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Laconia councilors were surprised by $1.08 jump in tax rate

LACONIA — After projecting the 2013 property tax rate to rise by 28 cents when they adopted the 2013-2014 budget in June, city councilors were surprised and concerned to find it increased by $1.08 when the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration (DRA) set the rate last week.

In preparing the budget, City Manager Scott Myers projected property values to increase by $17-million, or 0.9 percent. Instead, the assessed valuation declined by $53.6 million, or 2.9 percent, from $1.857 billion to $1.804 billion. That drop accounts for most but not all of the rise in the property tax rate.

Troubled by the disparity between the projected and actual rates, Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3), chairman of the Finance Committee, asked what could be done to forecast the assessed valuation more accurately. Meanwhile, Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5) feared the difference between an increase of 28 cents and $1.08 would arouse suspicions of increased spending among taxpayers.

Myers stressed that an increase in the property tax rate caused by falling property values does not necessarily lead to higher tax bills for all taxpayers. The amount to be raised be property taxes — $39,311,468 in 2013-2014 , an increase of $831,733, 2.2 percent — was set by the budget and has not changed.

Myers said that while the total valuation has decreased by almost 3 percent, the decline is not uniform across all classes of property. While some classes have lost more value than others some classes of property may have increased in value. In other words, the effect of the property tax rate is not to increase tax bills across the board, but to redistribute the tax burden among property owners according to how much or how little the value of their property fell or rose.

Myers explained that the challenge of assessing property values was exacerbated by the sluggish real estate estate market. The number of comparable sales on which to base assessment has grown, but remains relatively low, particularly for specific classes of property. He reminded the councilors that when property values were increasing, property tax rates were falling, but with the recession the trends were reversed.

Despite the difficulties, Myers said that he and Jon Duhamel, the city assessor, have been discussing what can be done to refine the projection for the past month. He said that while the total valuation legally must be based on the assessed value of property as of April 1, the assessments need not be reported to DRA until September 1, which allows time for making adjustments. At the same time, he noted that DRA, not the city, assesses the value of property owned by public utilities, which in Laconia amounts to between $2 million and $3 million.

Apart from the assessed valuation, other projections subject to change bear on the property tax rate. Myers said that revenues from sources other than property taxes are estimated in June when the budget is adopted but are subject to adjustment prior to setting the tax rate in October or November. Likewise, the county assessment is projected in June, but not finalized until after the budget is adopted. Finally, how much to draw from the undesignated fund balance (rainy day fund) to apply to revenues to offset the amount to be raised by property taxes may be projected in the budget but changed before setting the tax rate.

Adjustments to the assessed valuation to align assessed values with market prices also contributed to significant increases in the property tax rates in New Hampton, Meredith and Sanbornton. In New Hampton, where assessed values represented 114 percent of market prices, a statistical revaluation to bring the two in line, together with a 6 percent increase in tax commitment raised the property tax rate 20.8 percent. In Meredith, where the tax commitment rose 7.2 percent and a statistical revaluation reduced the assessed valuation by 6.2 percent, raising the property tax rate 14-percent. In Sanbornton, the amount to be raised by property taxes grew only 1.2 percent, but a revaluation lowered the assessed valuation 10.4 percent, which reflected itself in a 13 percent rise in the property tax rate.

Property tax rates rates decreased in three towns — Alton, Barnstead and Gilmanton. In Alton, the tax commitment fell by 0.6 percent while the assessed valuation rose by 1.1 percent, the largest increase in the county, dropping the property tax rate by 1.8 percent. In Barnstead, the amount to be raised by taxes crept up 0.1-percent and the assessed valuation increased 0.4-percent, reducing the property tax rate 0.3-percent.

In Gilmanton, a combination of increased revenues and reduced expenditures reduced the amount to be raised by property taxes by 9.4 percent while the assessed valuation increased by 0.4 percent, trimming $2.27, or 9.7 percent, off the property tax rate. In Gilford, where the tax commitment rose by a paltry $258 and the assessed valuation climbed 0.6-percent, the tax rate decreased by 14 cents.

Last Updated on Saturday, 30 November 2013 12:44

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Keenan's side find it 'preposterous' for Dunn to say chief wouldn't have been fired for 'infidelity'

GILFORD — In the wake of Town Administrator Scott Dunn telling the state's largest newspaper that former Police Chief Kevin Keenan was not going to be fired for "infidelity", Keenan's lawyer said the statement was "preposterous."

