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Voters may not consider tax cap an obstacle to funding all-day K in Newfound

Thomas P. Caldwell

BRISTOL — Supporters of full-day kindergarten are so convinced of its merits that they are willing to override the property tax cap and gamble that a majority of Newfound Area School District voters will agree, even if it means implementing an imperfect program that may require unplanned spending.
The stakes are high: if voters reject the petitioned warrant article on March 10, the Newfound Area School Board will not be able to address full-day kindergarten until next spring, which might push implementation of the program back to the fall of 2017.
Almost everyone attending Newfound's deliberative session on Jan. 31 agreed on the merits of full-day kindergarten, but many advocated a more considered approach that would provide additional time to plan the program and develop a realistic budget. The $250,000 contained in the petitioned article was at the lower end of the superintendent's top-of-the-head cost estimate of $250,000 to $500,000 for offering full-day kindergarten at the four elementary schools, as well as an option for parents who prefer a half-day program.
The school board and budget committee withheld a recommendation either way because they are legally restricted from recommending spending that would exceed the amount allowed under the school district's tax cap.
Jeff Levesque, the school board member from Groton, said the board is on record as supporting full-day kindergarten, but the majority felt more time was necessary to develop a comprehensive plan that would take into account the possibility that students from families that currently send their children to out-of-district programs would want to attend Newfound if it were offering a full-day program. Those additional students might require more space and additional teachers that would not be covered by the $250,000 appropriation.
"September is coming very soon," Levesque said. "I suggest that someone amend the article to a smaller amount, to prepare for implementing full-day kindergarten in the following year. That would give us sufficient time to prepare and fix the buildings to accommodate the additional students. If we do it halfway, we're probably doing more harm than good."
School Board Vice-Chair Vincent Paul Migliore of Bridgewater disagreed. He pointed out that the first signature on the petition for full-day kindergarten is that of N.H. Commissioner of Education Virginia M. Barry, who resides in Bridgewater, and he said the Department of Education could provide help in planning the program. "It could be implemented fairly quickly," Migliore said.
Bob Brooks of Hebron offered an amendment that would change the implementation date to 2016 but his amendment failed.
David Hill of Bristol was one of the few to speak against full-day kindergarten, arguing that, while kindergarten gives students a head start, that advantage is gone by the time they reach second grade.
Susan Duncan of Bristol said has fought for kindergarten for years, including back when her husband was serving as a member of the school board. "Before I leave this earth, I'd like to know this district is providing full-day kindergarten," she said.
There was an even longer discussion on another petitioned article, calling for $15,000 to fund the Junior Bears middle school football program and bring it under the district's control. The majority of the speakers offered testimony about the importance of the program as a feeder to the high school program, its promoting discipline and self-esteem, and the effect on academic motivation, since athletes must maintain good grades if they are to remain on the team.
Budget committee member Jeff Bird of Bridgewater said a football program like that would have helped him. "The only thing worse than my athletic ability was my grades," he said. "Without football, I didn't have any reason to get good grades."
The wording of the article was confusing to many, calling for "the surrounding towns of the Newfound School District" to raise $15,000 "per school year" to support the program. Bruce Wheeler of Bristol offered the first amendment, striking "surrounding" from the phrase. "I'm sure we'd all appreciate it if Plymouth, Gilford, and other surrounding towns paid all of our school district costs," he said, "but that's not going to happen."
There were several attempts to address the "$15,000 per year" phrase, the first failing because it replaced "per year" with "for start-up costs" but, as Brian Richardson of Alexandria pointed out, the program has been operating for 10 years as an all-volunteer program, so its start-up costs are in the past. The amendment that finally passed simply dropped "per year" so the article does not imply that it will cost the district $15,000 every year — although there will be funds in future budgets to continue the program.
When it came time to address the main budget article, there was an attempt to reduce it by $16,000, the cost of a new projection system for the auditorium that some felt was unnecessary, with the idea of covering the cost of the football program with that money. The amendment failed on a strong voice vote, and the budget will appear on the ballot as presented. The proposed budget is $21,948,204, with a default budget of $22,139,936.
There were questions but little discussion on the other articles: the cost items of a two-year teachers' agreement, the placing of $60,000 from the unexpended fund balance into the expendable trust fund for building maintenance, and giving permission for the school board to negotiate a tuition agreement with Hill.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 February 2015 01:57

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Cold-water rescue effort fails to locate a suspected victim

LACONIA — Fire and rescue personnel spent about 90 minutes yesterday afternoon, beginning at 3:30 p.m., looking for a man who witnesses said was walking on the Lake Winnipesaukee ice the near the Mount Washington docks at Weirs Beach.

Lt. Chad Vaillancourt said observers told fire rescue personnel the man, who appeared disoriented, walked in from the lake, saw that the water was open around the docks and walked away.

He said rescuers from Laconia, Gilford and Meredith each searched along the ice and found what they think were the man's tracks.

Fire officials followed the tracks with their all-terrain vehicle but lost them because of snow drifts blowing over them. He said they looked around and didn't find anyone.

Vaillancourt said there are a number of bob houses on the lake this time of year and there is a good chance the man was coming from one of them.

The search was canceled at 5 p.m.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 February 2015 01:48

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Belmont Mill conversion plan enjoys broad support at SB-2 session

BELMONT — About 40 voters came to Saturday's SB-2 deliberative session at the high school on Saturday and most of them had the proposed $3.4-million renovation of the Belmont Mill on their minds. And in the end, the final hand/voice vote taken showed overwhelmingly in support of the project as proposed.

The plan as proposed by selectmen and unanimously supported by the Budget Committee would completely rehabilitate the mill and retrofit it for the town officers. Selectman Ruth Mooney told the gathering that should the project be approved by voters on March 10 her recommendation would be to tear down the current Town Hall for parking and/or green space.

