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City's property tax base predicted to grow 1.6% this year; total would be be $1.845 billion

LACONIA — Assessor Jon Duhamel told the City Council this week he was very confident that the total assessed valuation of taxable property in the city would match or exceed the figure of $1,844,646,944 projected in the 2016-2017 budget, which represents an increase of 1.6 percent.

As the assessed valuation rises, other things being equal, the tax rate falls, with million dollars of assessed value representing about a penny on the tax rate. Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3), who chairs the council's Finance Committee, has stressed the importance of accurately forecasting rises and falls in the assessed valuation during the budget process in order to project the property tax rate, which is not finally set by the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration until October or November.

City Manager Scott Myers said that the projected increase consists primarily of $29 million worth of new construction added to the tax rolls between April 1, 2014 and April 1, 2015, He said that the appreciation of values due to the improving condition of property markets could add another "couple of million" to his projection.

Myers noted that in first two months of the current tax year the value of new construction reached $3.1 million, about $800,000 more than last year and twice the pace of two years ago.

In 2007, the assessed valuation was $2,165,286,000, but it shrank steadily throughout the recession and beyond to $1,803,880,000 in 2013 before rising by approximately $12 million to $1,815,944,646 last year.

Duhamel noted that housing sales have risen every year since 2010, from 242 to 361 last year, signaling a recovering market. Foreclosures, after peaking at 93 in 2012, slide to 85 in 2013 and plummeted to 26 in 2014 and the number of tax abatements filed, which climbed to 442 in 2010, has fallen to just 54 last year. Nevertheless, average and median sales prices remain shy of pre-recession levels.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 June 2015 01:10

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Class of 2015 makes great strides in academic excellence (330)

LACONIA – As part of his graduation speech Saturday morning, Principal Jim McCollum noted that the Class of 2015 helped reshape Laconia High School.

While McCollum was speaking of their enthusiasm and spirit, more importantly, he was speaking about their academic achievements.

"Three years ago, we had just five Advanced Placement courses," McCollum said. "Now we have 10 AP classes and have tripled the number of students taking them."

Advanced Placement classes are considered the most rigorous classes that can be offered in high school and, in Laconia's case, are weighted on a 5.0 scale. McCollum said yesterday that 88 students in the school took AP classes this past year and more than 100 students have enrolled in them for next year.

McCollum also said that three years ago, the Class of 2015 had five Running Start programs -- a cooperative agreement with Lakes Region Community College whereby a student can pay $150 per class and get full college credit for taking it.

Now, he said, there are 14 Running Start classes available to Laconia High School students, meaning an ambitious student who works really hard can save thousands of dollars by taking Running Start classes and getting credit for them when they enter college.

"Starting next year, we'll literally be sending kids to college," McCollum said. "We literally have the ability to have our kids walk with a high school diploma and an associates degree," he said.

He said it's about rigor and what educators want students to know.

"High school is supposed to be fun," said McCollum, noting there is more to the high school experience than just academics. "But it's also about hard work, just like a profession or professional research."

McCollum also noted that writing proficiencies set by standards mandated by the now defunct No Child Left Behind Act have gone from 33 percent reading at a proficient or better level to 66 percent proficiency or above standard.

"These kids and their parents deserve a ton of credit," said McCollum. "They didn't shy away from going for more rigor."

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 June 2015 12:39

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Forrester, Hosmer on opposing sides regarding Laconia DHHS office closure

CONCORD — The future of the Laconia District Office of New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will hinge on the outcome of the committee of conference where negotiators from the House and Senate will reconcile the differences between the versions of the 2016-17 state budget adopted by the two chambers.

The companion bill to the budget, House Bill 2, adopted by both the House and Senate, directs the commissioner of DHHS to consolidate district offices to reduce general fund appropriations to the department by $1 million in each year of the biennium.

Last week, HHS Commissioner Nick Toumpas confirmed that the Laconia office, along with its counterparts in Claremont, Conway and Rochester, have been identified for closure, trimming the number of district offices from 11 to seven. There would be no reduction in personnel, he said. Instead, costs would be spare primarily by reducing leasing expenses.

State Sen. Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said yesterday, "I'm willing to have a conversation about the Laconia office. I have no interest in making life more difficult for people who are already having a hard time." However, she asked if $1 million in general fund appropriations was not cut from the budget of DHHS, where is the cut going to come from? What else are you willing to give up?"

Forrester flatly ruled out any increase in revenue to keep the offices open.