"When I read what Mr. Dunn said in the (N.H.) Union Leader I wondered if we were on the same planet and talking about the same case," said Laconia attorney Phil McLaughlin.

McLaughlin said the allegations and insinuations made by Dunn that the internal investigation conducted for the Selectboard by Municipal Resources Inc. of Meredith was about issues other than "his relationship with another officer" were baseless. He indicated that any other words that might be used were just "variations of the (same) theme."

When interviewed about his earlier statements to the Union Leader on Tuesday, Dunn said that Keenan read the 20 to 30 page report prepared by MRI and chose to resign.

"It wasn't about infidelity and things were discovered during the internal investigation," Dunn said Tuesday. When asked what things, he said he couldn't comment further because they were personnel related.

During his resignation statement to selectmen, Keenan said the MRI report expanded on the conclusion of adultery and claimed that he had, in a variety of ways, exercised favoritism and engaged in various conduct unbecoming (to an officer).

He also said that he was advised late in the week that selectmen were going to hold a disciplinary committee hearing the next Wednesday at 4 p.m. "... and I would thereafter be terminated for cause."

Keenan said he "would not be allowed to offer evidence and my attorney would not be allowed to contest the MRI report."

Dunn described the investigation as "comprehensive" and said Keenan could have appeared before a disciplinary board (the selectmen would convene as the disciplinary board), that he may or may not have been fired, and that if he were fired, he could appeal it through the N.H. Judicial system.

"Mr. Keenan chose to resign instead," Dunn said. "The selectmen weren't going to fire him for infidelity."

In a statement read by Keenan to the selectmen during his resignation, he admitted his adulterous relationship and said he was told by Selectman Gus Benavides that the matter would be "handled as an internal personnel matter and might result in a caution or a reprimand, all within the confines of a confidential personnel investigation."

He also said in his statement that what he thought was going to be an interview with MRI investigators was actually an interrogation.

"In this particular case, the crime of which I was suspected was adultery," he said. "There was no reason to 'suspect' me of it. I had advised selectmen of my conduct."

Dunn also said yesterday the MRI report was commissioned through the office of the Town Attorney Robert Ciandella.

"I don't know why this is still news," Dunn added. "We're moving on. He's moving on."

Last Updated on Saturday, 30 November 2013 01:04

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Laconia man who was tasered guilty of resisiting arrest; felony drug charges pending

LACONIA — A Laconia man who was zapped by a Taser twice by a Belknap County Sheriff's Deputy has been found guilty of resisting arrest and disobeying an officer.

After a bench trial during the early part of November, Judge Jim Carroll of the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division ruled the police had justifiable cause to detain Matthew Tusi, finding him guilty of two misdemeanors that resulted from the stop.

Tusi, 30, has also been indicted in the Belknap County Superior Court for three felony counts of drug possession and one misdemeanor count of drug possession. Police allege he had marijuana, cocaine, oxycodone, and heroin on him at the time of the incident.

According to affidavits and eye-witness accounts of Tusi's arrest, Sheriff's Deputy E. Justin Blanchette noticed Tusi driving along the road that leads to the Belknap County House of Corrections shortly after 9 p.m. on August 7.

Blanchette, who knows Tusi, said he was concerned because there have been instances of contraband introduced at the jail and the road to the jail is limited access. In addition, the road is marked that all vehicles are subject to random stops and searches.

In the parking lot of the jail, Tusi approached Blanchette and asked him "if he could help him."

When Blanchette asked him why he was there, Tusi told him he was bringing bail money for a friend of his. Blanchette said he told Tusi his recollection was that the woman was sentenced and was in no need of bail, but asked Tusi to wait while he checked.

Blanchette said Tusi, after swearing and screaming at him, got back in his car and left, while he was checking to see if the woman was sentenced or in need of bail. He said he beckoned to Tusi to "wait a minute" while he checked but Tusi left.

Blanchette followed Tusi, who he said didn't violate any traffic rules, but told the court he waited until Tusi was near the intersection of Union Avenue and Gilford Avenue before turning on his blue lights because he was waiting for backup from Laconia Police.

Tusi slowed and pulled to the right side of Gilford Avenue but didn't immediately get out of the car. In his ruling Carroll said Blanchette needed to use his loudspeaker to tell Tusi to get out of the car.