Mooney also said the Parks and Recreation Department would relocate to the Cormer Meeting House where it would be closer to Sargent Park and Bryant Field.

Not everyone at Saturday morning's meeting were supportive of the entire project.

Donna Hepp, who has attended the bond hearing and has studied the project, made a motion that the town appropriate $1 million for fixing the fourth floor and the masonry. Four-hundred thousand dollars of that would come from the Municipal Capital Reserve Fund.

Her motion was supported by and handful of attendees.

She, along with a few others including George Condemetraky, who is a candidate for selectman, do not want the Historic Mill used for town offices. Both contend that 17,000-square-feet is too much for about 20 employees.

Heritage Commission member Linda Frawley said she supports restoring the mill but does not support gutting it and making into town offices. She said she supported Hebb's amendment because too much has been proposed with what she says in in too little time for people to understand it.

Budget Committee Chair Ron Mitchell said the first proposal was for about $1.2 million to do the restorations, but at the end of that time there would be no tenants.
He also said one of the proposals included gutting the road construction budget for a couple of years and he absolutely does not support that.

Mitchell said Laconia contractor, Bonnette Page and Stone, is local, is known for doing excellent work and standing behind it, and doesn't want to do a "half-baked" job.

Budget Committee members Tracy LeClair and and Tina Fleming both stood in support of the $3.4-million project, saying it was one of the most comprehensive and forward thinking thing presented to the town in years.

Selectman Ron Cormier agreed with LeClair and Fleming adding that in the 11 years he's served as selectmen this is the best long term project he's looked at.

When George Condodemetraky asked for a secret ballot vote, Moderator Al Nix asked him if he had five signatures to support a secret vote.

Nix also threatened to have Condodemetraky escorted from the room if he didn't obey the rules of order.

After hearing all of the complaints against the project, former town administrator and Selectman Donald McLelland Sr., said the mill has been problematic since he took over as administrator and maybe the best thing to do would be to tear it down, save the bell tower along with the Gale School bell tower and ring them together.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 February 2015 01:37

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Man with house built in 1977 wants to leave Gilmanton Historic District

GILMANTON — A controversy has erupted between a property owner in the Historic District who wants to leave the jurisdiction and the Historic District Commission that not only wants them to stay but to abide by the rules.

One of those who wishes to leave is Craig Gardner of 533 Meetinghouse Road who has obtained the necessary 25 signatures to have his request voted on by the electorate on March 10, which is town election day.

Gardner's offense was erecting an enclosure surrounded by a six-foot white vinyl fence off the the side of his freestanding garage so his two dogs can go outside.

According to former commission member George Roberts, fences above four feet tall and not made in materials contained in the original house on Meeting House Road must be authorized by the Historic District before they can be built.

"He knew he needed an approval but he did it anyway," Roberts said in a phone conversation last week.

"When he finally came before the Historic District Commission, he was told that he had to take it down. "It's an industrial strength fence," Roberts said.

Roberts described it as a massive addition that is not in keeping with the time period of 1820 to 1830s or the later part of the Federal Period. He said a year has gone by since the fence went up and Gardner hasn't removed it, despite being requested to by the commission.

Roberts said that if anyone disagrees with the rules they are more that welcome to ask for a policy change. His real objection is when people who live in the Historic District and are told about its rules before they buy, do something without asking for approval, knowing they need it.

Gardner said he was told he was moving into the Historic District and was made somewhat aware of the restrictions.

He said he installed the fence himself and acknowledged that it is vinyl and is six-feet tall, covering about 50- to 60-feet over three sides.

He said his house was build in 1976, has a skylight and no wood windows — just like any other 1970's era modern-day ranch house. He said the Historic District's rules says that homes must use the same materials used when the house was build.

"I have vinyl windows," he said.

He noted his hose sits back about 1,000 yards from the road and his fence cannot be seen from the Smith Meeting House.

"(The Commission) has a problem with height and materials," he said.

Gardner's real reason he wants to leave is that he thinks the Historical District Commission applies its rules and regulations inconsistently and the people who serve on it drive their own rules for the length of their individual terms.

"When the district was recognized parcels were bigger and there were different rules," he said.

He said they allowed stockade fences then and they still do. "I guess I could have built a stockade fence." he said.

In his opinion, and after doing exhaustive research of the commission's minutes, he said the members have become more restrictive and more conservative.

Gardner said this is the first time he's lived east of the Mississippi and for the past 40 years lived in Tok, Alaska.

"I am not trying to change the district into what I used to know," he said. "I understand restrictions but there are still property rights and they've (the commissioners) have gone beyond their original mandate."

The Selectboard's representative to the Historic District Commission, Brett Currier, said yesterday he abstained from voting when the commission made it's decision to have Gardner take down the fence.

He said Commissioners Deb Chase and Allen Everett voted in favor of having Gardner remove the fence. He said he abstained because as a selectmen he's supposed to uphold existing rule but in this case he didn't agree with the rule.

Currier said he personally supports Gardner's fence because it's neat, it's clean, it serves a purpose and it's made from the same vinyl from which his windows are made.

"In this case I think the Historic District has gone overboard," he said.

He said he could almost see it both ways however he agrees with Gardner in his assertion that the rules of the Historic District are somewhat arbitrary and not uniform in their enforcement.

Currier and 25 other residents, many of them from Meetinghouse Road, signed Gardner's petition to leave the district.

At the most recent Planning Board meeting, the members voted against supporting Gardener's petitioned warrant article.


CUTLINE: Craig Gardner's fence off his garage has become a focal point for disharmony in the Gilmanton Historical District. He is petitioning the town's voters at annual town meeting to leave the district so the fence can stay. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Gail Ober)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 February 2015 01:31

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