Time’s up - Senator presses to resolve issue of State School property sale

CONCORD — The Senate Finance Committee has unanimously endorsed a bill introduced by state Sen. Chuck Morse (R-Salem), president of the Senate, to convene a committee to frame a recommendation for proceeding with the sale of former Laconia State School property on North Main Street before the end of the current legislative session.

"It's time to end this," Morse said after the committee met on Tuesday. "The bill is meant to have a solution to present to the governor and get this done."

Morse, who first proposed selling the property in 2010, has grown increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress, particularly as the state is spending some $400,000 a year to maintain and police the property. On Tuesday, he told the Finance Committee that he met with then governor-elect Chris Sununu in December and they agreed "It needs to be dealt with this session."

The bill — Senate Bill 36 — establishes a committee consisting of the chairmen of the Senate and House finance committees, both Republicans, a Democratic member of the House Finance Committee, and a representative and senator from the Long Range Capital Planning and Utilization Committee. The committee is charged with reporting its findings and recommending legislation on or before April 1, 2017. Morse said he expects his bill to carry the Senate shortly then be referred to the House, where he anticipates it could encounter some resistance.

In fact, state Rep. Gene Chandler (R-Bartlett), who chairs the House Public Works and Highways Committee and has opposed selling the property from the outset, has proposed referring the matter to the Long-Range Capital Planning and Utilization Committee, which would determine whether, as the statute reads, "the property is no longer needed by the state" and commission an appraisal of its value.

"Not another year of meetings," Morse said in response to Chandler's initiative. "We're not going to let that property sit for another ten years with nothing happening. I want to make sure it gets develops and benefits Laconia. I will make sure I use my power to get this done."

Meanwhile, in accord with a directive in the 2016-2017 state budget to sell the property, the Department of Administrative Services has also made a recommendation to market the property in its present condition. Although the entire property stretches over about 245 acres, only the main campus straddling Right Way Path of some 200 acres would be offered for sale. The buildings and land are beset with environmental issues and numerous encumbrances and the so-called "designated receiving facility' housing sex offenders found incompetent to stand trial remains on the site, all of which diminish its value and appeal to prospective purchasers. The property was appraised for $2.16 million in 2012, but its actual value remains in question.

The city was not represented when the Senate Finance Committee met, prompting Morse to remark "because they've had enough of us." In the past the city has expressed interest in acquiring the property and in 2012 offered to purchase it for its appraised value, but the state declined the offer. If a private party makes an offer to purchase the property, Laconia, as the host municipality, would be given, under state law, an opportunity to match that offer.

Mayor Ed Engler said that at this point there is nothing for the city to do but let the state pursue whatever course it chooses to a conclusion and if an offer is made to purchase the property, then decide whether or not to match it.

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Drug sting results in arrest


LACONIA — A Winter Street man has been charged with sales of suboxone by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Drug Task Force after an investigation into illegal sales activity in the Belmont and Laconia area.
Joshua A. McNeil, 34, of 18 Winter St. allegedly sold suboxone, a drug used to treat people with opioid addiction, to a “cooperating individual” working with the task force, according to affidavits obtained Tuesday from the Belknap County Superior Court.
Affidavits said police arranged for a “one-party interception” or permission from the informant to record his or her phones calls regarding McNeil, which was granted on Sept. 6, 2016, by Belknap County Assistant Attorney R.J. Meurin.
McNeil allegedly sent a text message to the informant that 20 pills were needed and police told the informant to meet him at the Belknap Mall, where McNeil allegedly sold him 14 pills with money provided by the police.
Police observed the transaction and were able to identify McNeil through a mug shot obtained from the Concord Police Department.
A second similar deal was arranged between the two on Sept. 26, 2016, where McNeil said he was waiting for the informant behind the former school building near Sacred Heart Church off Union Avenue.
Two days later, a third transaction was arranged between the informant and McNeil near the same place. The informant was told to go over to McNeil’s girlfriend’s house on Winter Street and police observed the informant go on to the porch at 18 Winter St. Affidavits said that 18 Winter St. and the place of the second transaction were both within a drug-free school zone for the Laconia High School.
A warrant for his arrest was issued on Oct. 31, 2016, and McNeil was arrested Jan. 14 by Gilford Police during a routine traffic stop and held over the weekend in the Belknap County House of Corrections.
He appeared in the Belknap County Superior Court on Tuesday and was ordered held on $1,500 cash or corporate surety.
According a spokesman at the state Department of Corrections, McNeil was convicted of armed robbery in Belknap County on July 22, 2014, and was paroled on March 22, 2015. His parole ended on Aug. 31, 2018.


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Country bar to open in downtown


LACONIA — With the twang of electric guitars and a rampaging mechanical bull, country is coming to the city next month when the Whiskey Barrel Bar and Music Hall opens its doors at 546 Main St., last home to the Funky Monkey.

01-17 Whiskey Barrel logoA satellite of the "Barrel" in Haverhill, Massachusetts, owner Bernie Goulet said the nightspot will be just the second country music venue in the Merrimack Valley north of Boston. With capacity for 600 patrons, the Whiskey Barrel will feature live country music performed by local and regional bands and, with an array of flat screen televisions, will also rank among the largest sports bars in the Lakes Region, where fans can enjoy NFL games, NASCAR racing and the Ultimate Fighting Championship on pay per view.

Goulet said the venue will be managed by Matt Menegas, who as a longtime vendor at Laconia Motorcycle Week is no stranger to the city. He said that a "premier sound system," installed by RPM Dynamics, will keep the toes tapping and the joint rocking.

"Tentatively," Goulet said, he expects the venue to open on Friday, Feb. 3, with the familiar strains of the Eric Grant Band, fronted by the popular talent born and bred in Laconia. A week later, Foreigner's Journey will play a tribute to these two classic bands. Ultimate Aldean is scheduled to offer a tribute to the country star on July 1 and, in a change of pace, Slaughter will bring hair metal alloyed with glam, punk and pop rock to Main Street on July 15.

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