Mayor concerned about trends of Weirs development

LACONIA — Like the first, the second of four sessions to which the City Council has invited property owners to discuss changes to the zoning at The Weirs passed again this week without anyone offering their views either in person or writing.
City Manager Scott Myers said that he had written to more than two dozen people who own property at The Weirs, explaining that the council is reviewing the permitted uses in the Commercial Resort district, particular along the US Route 3 and NH Route 11B corridor from White Oaks Road to the Meredith town line. He said that a few indicated they would attend the council meetings while others said they would provide written submissions, but so far no one has been seen or heard from.
"They're all in Florida," said Councilor Armand Bolduc (Ward 6).
Meanwhile, Mayor Ed Engler with a map of the city and inventory of properties sought to place the issue in perspective. He noted that the commercial resort district encompasses most of The Weirs, beginning on Lake Street. extending northward along Weirs Boulevard, including the center of The Weirs and running either side of US Route 3 to the Meredith town line. It also includes property along both sides of Route 11B, including the former Surf Coaster property at the junction with White Oaks Road.
Engler said that Planning Director Shanna Saunders compiled an inventory of 32 large lots in the city that were either vacant or underdeveloped. Altogether, these lots represent 465 acres, of which 28 lots covering 446 acres, or 96 percent of the total acreage, are in the commercial resort district, most along the US Route 3/NH Roue 11B corridor.
Elsewhere, land suited for commercial development is scarce. Laconia, with 20.1 square miles of land, is one of the smallest cities in the state. Only Somersworth, with 9.8 square miles, and Portsmouth, with 15.7 square miles, are smaller.
Moreover, there are six state forests — Hamel, Huston-Morgan, Opechee Bay, Paugus, Prescott, Swain — covering 749 acres in the northern reaches of the city. Altogether these properties, together with Ahern State Park and the former Laconia State School property, account for nearly 10 percent of the land area of the city. Moreover, much of the remaining land in the northern part of the city on either side of Meredith Center Road and Parade Road lies in residential zones and is without municipal utilities.
The mayor noted that residential property represents 82.6 percent of the total assessed valuation, the largest share among the 13 cities in the state. Conversely, the value of commercial property and buildings, including utilities, accounts for 17.4 percent of the total assessed valuation, the smallest share of any city.
"Is it wise to allow residential development along the corridor?" Engler asked, referring to stretch along US Route 3 and NH Route 11B at The Weirs. "Theoretically, every one of these lots could become a trailer park," he continued. He said that the much of the recent development at The Weirs has been residential and warned if the trend persists "all that land could gone and we'd have no land for commercial development at all."
Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2), who serves as the council's liaison to the Panning Board, suggested referring the issue to the Zoning Task Force. "I think we need some more input," he said, encouraging the council "to be a little more expansive in how we're going about this."
However, Engler said that any recommendations the council offers should be incorporated in the Master Plan. He said that the council would ultimately submit its recommendations to the Planning Board, which in turn would refer them to the Zoning Task Force. He said that the council should frame its recommendations and forward them to the Planning Board to ensure they receive thorough consideration.

Audit shows Laconia is in ‘sound financial condition’

LACONIA — After completing its independent audit of the city's financial statements, Pat Mohan of Melanson, Heath & Company assured the City Council this week that the city remains in sound financial condition and the auditors provided a "clean" opinion with no major deficiencies.

At the close of the fiscal year ended on June 30, 2015, total assets exceeded liabilities by $59,818.945, a change of $4,549,523 compared to the prior year. Governmental funds posted ending fund balances of $15,332,243, an increase of $6,230,395 over the the year before. The total long-term debt at the close of the fiscal year was $42,538,768, or $7,340,912 more than the previous year.

During the year, actual revenues exceeded budgeted revenues by $190,891 while actual expenditures were $417,865 less than budgeted, leaving an excess of revenues over expenditures of $608,756.

To offset property taxes, $835,000 was withdrawn from the unassigned fund balance to supplement revenues in the 2015-2016 budget. However, with the operating surplus of $608,756, the net decrease in the unassigned fund balance was $226,244. Mohan said that the unassigned fund balance of $5,357,809, which represents nearly 10 percent of expenditures, complies with recommended guidelines.

