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2 key March votes would put construction of Belmont's Winnisquam Scenic Trail on front burner for 2014

BELMONT — The money for Phase I of the Belmont's portion of the Lake Winnisquam Scenic Trail is ready to be build in the spring of 2014 said selectmen at their meeting last week.

The 1.7-mile long trail will extend from the Agway store on Route 3 near the Mosquito Bridge to the Laconia city line. It will run behind the Belknap Mall and will provide walking and bicycle route into Laconia and will cost $755,872 — 80 percent of which is being reimbursed by a N.H. Department of Transportation Highway Grant.

The Laconia City Council voted Monday night to approve a package of seven downtown enhancement projects that include extending the city's WOW Trail from Veterans Square to Fair Street. Private trail supporters say they will soon have sufficient funds to complete the trail from that point to Belmont, which will mean about nearly four continuous miles of walking and bicycling trails in the two communities.

There are two articles that will appear on Belmont's Annual Town Meeting warrant that must be approved so the Belmont portion of the trail can be completed. No new additional taxpayer money is needed, however one article will require voters to re-purpose about $62,000 raised years ago by voters for a second phase of the trail that will not likely be built in the near future.

According to Planning Administrator Rick Ball, each year for three years in the mid 2000s, voters agreed to put $20,000 a year into a Capital Reserve Fund for Phase II of the trail.

Town officials said the $62,000 that is in that account must be applied to Phase 1 in order to complete it. The re-purposing of a capital account requires a 2/3 majority vote but will not require any additional money to be raised by taxpayers.

In additional voters will be asked to "gross appropriate" or raise an appropriate the sun of $142,050 for the trail — all of which is already available.

Ball said that a yes vote on both of the two warrant articles will allow the trail to be built in 2014.

He said the state Department of Transportation agreed that the Phase II money can be used to complete Phase I but the hurdle is conveying the message to the voters to the degree that they will give the town the 2/3 majority it needs to take the money from Phase II to Phase I.

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 December 2013 01:11

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City Council finally approves TIF projects

LACONIA — The City Council last night agreed to authorize borrowing $1,530,000 to finance improvements recommended by the Downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Advisory Board, which includes a segment of the WOW Trail and four stretches of the downtown riverwalk as well as the the Gateway Plaza at the foot of Main Street and a waterline extension to Veteran's Square.

The package includes $400,000 to extend the WOW Trail between Main Street and Fair Street, $25,000 to add signage and kiosks to the riverwalk and WOW Trail, $164,000 to link the riverwalk from Beacon Street West to the Main Bridge Bridge, $181,000 to connect the Main Street Bridge to the riverwalk behind the Landmark Inn, $121,800 to extend the riverwalk through the adjacent Walgreen's property, and $300,000 to carry the riverwalk from behind the old police station, now studios of the Binnie Media Group, up to the Church Street bridge.

Moreover, the council reaffirmed its decision in August to to spend $275,000 improving the "Gateway Plaza" at the foot of Main Street and in October to spending $35,000 to extend a 10 inch water main from Main Street to Veteran's Square to service the former Evangelical Baptist Church, which is being converted to a restaurant.

Altogether the estimated cost of the projects is $1,530,000, which includes the fees for preparing and selling a general obligation bond and and a small amount for contingencies. The funds would be borrowed against the annual revenue to the TIF account at an estimated interest rate of four-percent over 20 years. The TIF account has a current balance of $311,353 and projected revenue of $173,687 in 2014 and an additional amount each year thereafter for a total of $4,250,212 during the next 20 years. City Manager Scott Myers has assured the council that the revenue accruing to the TIF fund is sufficient to service the proposed debt and, within a reasonable time, support another borrowing.

Apart from Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4), who voted against funding the WOW Trail and the Walgreen's section of the riverwalk, all the projects carried unanimously. With only the one dissenting vote, the two-thirds majority of the six councilors that will be required to authorize the sale of general obligation bonds appears assured.

When Mayor Mike Seymour invited comment from the public several speakers questioned the impact of the investment. Gretchen Shortway, a resident of Beacon Street West, said that when she walked downtown "one man asked me for money, another for a cigarette and four teenagers were sitting in front of the Colonial Theatre doing nothing." Expressing support for the WOW Trail and agreeing improvements are needed downtown, she remarked "I just worry about where this money is going."

Shortway was echoed by her neighbor, Marie Macozek, who stressed that without a focus to draw people downtown the impact of the proposed improvements would be diluted. She suggested making more expansive use of the water, perhaps a paddleboat concession offering access to Lake Winnisquam.

Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) explained that the purpose of the TIF is to "enable infrastructure," which is what the WOW Trail and riverwalk represent. He indicated that the public investment is intended to enhance the value and encourage the improvement of surrounding private properties.

"We can only do so much," said Councilor Matt Lahey (Ward 2), noting that the future of downtown will ultimately depend on private investment. He said that he supported the public investment in the WOW Trail because so far volunteers and donors have carried the project. "We should be looking at the folks who have been helping themselves," he said.

By contrast, Councilor Armand Bolduc (Ward 6) pointed out that "landlords downtown aren't doing anything to help themselves. Money is not being invested private buildings."

Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5) emphasized that "this is something we can do." He said that his job took him to all corners of the state and commented that "we're not the only community struggling, but we're trying. There's no doubt about that."

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 December 2013 02:32

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Laconia car wash burglarized on Sunday night

LACONIA – Police are investigating an overnight burglary of the Sparkle Clean Car Wash at 1181 Union Avenue.

A media release issued by the Laconia Police said surveillance video shows the burglary happened at 9:05 p.m. Sunday and was reported to police at 1:23 p.m. yesterday.

The video showed a single male pry open the rear door and enter the building. He went to the "bill-breaker/change machine" and forced it open.

Police said the tape showed him leaving the building and returning back to in three separate time, finally leaving with an undisclosed amount of cash and change.

The suspect is described as being about 5-feet 8-inches tall. Police said he was wearing a dark-colored coat, black pants, black boots and a dark colored face mask. He was also wearing a black and gray striped knit winter hat.

Anyone with any information is asked to call the Laconia Police at 524-5252 or leave an anonymous tip at the Greater Laconia Crime Line at 524-1717.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Union Ave. convenience store robbed at gunpoint

LACONIA — Police are investigating an armed robbery of a convenience store Saturday night — the second such incident within a week.

A cashier at the Laconia Shop Express at Gilford and Union avenues told police that an armed suspect entered the store at 10:45 p.m. brandishing a handgun and wearing a mask.

The robber made off with an undisclosed amount of money and fled on foot toward Winter Street where a witness said the robber got into a dark colored hatchback-style car.

This is the second armed robbery at a city convenience store in a week. Last Tuesday night a large man wearing a Halloween mask entered the Premium Mart Store on Court Street. He forced the cashier into the office and allegedly stole an undisclosed amount of money.

Police are not saying if they believe the two armed robberies are related.

According to Lt. Matt Canfield, the city has seen a recent uptick in armed robberies this year — about 10-12 in the past year. The Premium Mart has been robbed twice this year. The other robbery occurred in late October, committed by someone riding a bicycle.

Anyone with any information is asked to call the Laconia Police Department at 524-5257 or leave an anonymous tip at the Greater Laconia Crime Line at 524-1717.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 December 2013 01:29

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