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Council to study possible elimination of city's primary elections as unnecessary

LACONIA — On the recommendation of City Clerk Mary Reynolds, the City Council will consider modifying the procedure for conducting municipal primary elections or doing away with them altogether. The City Council this week referred her proposal to its Government Operations and Ordinances Committee for study and a recommendation.

In 1995 voters amended the City Charter to eliminate partisan elections, in which party caucuses nominated the candidates for mayor and city council, and instead hold primary elections to choose the two candidates who appeared on the general election ballot. Primaries for city offices are held in September of odd-numbered years.

In a memorandum to the council, Reynolds explained that since the change was introduced, relatively few primary elections have been contested and very few voters have cast ballots. For example, in 1997, when the first primary was held, only one candidate entered the primary for City Council in each of the six wards and only two candidates entered the mayoral primary. With no contested races, just 7 percent of registered voters went to the polls.

In the eight primary elections between 1997 and 2011 voter turnout has averaged 9 percent. In 2001, when turnout reached a high of 18 percent there were four candidates for mayor, along with five city council candidates in Ward 3, three in Wards 4 and 5 and two in Ward 6. In three of the past eight elections — in 2003, 2009 and 2011 — primary elections were held even though there were not more than two candidates for either mayor or any of the six council seats. In 2011, only 259 of 8,422, or 3 percent of registered voters went to the polls, just 21 of them in Ward 2 and another 22 in Ward 5, at a cost to the city of approximately $39 a vote.

Last year when there were three candidates for mayor but no more than two for any of six city council seats the turnout was six-percent.

Along with the mayor and city councilors, primary elections are also held to nominate candidates for the the seven seats on the School Board, whose members serve staggered requiring a primary every year, and three seats on the Police Commission.

Reynolds said that cost of conducting municipal primary elections is approximately $8,600, which does not include about $1,000 for police details at the polling stations at Woodland Heights Elementary School and Laconia Middle School. The cost consists of $3,900 for printing ballots, $1,000 for materials at polling stations and $3,700 in wages of poll workers.

Laconia is one of three of the state's 13 cities to conduct municipal primary elections. In both the other two — Manchester and Keene —the charters authorize the city clerk to deem a primary election election unnecessary if no more than two candidates file for any particular office.

To spare taxpayers the cost of elections that more often than not are unnecessary Reynolds proposed either adopting the procedure followed by Manchester and Keene or abandoning primary elections entirely. She told councilors that if they choose to act on her recommendation an appropriate amendment to the City Charter would be put to the voters at a special municipal election on Tuesday, November 4, 2014, the date of the general and School Board election. If voters approved, the primary election process would either be discontinued or modified in 2015.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 February 2014 01:54

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Revised plan for renovation & expansion of Laconia's Central Fire Station unveiled; estimate is $4.1M

LACONIA — With the renovation and expansion of Central Station next on the list of major capital projects, Fire Chief Ken Erickson and Deputy Chiefs Charles Roffo and Kirk Beattie presented a revised plan for improvements to the building to the City Council this week.

Roffo explained that the department proposes to renovate 13,135 square feet of the existing station to serve as an apparatus bay and training area and to construct a two-story, 12,000 square foot addition to house the administrative offices and dormitory. He estimated the cost of the project at $4,187,000, more than $777,000 less than the original plan prepared in 2008, but emphasized that because the estimate is based on a conceptual plan, not an engineered design, the figures could change.

Erickson said that because the department has reduced the size of its fleet and no longer houses a mechanic, the station, with the addition of one bay at the south end of the building where a driveway now leads to the rear parking lot, will accommodate all its apparatus. The new addition would have public access and parking off Tremont Street, eliminating vehicle and pedestrian traffic from the apron in front of the apparatus bay.

The wing would also house an emergency operations center that could double as a community room, which would qualify for a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. With a pitched roof, topped by a cupola, Erickson said that the brick building would have an improved visual impact on the neighborhood.

Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) asked why the department preferred to expand the station to house all its apparatus rather than continue to store vehicles at the Lakeport Station. Erickson explained that in an emergency firefighters have to fetch apparatus from Lakeport, which lengthens response times. "I have no use for that facility," he said of the Lakeport Station, which has been closed since 1982 and has not housed student firefighters for several years.

Erickson suggested the city sell the property.

"Let's not do it on the cheap," Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5), adding that another council should not be revisiting the shortcomings of the station in 15 years. "Make sure it is adequate for your mission," he said.

The Capital Improvements Program (CIP) Committee ranked improvements to the Central Fire Station ninth among capital projects to be undertaken in 2014-2015.

NOTES: The City Council formally accepted an easement granted by Mike McCarthy, owner of Faircourt Plaza Condominium at the corner of Fair Street and Court Street, for future improvements at the intersection. The easement consists of a strip approximately 148-feet long and five-feet wide along the east side of Fair Street and a triangle with sides of 25 feet at the junction with Court Street. Planning Director Shanna Saunders explained that the easement was granted when the Planning Board approved construction of the building that houses Advanced Auto Parts. She said that the Department of Public Works will conduct a traffic study at the intersection in anticipation of proposing measures to enhance safety. . . . . . The City Council also accepted the drape that hung in the Moulton Opera House as a gift to the city, which will be restored and displayed in the Laconia Public Library. The opera house was on the second and third floors of the block overlooking Bank Square at the corner of Main Street and Water Street, built in 1886 to house O'Shea's Department Store. The building was demolished in 1970 and the drape stored in a private home for more than 43 years. The drop curtain, a copy of John Antwerp's "Morning on the Nile" painted by Eugene Cramer in Columbia, South Carolina, depicts several dhows, one laden with camels, freight and passengers, plying the river beneath the rising sun with the great pyramids in the distance. Christine Hadsel, director of Curtains without Borders of Burlington, Vermont, called it "the most exquisite" in her experience of restoring more than 200 drapes. The Laconia Historical and Museum Society is seeking a "Moose Plate" grant from the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources to fund restoration of the drape.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 February 2014 01:43

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Burglary in Britol may be related to armed robbery in Northfield

BRISTOL — Police have charged three area men with a variety of crimes after a reported burglary Monday at 10:47 p.m. at 76 Summer Street.

