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Councilors swap sharp opinions over $1.8M school borrowing

LACONIA — The City Council gave a first reading to the School District's request to authorize borrowing $1,828,000 to fund renovations at Laconia High School last night, but only after a sharp exchange between Councilors Brenda Baer (Ward 4), who alone dissented, and Henry Lipman (Ward 3), chairman of the council's Finance Committee.

Councilors Lipman, Matt Lahey (Ward 2) and Armand Bolduc (Ward 6) voted for the first reading of the resolution to authorize the borrowing. Councilors Ava Doyle (Ward 1)and Bob Hamel (Ward 5) were absent. A public hearing on the issue, followed by the second and final resolution to authorize the borrowing is scheduled for the next regular meeting of the council on November 12.

Two weeks ago, Baer was lone dissenter when the City Council gave the School District a green light to pursue a Qualified Zone Academy Bond (QZAB), a loan bearing no interest awarded by the federal government and administered by the New Hampshire Department of Education. She renewed her opposition when the resolution authorizing the borrowing reached the council again last night.

Baer objected to the first reading of the resolution, claiming there has been no public hearing or discussion by the council and no final vote would be taken until after the November 5 election. She said that the loan requires a 10 percent local match and questioned how the School District intends to draw $180,000 from the capital campaign, which funded the expansion of the Huot Regional Technical Educaiton Center and building of Bank of New Hampshire Stadium. Baer warned that the $78,261 in annual payments over 23 years to repay the borrowing would drive the municipal debt service beyond the $3.2 million limit keep overall property tax burden within the city's cap.

The School District, countered Lipman, "is not asking for one nickel from us." He reminded Baer that the School Board has undertaken to service the borrowing from its operating budget. Likewise, he stressed that funds will be spent addressing health and safety issues by installing a sprinkler system and air handlers as well as removing asbestos and radon gas.

Baer said that school officials have known about the life-safety concerns for some time, but chose to reconstruct the playing fields. "They didn't just pop up," she snapped. Furthermore, she suggested that if the School District could service the debt from its operating budget, then its budget must be inflated.

Lipman reminded Baer that the School District balanced its budget within the tax cap despite foregoing $500,000 in state aid. He repeated that the funds will be applied to life-safety issues. "This is the best way to do it for the taxpayers," he said. "You're suggesting we wait till we have to do it — a fire. This is an orderly way to do it."

Mayor Mike Seymour, visibly troubled by Baer's suggestions that QZAB may be matched or repaid at the city's expense, asked Ed Emond, business administrator of the School District, to explain how the loan would be serviced. Recalling that the School District received a QZAB of $6.5 million to fund the expansion of the Huot Center, construction of science laboratories and reconfiguration of the playing fields, he said that the loan was matched by the capital campaign. That fundraising effort, he said, provides sufficient resources in cash and in kind to match the second QZAB.

NOTE: What Captain Bill Clary told the City Council began as a search for a treadmill for the Police Department led to a wellness challenge and an award of $3,486.75 from the New Hampshire Interlocal Trust, which in partnership with Harvard Pilgrim Health Care provides health insurance to the police force. Meredith Roy, wellness coordinator for the trust, said that a six-month wellness challenge, with specific goals, was designed for the department. In presenting the check she described the officers performance as "outstanding." Roy said 80-percent of the employees participated, more than twice the average for work-sites, and 77 percent completed the challenge.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 October 2013 03:14

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Candidate's walk on WOW Trail gives advocates chance to tout its benefits

LACONIA — Only a few people turned out for a Walk with the Candidates along the WOW Trail Saturday morning and most of the conversation of those taking part centered on the trail itself and the role it can play in the city's economy.
The event was described by Gretchen Gandini, WOW Trail executive director, as a ''walk and talk'' session for the public which would provide an opportunity for those taking part to gain a new appreciation of the trail, which she said is an underutilized resource.
Mayoral candidates Kaileif Mitchell and Ed Engler took the walk, which got underway at 10 a.m.,. along with Ward 6 City Council candidates Tony Felch and Armand Bolduc. Joining them were three of Mitchell's children, his parents Harry and Deb, Felch's daughter Alexis, and WOW Trail President Alan Beetle.
Bolduc expressed concern about the amount of bittersweet, an invasive species, growing along the trail, saying that it will eventually overwhelm the trees it winds itself around.
Beetle said that plans for the trail, which is envisioned as stretching for nine miles between Belmont and Meredith, has been underway for about 10 years. The first phase, from Veteran's Square to Lakeport Square, was opened in May, 2010 at a cost of more than $820,000 and the second phase, from Veteran's Square to the Belmont line project is expected to cost about $1 million. Although the WOW Trail committee has financed and managed the construction, as phases of the trail are completed they are accepted by the city as a municipal parkway.
The city is also the leaseholder for the state rights of way necessary to run the trail close to railroad tracks.
He said that the challenge of funding the project has slowed the pace of construction. To fund design, engineering and construction of the first and second phases, the WOW Trail was awarded two federal grants totaling $738,000 as well as raised money through annual events like the WOW Ball and WOW Fest.
Since the project began in 2004, the city has contributed a total of $150,000 in annual appropriations ranging between $20,000 and $7,500. This fiscal year the city has budgeted $17,500 for the project.
The City Council is currently considering a proposal to borrow $1.55 million for a variety of downtown projects, $400,000 of which would be used to help complete the second phase of the WOW Trail and would use proceeds from the city's Downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District account to pay off the bond issue.
Engler said that he is a huge supporter of that project, noting that the WOW Trail is in essence a public park and that while there are issues with how it will be completed along an active railway, which he observed is not really all that busy, that it has tremendous potential to bring recreation oriented tourists to the area.
Mitchell, who said the WOW Trail is part of his regular exercise regime, said that while he can see using TIFF money from the downtown and Lakeport districts for each of the WOW Trail segments, he is not ready to endorse the current proposal.
''I want to see what other needs we have and how can we make sure that what happens is equally shared,'' said Mitchell.
Beetle said that he was pleased to see the candidates are supportive of the WOW Trail efforts and see its value to the county.

