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Group of lawmakers renews effort to keep State School land in Concord's hands

CONCORD — A bipartisan group of lawmakers have again introduced legislation to repeal the provision of the 2012-2013 state budget requiring the sale of the former Laconia State School property on North Main Street. Last year a bill to same effect was adopted by the Senate but rejected by the House of Representatives.

The bill is sponsored by Representatives John Graham (R-Bedford), Gene Chandler (R-Bartlett) and Candace Bouchard (D-Concord) and Senators Jim Rausch (R-Derry) and Lou D'Allesandro (D-Manchester).
Both Chandler and Rausch believe the state should retain ownership of the property.

In 2011, the Legislature directed the New Hampshire Department of Administrative Services (DAS) to offer the entire site to the city for "not less than $10 million" and if the city failed to accept the offer, to offer it to Belknap County "at fair market value." If neither the city nor the county purchased the property, it would be put on the open market for no less than its fair market value. The law specified that the property was to be sold by May 1, 2013.

City Councilor Matt Lahey (Ward 2), then mayor, chaired a commission convened by the Legislature to consider the future of the property and has led the city's effort to acquire some or all of the tract. He said that with the passage of the deadline of May 1, the state remains open to offers for the property, which Linda Hodgdon, Commissioner of Administrative Services, may present to the governor and Executive Council at her discretion.

With the repeal of the current law, the property would become subject to the statute governing the disposal of state-owned real estate (RSA 4:40), which stipulates that the department with jurisdiction over the property — in this case the Department of Corrections — must recommend its sale or lease to the Long-Range Capital Planning and Utilization Committee. Composed of legislators together with a representative of the governor, the committee, with the advice of the Council on Resources and Development, consisting of officials of various state agencies, must approve the recommendation and submit it to the governor and executive council. If the governor and executive council also approve the sale or lease of the property, it must first be offered to the municipality or county where it is located and can only be placed on the open market if both refuse the offer.

The sale price may not be less than the current market value of the property as determined by the governor and executive council. In June, 2011 the state appraised the property for $2.16-million. The next year the City Council offered to purchase it for that amount, but the offer was not considered.

The property consists of four tax parcels. The largest, some 200-acres, is bounded by North Main Street to the east, Meredith Center Road and Eastman Road to the north and Ahern State Park to the west and south and divided roughly in half by Right Way Path. This parcel includes some 60 acres adjacent to the Robbie Mills Sports Complex bounded by Eastman Road and Green Street known as Risley Field, which the city leases on a short-term basis to provide parking for the sports complex. It excludes some 17 acres housing the 911 call center and the building vacated by Lakes Region Community Services that would remain the property of the state. The parcel was appraised at $1,760,000,

There are also two smaller parcels. An undeveloped 10.4-acre lot at the junction of Old North Main Street and North Main Street was appraised at $300,000. An unimproved wooded lot of 7.5-acres at the corner of Lane Road and Meredith Center Road was appraised at $100,000. The state also leased both smaller parcels to the city in 2000 for 99 years at $1 a year.

Last Updated on Friday, 08 November 2013 02:14

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A new (red) face for Smith Track

LACONIA — The Smith Track at Opechee Park is slated to be opened by the middle of November, said the director of the Parks and Recreation Department yesterday.

Kevin Dunleavy said the resurfacing is finished and the contractor needs three or four days of good weather in order finish striping it.

When asked why the track is now brick red instead of black, Dunleavy said that is the standard color. "Anything different would have required an upgrade," he said.

He added that Laconia's colors are red and white, which is a plus in his mind, but added the school colors have little or nothing to do with the color of the running surface.

Dunleavy also said the color black absorbs more heat and the rubberized surface is much hotter in the summer. He said most good-quality tracks — including those at Newfound Regional High School in Bristol and Inter-Lakes Regional High School in Meredith.

The replacement of the track was made necessary because the surface of the old track began bubbling and cracking in 2011. The city hired a company to fix it, but the next year the problems resurfaced and the city was forced to close the track again.

As of October, he said the city was still in negotiations with the company that did the 2011 resurfacing because its representatives have said the 2012 problems "were not of (their) making."

He said the city decided this time that the entire former rubberized surface must be removed. Dunleavy said the entire cost for the replacement was $250,000 and is being paid for with a borrowing approved by the City Council. The city had estimated the cost to be $300,000 and the bond was included in the 2013-2014 budget.

Dunleavy said the city also resurfaced all of the runways for the jumps and, aside from the fence, the track is like new.

"What's nice is that it's something the whole city can use," said Dunleavy, noting that some tracks that belong exclusively to school districts are closed when the schools aren't using them.

He also said that being at Opechee Park, which is the city's largest park, is good because it is in such a "nice setting."

He said once it opens the track will remain open until "snow flies."

Last Updated on Friday, 08 November 2013 01:57

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After work sessions, 2014 county budget stands at +2.4%

LACONIA — In three days of workshops, the Belknap County Commission undertook what chairman John Thomas of Belmont called "the first cut" of the 2014 county budget, trimming the various department's requested appropriations by nearly $2.5-million.

County departments requested appropriations totaling $29,442,231, which the commissioners reduced to $27,013,237. The commissioners reduced proposed expenditures on capital projects by $2.1-million, from $2,260,000 to $160,000, $60,000 to replace windows at the Belknap County Superior Court and $100,000 for a surveillance system at the county complex.

