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Belknap Commission challenges delegation's legal authority to sue anybody

LACONIA — The attorney representing the Belknap County Commission has written to her counterpart representing the Belknap County Convention, which last month voted to petition the Belknap County Superior to resolve the dispute between the two over the county budget, questioning the authority of the convention to sue the commission.

Throughout the year the Republican majority of the convention has insisted that the convention can rewrite the budget proposed by the commission by adding or deleting, raising or lowering appropriations for particular line items. And, in the course of managing the budget, the commission may only reallocate funds from one line to another with the approval of the Executive Committee of the convention.

With equal resolve, the commissioners claim that the authority of the convention is limited to itemizing appropriations in 13 categories accord with the "Statement of County Appropriations and Revenue as Voted," or MS-42 form, submitted to the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration. Within these categories, the commission contends it can distribute funds among different lines without the approval of the convention as long as expenditures do not exceed the total appropriations of the particular categories.

In her letter Sharon Cuddy Somers of Donahue, Tucker & Ciandella, reminded David Horan that since July, when he was retained by the convention, she has twice asked him to explain the legal authority supporting the convention's position. Receiving no reply, she wrote "we can only assume that no such authority exists."

Furthermore, Somers noted that the prospect of litigation raises the question of whether the convention can bring legal actions and claimed that it has no such authority. The enumerated powers of the convention are prescribed by statute, but "nowhere does the statute indicate that the delegation (convention) may bring legal actions in court on behalf of the county, let alone against the county commissioners."

Likewise, Somers challenges the authority of the convention to retain and pay legal counsel. Although the authority to appropriate funds rests with the convention, the authority to enter contracts and approve expenditures rests with the commission. Before retaining Horan, the convention, without authorization from the commission, sought legal advice from the Mitchell Group, incurring a bill that has yet to be paid.

In closing, Somers advised Horan that the commissioners seek to avoid spending scarce public funds defending a lawsuit without merit, which the convention has no authority to initiate. Nevertheless, she continued "the commissioners will defend against the action and will seek to have those individuals who voted to proceed with the action be held personally responsible for attorney's fees and costs."

The vote to file suit was 10 to 4, with all 10 of the Republican members present voting in favor and all four of the Democratic members present voting against. Those in the majority were Representatives Colette Worsman, who chairs the convention, Bob Greemore and Herb Vadney of Meredith, Jane Cormier and Stephen Holmes of Alton, Guy Comtois of Barnstead, Chuck Fink and Mike Sylvia of Belmont, Richard Burchell of Gilmanton and Frank Tilton of Laconia. The four Democrats present were Lisa DiMartino of Gilford, Ruth Gulick of New Hampton, David Huot of Laconia and Ian Raymond of Sanbornton. Three Republicans — Don Flanders and Bob Luther of Laconia and Dennis Fields of Sanbornton — and one Democrat — Beth Arsenault of Laconia — were absent.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 November 2013 01:36

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Value of waterfront down, except for properties worth $2M or more

MEREDITH — Other than waterfront properties on Lake Winnipesaukee worth more than $2 million each, all classes of property diminished in value when the valuation was updated in anticipation of setting the 2013 property tax rate.

Assessor Jim Commerford reported that the aggregate taxable value of the town decreased by $116,115,857, or 6.25-percent, from $1,858,056,791 in 2012 to $1,741,940,934 in 2013. The percentage change was consistent with the 2012 assessment ratio, which measures assessed values against market values, of 106.1 percent.

While the value of all waterfront properties dropped 4.6 percent, properties on Lake Winnipesaukee valued at more than $2 million appreciated 11.9 percent, their steepest increase since values were last updated in 2009. By contrast the value of all property on Lake Winnipesaukee fell 5.3 percent, with those valued at less than $1 million experiencing the sharpest decline of 9 percent while the value of properties valued between $1 million and $2 million slipped just 0.2 percent. The value of island properties on the lake slid 3.5 percent.

The value of properties on Lake Winnisquam declined 1.8 percent, on Lake Waukewan 2 percent, on Lake Wicwas 4.7 percent and Lake Pemigewasset 12 percent.

The value of single family homes dropped 9 percent, condominiums 5 percent, and multifamily dwellings 5.4 percent. Manufactured housing units in parks suffered the greatest loss of value — 30-percent.

Commercial and industrial property depreciated by 3.2 percent and vacant land fell 17 percent in value.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 November 2013 01:15

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At trial, band leader Eric Grant denies 2006 sexual assault of 10-year-old niece

LACONIA — After four days of testimony, Eric Grant took the stand in his own defense yesterday, telling the jury that he was not the "monster" is accused of being.

"I did not do this," he said breaking down into tears for the first time since his trial for aggravated felonious sexual assault began on November 12.

"I have lived for a year not thinking I could go home and see my little boys," the popular local band leader said. "I've waited a year to tell the jury — these people — that I did not do this."

Grant ex-wife's sister's daughter accused him of digitally assaulting her at a 2006 New Year's Eve Party at his former house in Gilford. The girl was 10 when the alleged assault happened and she told her therapist about it during a session with her therapist in 2012.

During her testimony, the girl was sitting next to Grant on an "L" shaped couch during the party when he allegedly slipped his finger down the back of her pants and touched her private parts. She said the alleged assault lasted "two minutes" and there was a room full of people that included her mother, step-father and her grandmother.

Grant's recollection of the night was similar in many way to the prosecution witnesses that included the girl's mother, Grant's ex-wife, and the girl's step-father, yet all who testified remembered different things happening at different times.

