Laconia in strong position to be new host of Pumpkin Festival

LACONIA — "Right now, thanks to Charlie St. Clair, all roads lead to Laconia," said Ruth Sterling, the manager the Keene Pumpkin Festival, who is seeking a home for the autumn extravaganza, which earlier this month was orphaned when the Kenne City Council declined to renew the license for the event.

Sterling visited Laconia yesterday to meet with St. Clair, of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association, Karmen Gifford, of the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, Amy Landers of the Lakes Region Tourism Association and Justin Slattery of the Belknap Economic Development Council. They discussed the management and operation of the festival, together with the resources required to stage it. She said that she expects to announce the venue of the 2015 festival on Friday, April 24.

"I would be thrilled," said Mayor Ed Engler at the prospect of holding the 2015 Pumpkin Festival in Laconia.

Likewise, City Manager Scott Myers said "I'm a proponent of these types of events in general," adding that he was especially familiar with the annual Hampton Beach Seafood Festival, which has grown from 200 people on a rainy day to an event attracting 150,000 in its 26 years. He said that "the logistics of hosting the pumpkin festival are workable. Definitely doable."

Sterling said that while more than a dozen towns in New Hampshire and Massachusetts have expressed interest in hosting the event, but yesterday's meeting was her first with potential hosts. She recalled that her relationship with Laconia began as the Keene City Council debated the future of the event after rioting and spill-over partying near the campus of Keene State College, coincided with the festival last October. St. Clair, who faced similar issues in dealing with critics of Motorcycle Week, traveled to Keene to speak on behalf of the festival.

"Laconia," she said, "has been very special ever since Charlie turned up."

The festival began in 1991 as an effort to amass the largest number of lit jack-o-lanterns in one place. Since 2011 the festival has been staged by Let It Shine, a non-profit corporation, with management by Sterling Design & Communications.

Sterling explained that the event is a one day street festival, which in the course of its history has set nine world records for the most glowing jack-o-lanterns, many of them racked on a tower 35 feet high perched at the top of Main Street. "I want to see a tower in October!," she remarked.

The street is filled with music and performances throughout the day and the celebration is capped by the lighting and counting of the pumpkins. She said that in Keene non-profit organizations operated the nearly the 50 food concessions, which represented their major annual fundraising effort. In addition, a craft court featured some 30 private artisans. The event has been supported by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, scores of local sponsors and hundreds of volunteers..

Since the Keene City Council denied the festival a license on April 2, Sterling said that people in the cities of Nashua, Portsmouth, Franklin and Claremont and towns of Exeter, Hampton Beach, Loudon, Peterborough and Rindge have courted the event, along with Spooky World in Litchfield, Cheshire Fairgrounds in Swanzey and New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Both Gardner and Leominister, Massachusetts have also expressed interest.

Sterling said that she spent much of the day in Laconia on Wednesday and "loved everything I saw," adding "the community must want the festival."

County will stick with current health insurer to qualify for $225k refund

LACONIA — The Belknap County Commission has decided to stick with Health Trust, its current insurer, to provide health insurance coverage for county employees.
A key factor in the Wednesday decision was a $255,000 rebate/refund which the county is receiving from Health Trust which it would lose if it shifts to a different insurer.
Commissioners opened bids for the health insurance contract on April 1 from Health Trust, which offers a Matthew Thornton Blue plan, and New Hampshire Interlocal Trust, which was formed in 2012 and which partners with Harvard Pilgrim as an insurance underwriter.
Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton), said that the said that the two proposals are fairly comparable but any change from the current insurer would have to be negotiated with the four unions which represent county employees.
He said that he favored staying with the current insurer, even though the NHIT plans cost slightly less than those provided by Health Trust, because the refund makes Health Trust less expensive on the bottom line..
Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) said ''there's $255,000 on the table which is important to collect'' and in support of staying with Health Trust.
Commissioners approved a four-year lease agreement for four new 2015 Ford Interceptors which will cost the county $43,040 per year and approved of the disposal of four county vehicles, two Ford Crown Victorias with mileage of 116,573 and 90,295 belonging to the Sheriff's Department, and two Crown Victorias with mileage of 186,214 and 95,241 belonging to the Corrections Department, through the state surplus auction.
Also approved was a request from the N.H. Bureau of Court Facilities, which leases space in the Probate Court area at Belknap County Superior Courthouse, for a modification of the space by adding a door and and a wall in a shared hallway to improve security and limit the interaction between court employees and the Probation and Parole Office.
All costs of the project will be paid for by the Bureau of Court Facilities while the work will be overseen by the Belknap County Maintenance Department.

Young man wanted for theft turns himself in

LACONIA — Police arrested Justin Mitza, 19, of 28 Spring St. on Wednesday and charged him with one count of conspiracy to commit theft.

Mitza came to the Police Department on his own after being informed officers wanted to talk to him about some recent car and outbuilding thefts.

Police said Mitza admitted driving the car involved in the thefts and participating in them.

He was released on $1,500 personal recognizance bail.

The investigation is active and ongoing. Anyone with any information is asked to call the Laconia Police at 524-5252.