Gilford backs school district, turns back critics


GILFORD — Voters on Tuesday passed the Gilford School Board's proposed operating budget of $26,019,631, following a furious information campaign by opponents who even sent out mailers opposing the budget.

The vote was close — Article 2 for the school district's operating budget passed 568-463.

The multiyear teachers' collective bargaining agreement passed 557-476, meaning a shift of only 81 votes would have resulted in a tie.

A total of 1,047 ballots were cast out of 6,336 eligible voters, for 16 percent turnout, said Gilford Town Clerk Denise Gonyer.

"I think it's a good average, regardless of the storm," Gonyer said.

At the deliberative session of School District Meeting, in a rebuff of the Budget Committee, voters restored the Gilford School Board's proposed operating budget of $26,019,631 for an up-or-down vote on March 14. This set up a showdown with citizens who wanted to see another $116,000 shaved.

The Budget Committee's proposed operating budget of $25,903,694 was increased at the school deliberative session on Friday, Feb. 10, to $26,019,631. Failure at the polls meant the school district would have adopted a default budget of $25,872,143, Last year, the proposed budget was rejected by voters.

The warrant article for the three-year collective bargaining agreement between the district and the Gilford Education Association sparked controversy.

The agreement featured an estimated increase in cost of $296,819 in 2017-2018.

Critics pointed out that the contract compounds in cost, for an accumulated cost of $1.6 million. Article 3 only asked for the first year's funding.

Article 8, a citizen's petition to place the determination of the default budget in the hands of the Budget Committee, also prompted debate. This article failed 633-380.

In town voting, Gilford voters had a say on whether to build a solid waste transfer station by borrowing $950,000. Article 6 passed 749-248 and met the three-fifths vote requirement.

The "yes" vote now means Laconia can prepare to lose roughly $45,000 in annual revenue.

Laconia and Gilford have been in a solid waste district, and Laconia has charged Gilford a per-ton fee for administration and use of the Laconia Transfer Station, located at 385 Meredith Center Road, Laconia.

Article 11, a plan to renovate the Town Hall, passed 763-221.

By a two-vote margin, attendees at the deliberative session of Town Meeting in February cut $65,000 from the article to upgrade the town hall building, allocating $385,000 to the renovations. The article sought funding for Phase 2 of the Town Hall Improvements Project, "to include new heating and cooling fixtures, water system upgrades, hallway flooring, sidewalks and ADA compliant entry doors."

Kevin Leandro, vice chairman of the Budget Committee, warned that the town could lose any reasonable chance to fix the building, if voters balked at the request.

Article 11 initially sought $525,000 but was brought back to the Budget Committee with updated estimates.

As voters arrived at the polls in a snowstorm, Gonyer said town staff explained the circumstances that led to voting during Tuesday's nor'easter.

On Monday, Gov. Chris Sununu signaled in a statement after a conference call that towns were advised to continue with the vote on Tuesday, based on state election law.

"A lot of voters didn't understand why we didn't change our date, but we tried to explain that the governor told us if we hadn't changed it already, we shouldn't change it," Gonyer said.

Two conflicting statutes led to the confusion. One states that the moderator has discretion to reschedule an election, but the other says the Town Meeting must fall on the second Tuesday in March.

"Because of the conflicting RSAs, the governor felt that we should not change the date if we had not already announced it," Gonyer said.

Town staff counted the ballots, despite hurdles created by the storm including an internet outage.

Belmont was the first and only one of the local towns with voting scheduled on Tuesday to postpone.

As a result of the decision, Belmont Town and School District voting will take place 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.on Thursday, March 16, at Belmont High School.

Budgeting for city needs with tax cap challenges council


LACONIA — After City Manager Scott Manager briefed the City Council on the challenges he faces preparing the 2017-2018 city budget, Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2) sounded a rare warning against cleaving to the tax cap.

"We can't keep doing this year after year," Bownes said at the prospect of another round of belt tightening. Referring to the council's goals of attracting a younger demographic, revitalizing downtown commerce, redeveloping The Weirs and making the Colonial Theatre a cultural center, he said that "We can't do that unless you're willing to invest in the city." Turning to the tax cap, Bownes said "Now is not the time to override it, but we can't continue to take on a yearly basis the hike the tax cap makes us take." Then, in closing, he remarked, "I don't want to debate it. I just want to raise the issue."