Lt. Kris Bean said Chance Griffin, 20, and Edward Esty, 18, who police said were homeless, were detained near the scene.
Jeremy Jewell, 17, of 19 Baldwin St. in Laconia was arrested about an hour later by Laconia Police and charged with receiving stolen property for allegedly driving a car had been reported stolen from Summer Street in Bristol.
All three were charged with felony-level criminal liability for another and burglary in the nighttime.

They appeared in the 2nd Circuit Court, Plymouth Division yesterday afternoon.
Griffin was held on $20,000 cash-only bail, Esty was held on $35,000 cash- or corporate-surety bail, and Jewell was held on $20,000 cash-only bail.
Bean said Jewell faces additional charges out of Belmont and Laconia.
In a statement issued yesterday to medua, Bean said police believe the three men had a plan to break into the Summer Street home, use duct tape to restrain the victims, and rob them.
As they attempted to break into the house the first time, they were approached by two men who wanted to know what they were doing. An altercation took place and one of the alleged burglars pointed a gun at the two men who ran and called 9-1-1.
Police said after the altercation, the three tried three more times to get into the secured apartment but fled after being spotted by a man taking out his trash.
Bean said Bristol Police recovered the pistol in a snow pile in Central Square as well as a knife and some duct tape.
Northfield Police Chief John Raffaelly said his officers are investigating what may be a related case of armed robbery.
Raffaelly said a man was walking to work on Granite Street around 10 p.m. on Monday when three men wearing hooded sweatshirts driving in a black sports car got out and robbed him.
Raffaelly said the man told police one of the three put a gun to his head and demanded he empty his pockets.
Raffaelly said the Northfield victim didn't report the crime immediately but waited until 3 a.m. to tell a police officer who stopped by his place of employment — a Tilton restaurant — for a cup of coffee.
Both Raffaelly and Bean said the two cases remain under investigation.
Bean said police got a search warrant for a car that had been used to transport the three. He said police found multiple items they think are linked to crimes committed in Bristol, Northfield, and Bridgewater Monday evening.
Anyone with any information is asked to call Lt. Bean at 744-6320 or 744-2212.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 February 2014 01:31

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Stabbing victim says attackers hid in bathroom

BELMONT — The two men who are accused of attacking three people in an apartment stairway at 252 Daniel Webster Highway (Rte. 3) early Monday morning allegedly ambushed them by waiting in a bathroom at the top of the stairs, said police affidavits obtained yesterday from the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division.

John J. Drouin, 27, Messer St.in Laconia and Robert Rama, 22, of Canton St. in Concord are being held in lieu of $100,000 cash-only and $75,000 cash-only bail, respectively, in the Belknap County House of Corrections.

The attack took place around 1 a.m. in building that houses the Lakes Region Dock Company on the ground floor.

Drouin is charged with two felony counts of first-degree assault and one misdemeanor count of simple assault. Rama is charged with one felony count of criminal conduct of another and one misdemeanor count of simple assault.

Rama was also arraigned on three outstanding, unrelated charges stemming from a traffic accident in Laconia in January of 2013.

Victim Corey Cromwell was taken to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon with what affidavits described as eight to nine stab wounds. The second victim, John Hynes was taken to Lakes Region General Hospital in Laconia with at least one stab wound. The third victim, a female, declined treatment for a hand wound.

The female victim said she was climbing the stairs to Cormwell's apartment with Cromwell and Hynes when two males — who she identified as Drouin and Rama — emerged from a bathroom and attacked them.

She told police that she saw Drouin stab Cromwell "more than once." She aid she and Hynes were injured trying to break up the fight, during which Rama allegedly grabbed her by the neck.

Hynes told police that he wasn't really sure what happened while they were climbing the stairs, but said earlier in the evening he and the other two victims had gone to Concord and driven around for a while before coming back to Belmont just after 1 a.m.

He said he had no idea he had been stabbed until he was standing outside the apartment waiting for help.

According to Belmont Police, the call came into them at 1:04 a.m. and the three victims were outside the apartment waiting for a police cruiser when it arrived. The first officer on the scene said Cromwell told him he had been stabbed and was having trouble breathing. The officer said he could see a lot of blood coming from his neck.

N.H. State Police assisted Belmont Police and said that while they were unable to speak with Cromwell because of the seriousness of his injuries, they noticed he had defensive wounds on his arms that left deep lacerations.

The female victim said after the attack the three ran to a silver car that was in the driveway for safety. Belmont police have recovered the car.

She told police that Rama ran west toward Union Road and Drouin ran west through a car dealership next door and got into a white 2009 C-class Mercedes that left the scene before police arrived.

Police were also told the entrance to the apartment and the building is covered by a surveillance camera and the feed went to a base system located in Cromwell's kitchen.

Affidavits said that the other tenant of the building told them that he lived in one apartment and Cromwell lived in the other. The two shared the bathroom.

The female victim went with police to the Belmont Police station and was able to definitively pick Drouin out of a photo array.

Drouin and Rama were arrested yesterday in an apartment on Union Avenue in Laconia by Belmont Police working with the U.S. Marshal Joint Fugitive Task Force.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 February 2014 01:19

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