Meredith 2016 budget shows 7 percent tax hike

MEREDITH — Despite some misgivings about the magnitude of the projected increase in the property tax rate, the Board of Selectmen this week unanimously approved the 2016 town budget presented by Town Manager Phil Warren.
A public hearing on the 2016 budget will be held during the regularly scheduled meeting of the selectboard on Monday, Feb. 1, beginning at 4:30 p.m.
The selectmen propose total appropriations of $14,265.952, an increase of $216,916, or 1.5 percent. The budget includes includes 2 percent increase in the wages and salaries of town employees, additional personnel in the Town Clerk/Tax Collector's office and the purchase of a tub grinder, which reduces wood and green waste, for the solid waste facility.
The budget projects revenues from sources other than property taxes of $4,734,925, supplemented by $750,000 from the undesignated fund balance. After adjusting for overlay and war service credits, the amount to be raised by property taxes is $9,041,777, an increase of $584,462, or 6.9 percent. The projected tax rate of $5.14 represents an increase of 33 cents, or 6.9 percent.
"That is quite a burden," said selectmen Ray Moritz, who asked Warren to "double your effort to get that increase down to 5 percent. He suggested trimming $158,000 from the budget.
Warren suggested drawing another $200,000 from the undesignated fund balance.
"We have the capacity," he said, explaining that the policy of the board has been to maintain a fund balance of at least 7.25 percent of the budget.
Moritz disagreed. "We have no wiggle in the fund balance," he said while also ruling out any reduction in capital outlays.
"I wish I had something to offer you," Warren replied, "but I don't."

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The longest night - Vigil for the homeless marks deaths of those few knew

LACONIA — On the longest night of the year, some two dozen men, women and children gathered in the glow beneath the lighted boughs of the tall spruce in Veterans Square to mark the 26th annual Homeless Memorial Day.

Hosted Monday night by Leonard Campbell of Catholic Charities, the vigil opened with the singing of "We Shall Overcome," followed by a gathering prayer that closes with the challenge of the Lord to meet "the needs of the poor and homeless, saying 'you do this to Me.'"

A proclamation of Gov. Maggie Hassan noted that in 2014, nearly 5,000 people, one in five of them children, sought shelter from the state in New Hampshire, 2,158 on one single cold night in January, while some bunked with family and friends and others weathered the elements.

Still others passed away. Reading by the light of a candle in their hands, every person at the vigil read from from a list of 42 names, each of a man or woman who spent years of their lives without a home of their own and died before the year was out.

About most, nothing was noted beyond their age. Alphonse Belanger, 62, of Manchester was remembered for as "a man whose sense of humor still shone through his sarcastic grumpiness." Richard Burhoe, known as "Country," was struck by a car on Elm Street in Manchester, Ron Del Dotto of Nashua "drowned in the river" and Bonnie M., 60, was "found in her room."

Norman McInnis Jr., called "Stormin' Norman,' became homeless when his landlord barred his dogs from his apartment, so he lived in the park until his dogs passed away, then, despite much anxiety about being inside," was housed. Struck by a train in Concord, Shaune Mulligan, 49, was "the kind of guy who, if he had the last two drinks, he'd share one with you," but amputations left him with only three toes when he was killed. Just 21, John S. was "much too young to have lived such a long homeless life," and Alex Starkweather of Nashua died homeless at 16, the child of a homeless family.

Rick Sargent of Laconia. who died recently, was remembered as "a good soul" by Sally Cantinelli, who uses a wheelchair.

"Whenever he saw me on the street he said hello and asked after me," she said, "and if I was going home he would push me there. He made sure I was always safe."

The late Jamie Kupchun, 44, of Manchester, who was among the founders of the Under the Bridge project, an advocacy group for the homeless, left words of his own. "Under the bridge isn't just a place," he wrote. "It's a way of life some have to face cold and alone outside. Under the bridge isn't a place; it's a feeling you get when you are all alone, no rescue in sight and the only thing on your mind is where you'll sleep tonight."

"We don't forget," Campbell said, highlighting the purpose of the vigil. "People are not invisible."


PHOTO: 12-21 Homeless Vigil

Chris Witten, right, reads a proclamation from Gov. Maggie Hassan declaring Dec. 21, 2015, the 26th Annual National Homeless Person's Memorial Day during a vigil organized by New Hampshire Catholic Charities Parish and Community Services coordinator Leonard Campbell at Veterans Square in Laconia Monday evening. About two dozen people gathered Monday evening during the first day of Winter to commemorate the event.  (Daryl Carlson for the Laconia Daily Sun)

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Meredith may put question of Bike Week fees on ballot

MEREDITH —Instituting fees for vendors wanting to sell goods or food during the annual Motorcycle Week may go to the residents of Meredith to decide. Selectmen invited the public to give their input at their regular meeting on Monday, Jan. 4, at 4:30 p.m. If the proposal proceeds as planned, an article would be placed on the warrant for Town Meeting in March.

Following the precedent set by Laconia, the ordinance would require all transient vendors, other than nonprofit organizations soliciting donations toward a charitable purpose, to be licensed by the town at a fee of $450 generally and $500 for food services for the entire event, which would entitle them to operate from noon on the first Friday until midnight on the last Sunday of the rally. Vendors operating without a license could be fined up to $500 for each day of unlawful operation.

The board has been weighing the issue of vendor fees since August, when it tabled a proposal in the teeth of stiff opposition from Laconia Harley-Davidson and Hart's Turkey Farm Restaurant, the two major hosts of vendors during the rally. Anne Deli, president of Laconia Harley-Davidson, warned "We will lose vendors" at that time, and asked "Does Meredith really want to put one more nail in the coffin of Motorcycle Week?"

The proposal was revived during a budget workshop earlier this month and the public hearing was announced when the board met this week. Town Manager Phil Warren explained that following the hearing the selectmen will decide whether or not to recommend a warrant article authorizing the town to collect vendor fees to Town Meeting. He said that although the selectmen may have the authority to adopt an ordinance, legal counsel has suggested a vote of Town Meeting "would be the cleanest way to do it."

This week, Warren told the board that all municipalities hosting motorcycle rallies collect vendor fees to defray the cost of public services, primarily police patrols, fire protection, medical services and trash collection. He explained that as Laconia Motorcycle Week has become more of a regional event, the costs to Meredith of deploying additional police and fire personnel has grown.

In August, Warren told the board that this year the town incurred expenses of $18,017 during the event, which consisted of $7,149 for police overtime, $5,868 for fire service and $5,000 in dues for the town's membership in the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association. Revenues amounted to $660, which represented special use permits issued to Laconia Harley-Davidson and Hart's Turkey Farm Restaurant at $330 apiece.

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