County Republicans spurn minimum wage raise


CONCORD — Withe sole exception of Rep. David Huot (D-Laconia), the remaining members of the Belknap County delegation, all Republicans, this week voted with the majority when the New Hampshire House of Representatives rejected legislation to introduce a minimum wage of $9 per hour which would rise to $12 per hour in 2019 by a vote of 193 to 169.

Those voting against the bill were Reps. Marc Abear and Herb Vadney of Meredith, Glen Aldrich and Norm Silber of Gilford, Barbara Comtois of Barnstead, Dennis Fields and Tim Lang of Sanbornton, Ray Howard and Peter Varney of Alton, Michael Maloney of Gilmanton, Peter Spanos of Laconia, and Michael Sylvia of Belmont. Republican Reps. Robert Fisher and Don Flanders of Laconia, Jon Plumer of Belmont and Valerie Fraser of New Hampton were excused and did not vote.

New Hampshire has no state minimum wage, but instead applies the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour, ensuring itself of the lowest minimum wage among the six New England states. The minimum wage is $9 in Maine, $10 in Vermont, $11 in Massachusetts, $10.10 in Connecticut and $9.60 in Rhode Island.

Nights at speedway possible after loss of NASCAR race

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New Hampshire Motor Speedway, 2015. (File photo)

LOUDON — The general manager of New Hampshire Motor Speedway said the track is looking at a variety of options for replacing the September NASCAR race that it will lose to Las Vegas next year, including the possible installation of lights, which would allow the speedway to host night events.
David McGrath, executive vice president and general manager of the track, said Thursday he is exploring having a race weekend in September which will include regional racing divisions, possibly in conjunction with a music festival.
He said current local ordinances prevent NHMS from having a stand-alone music festival and also having racing after 7:30 p.m., which has kept the track from adding lights.
He said that the subject of night events "is a conversation we'll continue to have" with local officials.
The track, which was founded by three-time Laconia World Championship Sled Dog Derby winner Keith Bryar in the 1960s, was originally known as Bryar Motorsport Park. It featured the Laconia Motorcycle Classic, a 100-mile event on its 1.6-mile road course, as well as local stock car racers on Saturday nights on a 5/8 mile oval as well as Can-Am series races and Sports Car Club of America races which brought actor Paul Newman to Loudon. It was sold to Don and Lulu Brymer in the late 1970s and then to Bob Bahre, owner of the Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine, in 1989. Bahre turned the speedway into a modern track with a 1.058-mile oval in 1990, and the track started hosting NASCAR races in 1993.
It went to two NASCAR races in 1997 after Bob Bahre and Bruton Smith partnered to buy the North Wilkesboro Speedway, with Smith moving one race to his Texas track and Bahre bringing the other to Loudon.
Bahre sold the speedway before the 2008 season for $340 million to Smith, who heads Speedway Motorsports Inc., which also owns the Las Vegas track as well as six others.
At the time of the sale in late 2007, speculation was rife in NASCAR circles that Smith would eventually shift one of the New Hampshire races to one of his other tracks, but SMI made major investment at the Loudon track and kept both races at the track until its most recent decision to move one of them.
The track has been a key player in the state's tourism industry for over 20 years. According to a 2011 Southern New Hampshire University study, the two Sprint Cup races at NHMS added $179 million in spending and $103 million in income, and generated 2,500 jobs – including 1,500 part-time jobs at NHMS.
Speaking at a press conference at the track Thursday, McGrath said that the loss of one of the major attractions at the speedway is a cause for concern but not for alarm. "The wheels aren't coming off the wagon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway."
New Hampshire Motor Speedway did not have sponsorship for one of its two Cup races last year and attendance has dropped since the 2001-2010 period, when it routinely drew 100,000 fans to both races. It has not announced sponsorship for its two 2017 Cup races.
McGrath said that attendance and sponsorship challenges at the track matched those of other tracks, and he didn't feel they were the reason for the decision to end 20 years of history of two Cup races a year at the speedway. "It was an offer we couldn't refuse," said McGrath.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority approved a $2.5 million incentive package Wednesday afternoon for the 1.5-mile Las Vegas track to add a second Cup date. Last March the Vegas track drew 115,000 to its NASCAR race, 96,000 of whom came from out of state. The race had an estimated economic impact of $139 million for Nevada.
"We are not pulling up the tent stakes and leaving the Northeast, leaving New Hampshire and leaving New England," McGrath said. "We still have one race weekend that is absolutely going to be the best. Decisions like this can be gut-wrenching and be tough. But it's a business decision and it's one that makes sense to me and it makes sense certainly to our company."
He described hearing from fans, including an old high school friend who described the news as a "gut punch."
"I'm right there with them. I care about them, and I understand this is disruptive. But this is going to get better," he said. "Give me some time. Let me show you what we're capable of as a team. We understand the angst. We understand there were two races, now there's one. Let us make this great. Don't turn your backs on us. Let's work together," said McGrath.

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New Hampshire Motor Speedway will host its last September NASCAR race this fall but will continue to host its July race in future years. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

Guarino, Bishop confronted at Gilmanton forum


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Kelley Teunessen, wife of school board candidate Michael Teunessen, confronts Marshall Bishop during his time at the podium during a candidates' forum in Gilmanton Wednesday. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)


Candidates' forum grows testy over selectmen's race


GILMANTON — Opponents of Donald Guarino peppered the candidate for selectman with questions about his past violations of law, including a Feb. 15 arrest for failure to appear in a civil case, during an often-testy candidates' forum at Gilmanton Elementary School Tuesday night.