"It's never going to happen," she said.

State Sen. Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia), who serves on the Senate Finance Committee, said that the closure of district offices of DHHS was "one of the reasons I voted against HB 2," along with the failure to adequately fund substance abuse programs, dipping into the Renewable Energy Fund and refusing to extend the New Hampshire Health Protection Program.

Hosmer charged that the Republican majority in the Senate put itself in "an ideological box" by not only refusing to consider any measures to increase revenue but also by foregoing $23 million in revenue by reducing both the Business Profit and Business Enterprise taxes, a step he called "disingenuous."

Although Forrester and Hosmer insisted they were willing to discuss the future of the district offices, both indicated that partisan differences would hinder negotiations. Insisting that the budget process has been "open, transparent and inclusive," Forrester said that the atmosphere has become "very partisan."

Hosmer claimed that the Democratic minority in the Senate was "anxious and willing to work on the issues, but our input was not welcome, if it was contrary to the ideology of the Republican majorities in the Senate and House."

There are 62 employees working in the Laconia District office with 11,938 open cases. The office serves the city of Laconia and 25 towns (Alexandria, Alton, Ashland, Barnstead, Belmont, Bridgewater, Bristol, Campton, Center Harbor, Dorchester, Ellsworth, Gilford, Gilmanton, Hebron, Holderness, Meredith, New Hampton, Plymouth, Rumney, Sanbornton, Thornton, Tilton, Waterville Valley and Wentworth).

Laconia, Belmont and Gilford are in Senate District 7, represented by Hosmer, while 18 of the 22 towns in the catchment area of the Laconia District office are in Senate District 2, represented by Forrester.

 

Last Updated on Monday, 08 June 2015 11:28

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Laconia man charged with hitting Center Harbor police chief with car

CENTER HARBOR – Police Chief Mark Chase is recovering from minor injuries to his left and right arms and left leg after being struck by an alleged drunk driver late Saturday night.

Meanwhile, Matthew McKeen, 27, of 40 Fair St. in Laconia was ordered held by Judge Edward "Ned" Gordon on $10,000 cash or corporate surety bail after his video appearance in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division, yesterday.

Affidavits said Chase was on routine patrol and in full uniform when he saw a Subaru Forester parked in the parking lot at the Center Harbor baseball field on Route 25B on Dane Road at about 11:58 p.m. Chase pulled up to where the two cars were facing each other and Chase saw a man in the front seat wearing a red shirt.

The Subaru turned on its lights and began to back up. Chase turned on the cruiser's blue lights and spot light and got out of his cruiser. McKeen allegedly stopped and gave Chase a hand gesture. Chase told him to stop, but said the Subaru accelerated toward him rapidly, striking him with the left side of the car.

Chase was knocked to the ground. He received minor abrasions to both arms and one leg. He was treated at the scene by Stewart's Ambulance.

McKeen allegedly fled on to Dane Road then south on to Route 3. A police broadcast was put out to find him.

About 30 minutes later, Meredith Police Officer Michael Rand saw McKeen near Laconia Harley-Davidson on Route 3. Affidavits said Rand noticed the driver's side mirror was pushed in.

Rand tried to stop McKeen who allegedly fled for a second time. Rand pursued McKeen until he crashed the Subaru on Pickerel Pond Road that runs between Meredith Center Road and Parade Road.

Chase responded to Pickerel Pond Road in Laconia and identified the car and McKeen as the driver who allegedly hit him.

McKeen faces two sets of charges. In Center Harbor, he is charged with one count of felony reckless conduct for placing another in danger with a deadly weapon, one count of conduct after an accident for striking Chase and then fleeing, one felony count of second-degree assault for hitting Chase with his car, and one misdemeanor count of disobeying an officer for not stopping when Chase told him to.

According to a media release issued by Center Harbor, Meredith Police charged McKeen with one count of aggravated driving while intoxicated, one count of reckless operation, and one count of disobeying an officer.

McKeen appeared in court yesterday to initially face only the charges from Center Harbor. He will be scheduled to appear again in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division on the Meredith charges.

The Center Harbor Police were represented by Atty. Robert Libby who asked that bail remain at $10,000 cash or personal recognizance.

McKeen was represented by Laconia Public Defender Lauren Breda who made no bail argument, saying she reserved the right to argue it at a later date.

A probable cause hearing has been set for 11 a.m.

Last Updated on Monday, 08 June 2015 11:20

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