County Administrator Debra Shackett said that the remainder of the cuts fell on discretionary items like travel, training, office supplies and the like, across all departments. "The commissioners went through line by line and back and forth," she said.

The budget includes a 1.6-percent cost-of-living adjustment and three-percent "step" increase for eligible employees. The commissioners also funded bonuses for unused sick days and length of service as well as the increase in the employer share of health insurance premiums, all of which are contractual obligations prescribed by the collective bargaining agreement negotiated with the union representing county employees. The Belknap County Convention struck funding for both bonuses and increased health insurance premiums from the 2013 budget, but the commission paid the bills anyway by shuffling monies within departmental budgets.

The total appropriations of $27-million represent an increase of $628,621, or 2.4-percent, over the current budget, but are $2.7-million, or 9.1-percent less than was budgeted in 2008 and $2.0-million, or 6.8-percvent less than was budgeted in 2009. Total appropriations in 2010, 2011 and 2012 were supplemented by federal funds distributed through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Thomas emphasized that the commission has not completed its recommended budget. "We've still got work to do," he said. "We will present a fair, economical and responsible budget."

Last Updated on Friday, 08 November 2013 01:45

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Commissioners accused of neglecting county jail

LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners took it on the chin last night as the Executive Committee of the County Convention rejected two of the three requests for fund transfers the commissioners had sought, and a member of the public accused commissioners of neglecting the maintenance at the Belknap County House of Correction in order to force the county to build a new jail.
''They're leaving it a mess to force a new jail on us,'' charged David DeVoy of Sanbornton, who was joined in his criticism of the three-member commission by other members of the public, as well as members of the County Convention, for their handling of the jail situation.
One member of the audience asked why the County Commissioners weren't at the County Convention meeting, which followed on the heels of the Executive Committee meeting, which was attended by one member of the commission, Chairman John Thomas of Belmont.
County Administrator Debra Shackett of Belmont said that members of the commission weren't aware until Monday morning that the agenda for the County Convention meeting had been changed from the one the county website which said that the meeting was called to hear a request from the Gunstock Mountain Resort for a revue anticipation note to include new items, including a discussion of the ongoing battle over control of line items in the county budget and a discussion of the jail situation.
''They had no knowledge that the convention was going beyond the Gunstock request. We didn't find out until eight o'clock Monday morning what items had been added to the agenda,'' said Shackett, who pointed out that the commissioners didn't have sufficient time in which to post a public notice that they would be meeting as a public body Monday night.
''They couldn't be here because they didn't know,'' said Shackett.
One woman in the audience asked if there was a process to unseat the commissioners and Rep. Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) suggested she look at state statues which would allow her to petition for their removal.
The public's criticisms of the commissioners came after members of the convention, a dozen of whom had toured the Belknap County House of Corrections earlier in the day, talked about their impressions of the facility and the process followed by the commissioners in coming up with a proposal they have received from consultants for a new $42.5 million Community Corrections facility.
Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) talked about the history of the jail planning process and said that convention members had agreed to a $160,000 supplemental appropriation in 2012 with the thought that there would be a plan for a new facility.
''They got the best in the country and they cost the best too,'' said Tilton, who said that the Ricci Greene consulting firm came up with a plan which had two options, both for new construction, but nothing that was anywhere close to a final design and had ruled out options for use of the current facility.
Rep. Robert Greemore (R-Meredith), said that he saw a lot of deficiencies when he toured the jail two years ago which have since been corrected and that he was hopeful that a solution could be devised which would provide for better maintenance of the current facility and and the creation of new program space.
Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) said that any addition or renovations which increased the current jail size by 15 percent would trigger a requirement that all of its systems be brought up to current code, which would be extremely expensive.
Delegation Chairman Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith) said that she didn't think money had been spent wisely in the past, including what she said was $500,000 for an addition to the Belknap County complex which included the meeting room used by the convention and offices for the commissioners, and said the money should have been spent on repairs to the jail.
Rep. Lisa DiMartino (D-Gilford) said that the county needed to do things correctly when it came to the jail situation and wondered what role convention members could play in jail planning. Rep. Burchell proposed having a subcommittee, but Rep. Tilton said that wasn't the role of the convention and that the commissioners already had a jail planning committee.
County Administrator Shackett said that the committee has been working hard to develop a plan and is studying six different options, including contracting with another county, and would welcome public input from members of the convention and others.
Greemore said that he had been invited to take part in some of the jail planning meetings and had attended a few, but thought they were too heavily weighted with members of the corrections community and didn't have much in the way of general public input, including from contractors and construction people.
He joked that since ''we are bad people doing bad things'' he might take an interest in attending some future jail planning committee meetings.
His comment about ''bad people'' came from a comment made by Belknap County Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia) at a recent Belknap County Democratic Party picnic at which Philpot criticized the Republican majority of the County Convention.
Philpot was re-elected to a second term on the commission in 2012, defeating Dave DeVoy, the man who charged last night that commissioners were neglecting the jail.
The transfer requests defeated by the Executive Committee, which met prior to the Convention meeting, involved $4,500 for the County Convention, defeated 6-0 with one abstention, and $5,500 for the Finance Department for an employee change in health coverage, by a 4-3 vote.
Approved by a 4-3 vote was the transfer of $5,500 to Corrections Department salary account. The commission had requested a $10,500 transfer.

Last Updated on Thursday, 07 November 2013 03:12

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