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Judge rules in favor of Belknap Convention majority

LACONIA — A Belknap County Superior Court judge has ruled against a legal action brought by Democratic members of the Belknap County Convention against Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), the chairman of the convention, for permitting a member to participate by telephone in what proved a critical vote.
The suit, brought by Rep. Ruth Gulick (D-New Hampton) and the other four Democrats on the convention, alleged that Worsman had violated the state's Right-To-Know law by permitting Rep. Guy Comtois (R-Barnstead) to cast a vote without first gaining approval for his participation from the entire body.
The vote was taken when the convention, then wrestling with the 2014 county budget, met in the midst of a heavy snowstorm on February 18, which delayed the assembly of a quorum until three-quarters of an hour past the appointed time of 5 p.m. Only 13 of the 18 members were present when the meeting was convened. Prior to convening the meeting Worsman arranged for Rep. Guy Comtois (R-Barnstead), who was tending to a failing roof, to participate by telephone. When the meeting opened, Worsman explained Comtois would participate by telephone and phone device was placed on the table and she spoke with him to confirm their connection.
Rep. Beth Arsenault (D-Laconia) then offered a motion to adopt the commission's proposed budget for 2014, which was second by Rep. Lisa DiMartino (D-Gilford). The members in the room divided seven-to-six in favor of the motion, but Comtois, participating by telephone, voted against and the motion failed to achieve majority support. Two weeks later, on March 4, the normal convention majority adopted its own version of the county budget.
Judge James D. O'Neill III, who heard arguments on the case on April 3, ruled Tuesday that since no one had objected to Comtois' participation at the February 18 meeting that they had allowed, within the ordinary meaning of the word, his participation, and denied the request to disallow his vote.
He also ruled that another part of the Right-To-Know law which would have required that the minutes of the meeting contain the reason why Comtois was not physically present and identify anyone else present with him at the place from which he was calling had not been violated. He noted that the minutes did say he was ''tending to a roof emergency'' and didn't identify anyone who was with him at the location from which he was calling because, presumably, there was no one else there.
The suit had originally been brought by the Democrats against Worsman and convention Clerk Jane Cormier (R-Alton). Judge O'Neill allowed the Democrats to amend the legal action to include the Belknap County Convention as a defendant.
The Convention was represented in the legal action by Attorney Barton L. Mayor of the Concord law firm of Upton and Hatfield. Legal fees for the county will be paid by the Belknap County Commissioners, who had originally asked that the convention approve a supplemental budget appropriation for the case but modified their position and agreed to pay it from the county's budget for legal expenses.

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 April 2014 12:29

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Soldier On looking at 3 sites in Plymouth for project for homeless veterans

PLYMOUTH — A proposal to create a Soldier On housing project in the Plymouth area is still under consideration despite a setback suffered in December last year in Ashland when that town's zoning board reversed an earlier decision made in October, which had granted three variances the project needed in order to proceed.

Soldier On is a private nonprofit organization that defines itself as being committed to ending veteran homelessness by providing transitional housing and support services.
Cathy Bentwood, executive director of the Bridge House in Plymouth, who has, along with Alex Ray, owner of the Common Man restaurant company, been leading the effort to bring a Soldier On project to the area, says that in recent months three properties, all along the Tenney Mountain Highway in Plymouth, have been identified as potential sites.
Bentwood said nearly $100,000 has been raised to cover pre-development costs for the project, which in the case of Ashland envisaged developing a 9 acre property on Riverside drive with four buildings which would have a total of 50 one-bedroom units which would have been owned by the veterans.
The project got preliminary approval for three requested variances from the Ashland Zoning Board last October but the decision was challenged by Selectman Phil Preston on the grounds that an abutter had not been notified and at a rehearing in December, with two different members serving on the board, the variance requests were denied, killing the project.
Bentwood said that she thinks that the Ashland decision was shortsighted and that much of the testimony at the hearing by opponents was misleading and even disrespectful to veterans in its tone.
She said that what makes Soldier On unique, compared to a conventional homeless shelter, is that it offers permanent housing, in which residents have an ownership stake, with the services they need to get their lives back on track. Services include mental health therapy, substance abuse counseling, job training and even employment opportunities.
Bentwood said that at some of its facilities, such as the one in Pittsfield, Mass., Soldier On operates an emergency shelter, a transitional facility and a permanent housing arrangement. Bentwood said the plan for the Plymouth-area facility, which would be the first Soldier On project in New Hampshire, will only offer long-term housing as there are pre-existing shelters and transitional services for veterans in the region.
The facility that is planned for the Plymouth area would have space for about 50 veterans living in small, single-residency units. By the time they're ready to move into the facility, the concept holds, the veterans would have already reached a point of stability and would be ready for employment. Veterans would buy their way into the facility by paying an initial fee of about $2,500, and then would pay a relatively small, inclusive monthly rent, such as $500. If the veterans choose to move out, they would "sell" their share back to the cooperative.
The veterans would elect their own leaders in the cooperative and would have a say over who gets admitted into the cooperative.
Jack Downing, president and CEO of Soldier On, a national homeless veterans advocacy group which has been involved in efforts to bring a project to the area for several years, says that he remains confident that the project will succeed.
''It's probably going to happen. There are a lot of regional community leaders involved and the project has serious community support,'' said Downing.
He said that he will be visiting the area in May to to review a portfolio of potential properties for the project site and noted that Ashland was actually further south than the area where the project had originally been envisioned.
Downing said that the project would cost between $5-$6.25 million and would be a major investment in the community.
Bentwood said that she is hoping that the project will be able to garner the additional community support that it deserves and noted in a recent letter to supporters that Downing has said that if the project fails that the funds they have contributed will be returned.