 

CAPTIONS:
WOW Mitchell;

Mayoral candidate Kaileif Mitchell walks along the WOW Trail while carrying his 5-year-old daughter daughter Zypporah on his shoulders. Ward 6 Counselor Armand Bolduc is shown at left. (Roger Amsden photo for The Laconia Daily Sun)

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 October 2013 02:57

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Return of cancer forces Ray Burton to cancel re-election plans

CONCORD — After representing the northern half of the state, including Laconia, on the Executive Council for 35 years, Ray Burton of Bath announced on Sunday that with the return of the cancer that slowed him earlier this year he will not be seeking re-election to either the Executive Council or Grafton County Commission in 2014.

Burton, 74, opened a formal statement by saying "It is with a heavy heart that I inform you that my cancer has returned. After several days in and out of the hospital I will be heading home to Bath, New Hampshire to rest." After announcing his retirement, he quickly and characteristically added "I will fulfill my duties entrusted in me. My office is always willing to assist the constituents of Grafton County and Executive Council District 1."

The announcement immediately prompted a flurry of tributes from public officials from one end of the political spectrum to the other. "For me it is a very sad day," said State Senator Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith), and it's a sad day for all Ray's constituents. No one does it it better than Ray Burton," she continued. "If all our public servants followed the Ray's model, we would all be a lot better off." She said that the Grafton County Republican Committee created an extraordinary service award in Burton's name and honored him as the first recipient. "But, with Ray it was never about Republicans and Democrats," she remarked. "It was always about the people."

Peter Powell of Lancaster, longtime director and past president of the North Country Council, recalled that Burton, then a young man of 19 or 20 helping to elect his father, Wesley Powell. governor in 1958. "Ray grew in, with and for the North Country," he remarked, "and became an icon for the place. You couldn't look at him without thinking of the North County." Noting that the authority of executive councilors appears limited, Powell said that Burton "turned his position into one of significant power, which he used to the advantage of the people he represented. He is on the minds and hearts of everyone up here," he said.

Governor Maggie Hassan, the last of the 10 chief executives to serve with Burton, called his record of public service "unmatched" and said "I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to serve alongside Councilor Burton." John H. Sununu spoke of his "his dedication and deep commitment to his constituents," noting that his "bipartisan leadership will be missed." United States Senator Kelly Ayotte described Burton as "a passionate and tireless voice for the North Country for decades" while for United States Congresswoman Annie Kuster he was "a fixture of governance and service In New Hampshire since I was a young girl."

Following treatment for kidney cancer in February and March, Burton said in April that as tests showed no sign of the disease he intended to run in 2014 and 2016. However, his health faltered earlier this month when he was unable to attend the meeting of the Executive Council on October 16 and a week later, was not on hand to accept a lifetime achievement award from the North County Council at its annual meeting.

First elected to the Executive Council in 1976, Burton lost his seat two years later, but regain it in 1980 and has held it ever since, almost always by a wide margin. He has also served on the Grafton County Commission for the past 22 years. But, he never forgot the lesson of his only loss. "I'm always running a two votes behind," he said of every campaign, right up to election day.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 October 2013 02:34

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Man charged with trying to sell his dad's truck

GILMANTON — A Loon Pond Road man is being held on $3,000 cash only bail after allegedly stealing his father's car and trying to sell it.

Paperwork obtained from the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division, said Gilmanton Police charged Tony A. Hartford with one count of theft of a motor vehicle.

Sgt. Matt Currier said Hartford's father called police at 4 p.m. on October 25 and said he just learned his son had taken his 2008 GMC pickup and had tired to sell it to a used car dealer on Seavey Road in Belmont.

Hartford's father (who is also named Anthony) said he didn't have his permission to sell the truck and learned from one of his friends that young Hartford was heading to a used auto dealer in Laconia to "see if they'd give him more money."

Currier said he called the manager at the Laconia dealership and got of description of young Hartford. He also learned from the manager in Laconia that young Hartford was returning to Seavey Road in Belmont so Chief Joe Collins called the Belmont Police who also went to Seavey Road.

When Belmont Police arrived they saw a 2008 GMC pickup parked in the back parking lot with the same plate number Hartford senior reported. Currier reported that when he arrived, young Hartford was removing the plates from the truck.

Belmont Police also learned that Currier had already arrested young Hartford because he had an outstanding warrant from the Tilton Police.

At some point, Hartford's father showed up at the Seavey Road dealer and he identified the GMC as his. He told all of the officers from both community's that his son did not have his permission to drive or sell his GMC.

Affidavits also said that when Anthony Sr. asked his son if he was trying to sell the truck, young Hartford admitted it.

After speaking with the people who own the business on Seavey Road, police learned they gave young Hartford $4,000 saying he had the title to the truck and the name "Anthony Hartford" was on it. Belmont Police charged Hartford with receiving stolen property.

As to the charges from Tilton, Detective Cpl. Matt Dawson said yesterday young Hartford had been implicated in the theft of 12 computers from Walmart.

Dawson said young Hartford has a court date next month in the 6th Circuit Court, Laconia Division.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 October 2013 02:25

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