Under direct examination from his lawyer, Emily McLaughlin, Grant said the first time he was aware of any kind of issue with his niece was when his family went to visit her family in California about seven months later. He recalled the girl didn't want to be around him and the family sat and discussed what happened that night. He said yesterday he recalled the girl had farted in his face and that he had called her an unflattering name like "fart-face" or something and that he forcibly removed her from his lap by pushing her to the floor.

He said yesterday that he recalled having his thumb in her lower back and may have grabbed her pants in a "wedgie" way so she didn't get hurt on the coffee table when he put her on the floor.

He said she began crying and was undoubtedly embarrassed. He said when the two families were together in California he spoke to her an apologized for embarrassing her.

He recalled that his apology was triggered by the girl's desire to go shopping with his ex-wife and the girl's mother and the decision had been that the two sisters should have some alone time. He said the girl "had a fit" and she was acting "bratty" because she couldn't go.

That was when the families had their discussion, testified Grant. He said he didn't remember any talk of a "wedgie" but said he and the step-father disagreed about child rearing in general and how he thought that the alleged victim and her brother were ill-behaved and disrespectful to adults.

Grant also testified that when the two families vacationed together in Jamaica in 2011 the girl was sometimes acting like an overly dramatic teenaged girl but also recalled the vacation as one of the best he ever had.

Grant said it came to his attention that his ex-wife's side of the family may be treating the New year's Eve incident as something more when he and his soon-to-be ex-wife were having an argument regarding their business and their divorce.

He said he called her a "procrastinator" and then she retorted by saying, "well, at least I'm not a child molester."

Grant said about a year later, Belknap County Sheriff's Deputy Judy Estes knocked on his door and asked him about the event. Estes testified yesterday about his voluntary interview with her and the written statement he gave her.

Both Estes and Grant agreed he spoke willingly and was told he didn't have to talk to her and that he could get a lawyer.
During Asst. Belknap County Prosecutor Carley Ahern's cross examination of Grant, she pointed out some inconsistencies between his statement to Estes and his testimony yesterday.

Final arguments are scheduled for today at 9 a.m. Wednesday. The judge will give his jury instructions and the 9-man 3-woman jury will begin deliberations.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 November 2013 01:09

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Money is main obstacle as solution to Meredith traffic woes nears consensus

MEREDITH — Improvements Routes 3 and 25, including the junction of the two, to ease the flow of traffic through the center of town could get underway by 2017, according to a schedule presented by officials of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (DOT) to the Board of Selectmen at a workshop yesterday.

The so-called US3/NH25 project began in 2005 with the aim of moving traffic in "a slow, steady, safe efficient manner," mitigating congestion, while configuring the corridor to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists and promoting the local economy, preserving the natural environment and highlighting the cultural assets of the community. Initially the scope of the project reached some four miles from the junction of Route 3 and Rte. 104 through the intersection Rte. 3 and Rte. 25 and along Rte. 25 to the Center Harbor town line.

Between 2006 and 2009, personnel from DOT, together with an advisory committee of local officials and residents, held 26 meetings and solicited public comment, exploring what Gene McCarthy of McFarland Johnson, a consulting engineer, called "anything and everything that could possibly be considered." In a report, issued in 2009, the myriad of alternatives were winnowed down to a number of preferred options.

Since then, McCarthy explained, for want of sufficient funding the scope of the project has been reduced to the stretch between the junction of Rte. 3 and Rte. 104 to the intersection of Rte. 25 and Pleasant Street, with the US3/NH25 intersection the centerpiece of the project.

"It's a smaller, confined project," he said. The next step will be to select the preferred alternative.

Don Lyford of DOT told the board that the current budget for the project is $5 million, with federal funds representing 80 percent of the total. He said that "the finite amount of funding" would shape the scale of the project.

The report presented four options corresponding to the reduced scope of the project. Three would add a center left-turn to Rte. 3. One would upgrade the traffic signal at Routes 3 and 104 and construct two-lane roundabouts at Routes 3 and 25 and Rte. 25 and Pleasant Street while another would construct single-lane roundabouts at both locations. A third option would include a two-lane roundabout at Routes 3 and 104 as well as at Routes 3 and 24 and Rte. 25 and Pleasant Street. With the fourth option, Rte. 3 would remain a two-lane highway with seven roundabouts — at Rte. 104, Terrace Avenue, Mill Street, Church Landing, Lake Street, Rte. 25 and Pleasant Street.

McCarthy said that while a one-lane roundabout at Routes 3 and 25 could be constructed with minimal impact on surrounding property, a two-lane roundabout would impact all four quadrants, including two buildings on the northern corners of the intersection, but provide greater capacity to ease the bottleneck.

"One lane roundabout doesn't accomplish anything," said selectman Lou Kahn, who questioned if there was enough money in the budget to acquire the necessary land. McCarthy said that apart from reconfiguring the intersection of Routes 3 and 25, the project required little land acquisition. In particular, he said that a third lane could be added to Rte. 3 within the state-owned corridor with only minimal takings.

At the recommendation of the DOT, the Selectboard agreed to convene an advisory committee of nine consisting of the town manager, community development director, a member of the Planning Board, one selectman, representatives of the Greater Meredith Program and Chamber of Commerce and three residents to work with DOT on selecting a final plan by 2014. DOT anticipates the design to be completed by 2016 and construction to begin the following year. Originally the more expansive project was scheduled to begin in 2012.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 November 2013 02:53

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