Last Updated on Saturday, 19 April 2014 12:14

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Belmont Rec. Trail almost ready for bids

BELMONT — After 14 years of planning, town land use technician Rick Ball said the Belmont Recreation Trail is a few steps away from going out to bid.

Ball said yesterday that they are waiting for all the snow to melt at which point the state will finish the "categorical exclusions" or historical and environment impact study. He said he expects no issues.

He said a minor design change need to be made behind the Agway Store on Rte. 3 because the owners of two abutting properties would like to see a bank of mature oak trees saved — something Ball said was preferable to cutting them down.

"As soon as those things are done we can negotiate money to pay for the easements," he said.

In March, voters approved the final chunk of town money needed to complete the $960,000 first phase of the trail by allowing money held in a special purpose fund for a different segment of the trail to be used for this one.

This segment will run from the Mosquito Bridge on the Belmont-Tilton-Sanbornton line to the Laconia city line. Laconia continues to design its section that will connect the existing Laconia portion with Belmont's.

Ball said federal law prohibits the town from discussing easement payments with trail abutters at this point but once the state determines there are any historical or environmental issues and a new route around the oak trees is determined, he can begin the negotiations.

After negotiations with land owners, he said the trail will be preliminarily designed with preliminary specifications and an estimate. At that point Ball said the Department of Transportation will issue the final plan specifications.

If the construction and engineering comes in under budget, the project will go to bid.

Ball said at this point in time, the project appears to be well within the allocated budget.

For those who would like for information the BRATT (Belmont Recreation Alternative Trail Team) is hold a meeting on April 24 at 7 p.m. at the Corner Meeting House.

Last Updated on Friday, 18 April 2014 11:49

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Hard winter drills $95k hole in public works budget

LACONIA — With another eight snow events to deal with in March, the Department of of Public Works overspent its winter maintenance by almost 25 percent.

City Manager Scott Myers told the City Council this week that the DPW had spent $502,639 through the end of March against its budget of $407,500, leaving a deficit of $95,139.

This winter the department spent $376,880 on salt and sand purchases, which was $46,880 more than budgeted. Myers noted that because much of the snow fell outside working hours, the cost of overtime was double the $50,000 projected. Only the appropriation for private contractors of $27,500, which showed a balance of $1,763, proved sufficient.

The deficit all but equaled the balance of $95,222 in the winter maintenance reserve account, which was established two years ago to offset unanticipated expenditures for winter maintenance. Myers said that before drawing on the account he will seek to apply unexpended fiscal year 2014 appropriations against the deficit in order to maintain a balance in the reserve account.

NOTE: City Manager Scott Myers reported that as of April 15 the net increase in the value of new construction was $19.8 million, $800,000 than projected in preparing the 2014-2015 budget. The value of construction, which represents the difference between the value of building permits and demolition permits issued between April 1 and March 31 multiplied by the current property tax rate, together with the rate of inflation is used to calculate the property tax cap.

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 April 2014 01:47

Hits: 199

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