The tax cap limits the annual increase in total amount raised by property taxes to the rate of inflation, measured by the Consumer Price Index — Urban (CPIU), for the prior calendar year, plus an additional amount tied to the value of new construction, which is calculated by multiplying the value of building permits less the value of demolition permits issued between April 1 and March 31 by the prior year's property tax rate.

Meyers told the council that in 2016 the rate of inflation was 1.3 percent and he has projected the value of new construction at $19 million, which together would allow the city to raise an additional $371,000 from property taxes. He pointed out that the estimated cost of the city's share of health insurance premiums for its employees is $175,000 and its share of contributions to the New Hampshire Retirement System is $200,000, which taken together exceed the increase allowed by the tax cap.

Myers expects no significant increase in revenues from sources other than property taxes, such as motor vehicle registrations, interest on investments or transfers from the state. But, he did note the state authorizes towns to add up to $5 to each motor vehicle registration in order to fund transportation improvements. Currently, the city applies a surcharge of $1.50, which returns $30,000 from the approximately 20,000 registrations each year. Raising the surcharge to $5 would more than double the return to $70,000. Moreover, the Legislature is considering a bill that would double the maximum surcharge from $5 to $10.

Myers also reminded councilors that the city will receive $400,000 from the sale of former Lakeport Fire Station property to Lakeport Landing Marina and another $508,000 from the sale of a lot on Union Avenue to Irwin Marine. In addition, a payment of $238,000 from the Concord Regional Solid Waste Resource/Recovery Cooperative is included in the budget. He emphasized this $1.1 million in one-time revenues should be set aside in contingency, reserve or stabilization accounts to fund one-time expenditures, and not included in the operating budget to fund recurring expenditures.

Finally, Myers said that this year and last $935,000 has been withdrawn from the undesignated fund balance and added to the budget to manage the tax rate by offsetting revenue from property taxes. He anticipated using $835,000 of the fund balance in the 2017-2018 budget, explaining that with tighter budgeting, the fund balance should not be drawn down faster than it can be replenished.

Myers is expected to present his recommended budget next month.

'City on the Lakes Tri Festival' wins City Council approval


LACONIA — A two-day triathlon event planned for mid-August received formal approval Monday by the City Council, and the promoter said he is hopeful of drawing up to 1,000 participants.

03-02 City on the Lakes triathlon logoThe "City on the Lakes Tri Festival" will take place the weekend of Aug. 12-13, with the first day featuring a sprint competition and the second a triathlon that will cover 70.3 miles of swimming, bicycling and running. The swimming competition is to be held in Lake Opechee, and running and bicycling segments will be in and around Laconia.

Jan Buitendag, the chief executive officer of Tritanium Sports of Gilford, said he conceived the local event to fill a void left when organizers of the Timberman Triathlon, traditionally held in Ellacoya Park in Gilford, moved that event to Old Orchard Beach, Maine.

"I always thought that Opechee Park is the ideal triathlon venue and I am very pleased that the Laconia authorities approved the application," he said Tuesday. "We are going to stage a world class triathlon event at Opechee and surrounding areas."

Buitendag was involved in the Timberman marathon before it was sold to the corporation that runs the popular Ironman events. He was also involved in the local Mooseman Triathlon.

He said athletes and local authorities seem to appreciate the potential of an event to be run by local people instead of a major corporation.

"We must get away from the idea that only big international and national companies can organize a successful triathlon," he said. "The history of triathlons in the Lakes Region has proven that we do not need those big companies to stage a successful triathlon."

The first day of the competition is a sprint distance triathlon featuring a 350-yard swim, 16-mile bike ride and 5-kilometer run. The next day's event will be a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run. The start and finish will be in Opechee Park and the bike ride will take participants to the Bristol area and back.

Participation in the local event will not qualify an athlete for the Ironman series, but Buitendag doesn't see that as a problem.

"How many people are really interested in doing that?" he asked. "Most want to get medal and a T-shirt and have a safe event."

He said the sprint event is a particularly accessible competition for those who may not have participated in a triathlon before. He also said there are a variety of training programs available with detailed instructions on building fitness levels to participate in triathlons.

Charge for participation is expected to be about $250.

03-02 City on the lakes triathlon route03-02 City on the Lakes triathlong color route