Mohan stressed that for the first time the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report includes the city's share of the $ 4 billion unfunded liability of the New Hampshire Retirement System. The city's share of $37,059,606 represents 1 percent of the total. The city will never be billed directly for the unfunded pension liability. Instead, the unfunded liability will be addressed by measures taken by the New Hampshire Retirement System, which could include increased contributions to the system from municipal employers.

Low gas prices bring smiles

Gas prices fallAllivia Burbank of Canterbury is liking the low rate of $1.579/gallon at her regular fill-up station, Penguin Fuels in Loudon along Route 106, on Sunday morning. (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)Low gas prices are bringing happy faces to customers pumping their own gas at places like the Irving station at the junction of Union Avenue and Messer Street, where the per gallon price dropped to $1.67 yesterday according to the Gas Buddy website.
“I don’t travel that much, but I’m filling my tank today because I”m driving to the airport in Manchester to pick up my daughter. It’s nice having prices this low,” said June Houle of Laconia.
At the next pump, Diane Carr of Meredith said that as far as she’s concerned the low prices are “great. I came over here after I saw a $1.89 price on Parade Road. I shop around and this was the best price I could find “ said Carr.
“This is having a huge impact on me,” said Ben Peaslee of Gilmanton, a construction worker who drives every day to a job in Northern Vermont. He said that last year at this time he was spending $150 a week on gas and now he’s down to about $60 a week for his truck, which gets only 12-and a-half-miles a gallon.
Kim Perkins, an accountant who has clients ranging from Center Harbor to Newburyport, Massachusetts, said that a year ago it cost her $56 to fill the tank of her Ford Escort and now it’s in the $26 to $28 range, which she says is a giant savings for her.
It’s the same story all along Route 106 from Laconia to Loudon, where Gas Buddy reports the lowest gas prices in the state can be found, $1.55 at the EZ Stop across from the south entryway at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, $1.59 at Penguin Fuel at Route 106 and Shaker Road and $1.65 at Penguin Fuels on Route 106 just north of the Route 140 intersection.
“’It’s good anytime customers save money at the gas pump. That means they have more money to spend on other things, like a candy bar or a car wash,” said Dave DeVoy, who owns and operates the Gilford Mobil Mart as well as the Bosco Bell and Blueberry Station convenience stores in Barnstead.
He says that the lower prices don’t impact his bottom line, as he’s paying less for the gasoline than he was a year ago, and he thinks it’s providing a good boost to the local economy by increasing consumer spending.
Statewide, Gas Buddy reports the average price is $1.84, just a penny above the national average, and that the price per barrel of oil is the $30 range, compared with the $90 to $100 range of two years ago.
The drop in per-barrel prices is also having a big impact on home heating oil prices, according to Curtis Stafford of Stafford Oil, who says that his price is $1.739 per gallon right now for a delivery of 125 gallons or more, compared to $2.589 per gallon last year at the same time, a drop of over 30 percent.’
“People think we’re making less than we were when prices are higher, but it’s absolutely the opposite. People can now afford to have their fuel tanks filled, rather than partial deliveries, so we’re making fewer trips. Our delivery trucks use diesel, and we’re saving money there as well. The fuel oil dealers love it, “ says Stafford.
He says that lower prices have allowed many customers to save their money and spend it on other things, which has a positive impact on the local economy.
Benjamin Wilson, a financial adviser with Edward Jones Investments, says that company analysts say that the average consumer saved $550 last year due to lower gas prices and that has had a major positive impact on the on American economy.
“People have more money to spend on goods and services and since two-thirds of the American economy is tied to consumer spending that’s a big boost. If you multiply the amount of your increased spending by the millions of other Americans who are also saving money on gas, you can see that you and you and your fellow consumers are are likely adding billions of dollars to the economy.”
He said that from an investment standpoint it is important not to overreact to what may prove to be a temporary development.
“The recent decline in oil prices has certainly had an economic impact, but no one can predict how long these prices will stay low or what other factors may arise that would affect the financial markets.”