Tusi ran from the car and reached into the waistband of his sweatpants. Blanchette ordered him to show his hands and Tusi ran into a back yard near the lower end of Gilford Avenue. Police pursued and a backyard struggle resulted.

Witnesses said Tusi was zapped twice that night. Affidavits said one prong of the Taser missed on the first strike but Tusi was hit squarely by the Taser the second time and fell in the backyard.

He yelled and said he wanted an ambulance.

Surrounded by members of his family, as well as Blanchette, Laconia Police, and off-duty Gilford Lt. James Leach, Tusi said repeatedly he couldn't walk and that he wanted an ambulance.

After about five to seven minutes, a sergeant from the Laconia Police, told somebody to call an ambulance and one was called.

One of the members of Tusi's family, who witnessed most of the episode, said later that Tusi had a money order on him that he was bringing to the woman for deposit into her jail account. He said in his opinion Tusi misspoke when he told Blanchette he was bringing "bail" money to the woman.

It was initially reported that Tusi struggled and ambulance crews needed to subdue him. The family member said, and The Sun confirmed, that during the apparent struggle, three police officers were in the ambulance with Tusi while the two ambulance attendants were outside.

Surrounding the ambulance during this time were three male members of Tusi's family, the supervisor for the Laconia Police, the Gilford police officer, one of his friends — an off-duty police officer from New York State — and the two ambulance employees. Other witnesses were unable to see into the ambulance but, because the lights were on the inside of the ambulance were on, were able to see some kind of struggle through the windows.

According to Carroll's ruling, the defendant showed "no effects of the Taser."

Tusi is being held on cash-only bail at the Belknap County House of Corrections. As of Friday, he has not been sentenced for the two misdemeanor convictions.

Last Updated on Friday, 29 November 2013 12:13

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First step taken to transfer Area Road to Gilford

GILFORD — Area Road, which was built as part of a private subdivision around 1970 and which has served as an exit way from Gunstock Mountain Resort in recent years, is on its way to becoming a town-maintained roadway.
Gunstock General Manager Gregg Goddard met with Belknap County Commissioners Wednesday morning to seek approval for granting a right of way on county-owned land to the town of Gilford, which will enable the town to maintain the road.
The road extends from Rte. 11-A to the Gunstock Mountain Resort property and is gated at the Gunstock end.
Described by Goddard as being in a ''no man's land'', the road was one of two in a chalet style subdivision built by Phil Roux on land near the former Mount Rowe Ski Area. He said that one of the roads, Chalet Drive, located about 1,000 feet to the west on Rte. 11-A, was later accepted as a town road but Area Road, where 11 homes are located, has remained a private road.
Gunstock assumed control over part of property along Area Road when it acquired the 105-acre Alpine Ridge (formerly Mount Rowe) property from Penny Pitou and Milo Pike in 1998.
''We use it when we're really busy, like Soulfest during the summer and on our busy winter weekends,'' Goddard said of the former ski area property on Area Road.
He told commissioners that Gunstock has been looking at what to do about the road since 2008 and that it surveyed homeowners along the road about the situation and was able to talk with all but two of them and that all those surveyed supported the town taking over the road.
Goddard said that granting a right of way on county property requires approval from not only the Gunstock Area Commission, a five-member board which oversees Gunstock's operations, but also from the Belknap County Commission and the Belknap County Convention.
''The town needs land outside the 50-foot right-of-way in order to maintain the road,'' said Goddard, who said the right of way easement covers 5,364-square feet- about an eighth of an acre.
He said that Gunstock will need to make some improvements to the property in order to meet Gilford's conditions for accepting it as a town road, including pavement patching, ditch repair and utility pole removal.
The improvements, which will be made at Gunstock's expense, will cost between $8,000 and $10,000, and will most likely be accomplished in the spring said Goddard.
''We'll have to install and temporary barrier and will move the fence back. We'll also create an area for snow storage and will probably lose about five or six parking spaces,'' said Goddard.
Commissioners, at the suggestion of Gilford Town Administrator Scott Dunn, who was present at the meeting, approved a motion signing off on the layout plan which the town has approved.
Gilford selectmen will hold a public hearing Wednesday, December 4 at 7 p.m. on accepting Area Road as a town road.

Last Updated on Friday, 29 November 2013 12:02

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