Hatch said Monday night that she "doesn't want to play the blame game."

"What's done is done and I am choosing to move on," she said. "I just want to move on as a community."

"For the past few years, the board, with good intentions, used the undesignated fund balance to "buy down" our tax rate to off set our bills," read the notice sent to taxpayers. "By doing so, we all enjoyed paying lower taxes in those years. Eventually there is a 'spike' in the tax rate as the undesignated fund balance cannot continually be used to offset taxes, such as we're seeing in the current year..." the memo read.

The letter to taxpayers also noted that the school district tax rate increased by $1.91 per $1,000 in valuation from $14.82 to $16.73 or 12.8 percent.

According to the state Department of Revenue, the total property value of the town went from $447,518,000 in 2014 to $450,393,000 in 2015.

Information gathered from comparing the 2014 warrant and the 2015 warrant show that voters opted to spend $153,065 more on warrant article appropriations that were not offset by capital reserve accounts in 2015 than they did in 2014.
For the purposes of accounting, money taken from a capital reserve account is revenue.

In 2014, the voters approved $21,200 for raises for town officials, $900 for a raise for the town clerk tax collector, a $51,964 addition to a capital fund, a $17,500 contribution to the the underwater breathing apparatus fund, $4,000 for solid waste, $2,000 for a non-capital reserve fund for records storage, $7,000 for a health and dental fund and $52,500 for the Gilmanton Year-Round Library. The total of the warrant articles not offset by capital accounts was $153,065.

In 2015, voters approved $241,239 in warrant articles, including an additional $50,000 for ditching the roads, $34,000 for purchasing and equipping a new police cruiser, $8,000 to the fire and radio capital fund, $10,000 for the statistical assessment update, $51,964 for the bridge repair, $17,500 for the underwater breathing apparatus, $3,000 for the health and dental account, $2,800 for the town clerk tax collectors computer, $1,000 for milfoil eradication, $17,500 for raises and $45,975 for the Gilmanton Year-Round Library.

Also, the voters voted down the selectmen's operating budget, meaning they voted in the default budget, which was $3,515,283 or $47,153 greater than the $3,468,130 that appeared on the ballot.

Finally, according to Town Administrator Paul Branscombe in a statement made to the board at its most recent meeting, the automobile registration revenue account may have been underestimated by as much as $300,000.

All totaled, the nonexistent revenue offsets plus the additional spending, mostly on warrant articles supported by the taxpayers equals $735,327, which led to the spike in this year's tax rate.

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