During the forum, which included prepared statements from a host of candidates for local office, Guarino's supporters also lobbed questions, but these questions were about ongoing litigation between incumbent Selectman Marshall Bishop and the Gilmanton Planning Board.

Kendra Reed challenged Guarino's assertion that he didn't need to discuss his legal troubles.

"I do think it's relevant to ask you specifically. I'd like to know how the townspeople of Gilmanton can trust your judgment with a $3 million municipal budget, regulations and decision making, when you've historically shown a fundamental disregard for state laws and regulations," she said.

Guarino responded that recent news coverage detailed his arrest as the result of a breach of contract ruling over his work as a contractor.

"Kendra, this is all in the paper. Is there a question?" he asked.

Reed said, "As selectman of Gilmanton, how can we trust you to abide by our laws, laws put in place to protect our community and our citizens?"

Guarino said, "I think it's interesting that I tried to address this, and I wasn't going to address it, that you would ask the question. So you've made your statement, so why don't we just leave the statement as it is?

But his critics weren't satisfied.

Reed said, "My question is how can we trust you?"

Guarino said, "There's actually checks and balances to protect against theft, fraud, all the things we're concerned about."

The checks and balances included multiple public officials guarding the public money.

Guarino, who gave a detailed platform for reforming town government, noted that part of his presentation was a way to save money in the town budget.

"I wasn't actually talking about wasting money, like wasting taxpayer dollars on a frivolous lawsuit," he said, in a jab at Bishop.

Marshall Bishop operates Gilmanton Winery, and he is in a legal dispute with the Planning Board over his restaurant.

On Thursday, March 16, at 7 p.m., the Zoning Board will resume a public hearing on the Bishops' request for a variance for their restaurant in the rural zone. On Jan. 20, the Planning Board, through attorney Paul Fitzgerald of Wescott Law of Laconia, submitted a "respondent's answer and request for declaratory relief" at the Belknap County Superior Court.

In this document, the Planning Board asserted that the Gilmanton Winery has been operating "a full service restaurant with onsite food preparation without appropriate approvals from the Planning Board."

The Planning Board asserted that a special exception granted to Gilmanton Winery by the Zoning Board "provides that the 'site will be overseen by the Planning Board' and the Petitioners have refused to return to the Planning Board for such oversight and review." The Bishops, through their legal counsel, Bianco Professional Association of Concord, asked the Planning Board to "specify the particular regulations or laws it alleges the Winery has violated and the supporting allegations that would justify forcing the Bishops to begin site plan approval anew."

Critics of Bishop, including Guarino, have asserted that he has cost the town nearly $5,000 due to the litigation.

But Guarino's critics pointed to his record of running afoul of the law.

"This is a very big concern to me. I still don't understand how I should trust you," Reed said.

But a Guarino supporter strode to the microphone to offer a rebuttal of sorts.

Kelley Teunessen said, "How much is your case, even though it's separate from the town, how much is your case costing us taxpayers, as opposed to Marshall Bishop, who was a selectman and knew the ropes?"

Guarino said, "My case is costing the taxpayers of the town of Gilmanton zero."

But Rob Carpenter asked Guarino how the voters can trust him.

Guarino said, "You're actually questioning me when I know what the rules are concerning having a restaurant in the rural district."

Carpenter said, "I'm not talking about that."

"We're talking about laws," Guarino said.

"Show me a law within the town of Gilmanton that I don't respect," he said.

Carpenter said the oath of office requires selectmen to swear to uphold the laws of the state.

On Feb. 15, Donald Guarino was arrested as he turned himself in at the sheriff's office, according to the Belknap County Sheriff's Office.

Rick Watrous, a former legislator who lives with his wife in Concord, said he hired Guarino as a contractor in November 2013 to work on the couple's sunroom and to shore up the foundation, but that much of the work remained uncompleted. In 2015, Watrous won in small claims court. The court ruled that Guarino failed to fulfill the contract. When Guarino failed to appear in court three different times, arrest warrants were issued, the last resulting in his arrest.

Previously, the former Gilmanton selectman ran afoul of the law as a selectman in late 2014. He pleaded guilty Dec. 4, 2014, in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division, to a violation level charge of forging a vehicle inspection sticker.

Kelley Teunessen, wife of school board candidate Michael Teunessen, confronted Bishop during his time at the podium to introduce himself to voters. In October 2016, selectmen discussed an incident in which Michael Teunessen was a member of the Zoning Board of Adjustment, and Bishop had come before the ZBA for a variance that Teunessen voted against.

"You talk about taking care of the taxpayers? How can you be a selectman when you're suing the town because of your winery?" Kelley Teunessen said. "You're not working with the town. You're suing the ZBA. You had the nerve to out my husband, Mike Teunessen, trying to get him off ZBA, when he was the only one to question how to do things right. Personally, I do not want somebody like you as my selectman."

Bishop said, "What was the question?"

Teunessen said, "If you would have done everything you were supposed to do, you wouldn't be in this predicament."

Bishop said, "I can't say anything because it's under litigation, but everyone has their opinion."

Guarino and Bishop are running for a three-year seat on the board of selectmen. Voting is Tuesday, March 14.


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Incumbent Selectman Marshall Bishop greets voters during a candidates' forum in Gilmanton Wednesday. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)


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Sandy Guarino, wife of selectman's candidate Don Guarino, asks questions and challenges incumbent Marshall Bishop during Wednesday's candidates' forum in Gilmanton Wednesday. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)