It’s Election Day – councilors, keno on ballot


LACONIA — Voters go to the polls today to decide four City Council races, a School Board contest and the question of whether establishments in the city should be allowed to offer keno gambling.

Mayor Ed Engler, Ward 3 City Councilor Henry Lipman and Ward 5 City Councilor Robert Hamel face no opposition on the ballot.
The Legislature passed a bill this year allowing keno in cities and towns if approved by local voters. The game is for establishments with liquor licenses, with net revenue going toward funding full-day kindergarten.

About 50 such businesses could qualify in Laconia.

Proponents say the game would be good for business, because patrons tend to stay longer and order more food and drinks while they are playing. They also say it would provide much-needed money for schools.

Opponents point to the problem of gambling addiction and say the odds of winning big at the game are astronomical. Keno will be on the ballot in each of the city's six wards.

Ward 1

The Ward 1 ballot features a City Council race between Bruce Cheney and Susan Hodgkins. Incumbent Councilor Ava Doyle decided not to run.

Cheney, a former Laconia police chief and former director of the New Hampshire Department of Safety’s Division of Emergency Services and Communications, led the establishment of the statewide E-911 system. Now retired, he raises miniature horses.

He believes the city has been “a little more free with tax dollars” than he would like, but also says there are a lot of infrastructure challenges that will need to be dealt with. He sees the redevelopment of the former Laconia State School property as a high priority, and wants to help businesses thrive in Laconia’s downtown area.

Hodgkins is a real estate agent with Keller-Williams.

She wants to boost tourism and favors development of Phase 3 of the Winnisquam-Opechee-Winnipesaukee Trail, but also wants to address the concerns of residents at South Down Shores who are worried a trail extension could bring vandalism, trespassing and other problems.
She said she has seen tourism decrease in the Weirs Beach area and would like to see progress in revitalizing that area.

Ward 2

Richard B. Beaudoin is challenging incumbent Councilor David Bownes.

Beaudoin, an electronics repair shop owner, said the city needs to focus on maintaining its tax cap and believes efficiencies could be achieved through regionalization of services.

He is concerned about the vacancy rate of downtown buildings and the lack of diversity in what is offered.
Bownes, an attorney who previously was a stage actor, opposes spending more money on the city's dilapidated downtown parking garage.

He supports the redevelopment of the Colonial Theatre as a catalyst for further downtown development.

Ward 3

No contested races.

Ward 4

Incumbent City Councilor Brenda Baer is facing a challenge from Mark Haynes.

Baer said she wants to preserve the tax cap to protect the interests of residents in the face of others who want to spend “not for the good of the city, but for their own agendas. Spend without thinking how it affects the lives of the young, the old, the poor, and the middle class.”

Haynes, a facilities manager at the Laconia Clinic and Ward 4 moderator, also favors the tax cap as a necessary budgeting tool.
He notes that, even with the tax cap, the city has been able to build and remodel city schools as well as to build a new police station and fire station.

Ward 5

Incumbent Stacie Sirois is being challenged by Rodney Roy.

Sirois has served on the School Board for nine years. She cites her efforts to boost teachers’ salaries as an important priority.

She said the raises were needed to address the loss of good educators. With a good school system, more middle- and upper-middle-class people will want to settle in Laconia, she said, alleviating the burden on the school lunch program where 60 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

Rodney Roy objects to the “massive” cuts in sports that have taken place to balance the budget and suggested that giving up School Board stipends would set an example for others to contribute and keep sports going.

He also says the school needs to do better at providing options to keep students away from drugs. He suggests that students receiving free or reduced-price meals should be asked for a “buy-in” and gives the example of having them read to other students as a way of teaching them responsibility.

Ward 6

Incumbent City Councilor Armand Bolduc is facing a challenge from restaurauteur Reuben Bassett.

Bolduc, who has served for 34 years, says the council has done “a tremendous amount of work over the past 12 years within the tax cap,” and said if it disappears, “old people won’t be able to pay their bills.”

He said it took a lot of effort to accomplish what the city has done, but through hard work the council was able to stay within the cap. He doesn’t rule out regionalization of services if it benefits the city, but he is worried that placing the responsibility elsewhere might lead to excessive spending.

Bassett sees a lot of potential if someone like himself is allowed to bring some new ideas to bear on the downtown area.
He wants to bring in businesses that will make the city attractive to millennials, who are interested in other work patterns and recreational opportunities, he said.

The WOW Trail would serve as an attraction, and making infrastructure improvements would encourage new businesses, he believes.
“Make the area enticing, protect the environment, and make the city easy to work with,” he said.

Polling places

Polling hours will run from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. today.

Ward 1 voting takes place at the Beane Conference Center, 35 Blueberry Lane.

Ward 2, St. Andre Bessette Parish Hall, 31 Gilford Avenue.

Ward 3, Laconia Middle School’s multipurpose room, 150 McGrath St.

Ward 4, New Covenant Church at Memorial Park Clubhouse, 31 Lindsay Court.

Ward 5, Woodland Heights Elementary School gymnasium, 225 Winter Street Extension.

Ward 6, Leavitt Park Clubhouse, 334 Elm St.

Police seize suspected narcotics in Belmont


BELMONT — Police have seized what they suspect are prepackaged narcotic drugs, as well as knives, handgun ammunition, and drug paraphernalia, from a residence on Orchard Hill Road. Formal charges await confirmation from the state laboratory that the drugs seized are, in fact, illegal narcotics.

Lt. Richard Mann said New Hampshire probation officers notified Belmont police on Nov. 3 at 2:57 p.m. that, during a parole checkup at the residence, they discovered the suspected illegal drugs on the property. They took the parolee into custody on a charge of violating parole.

Belmont police secured the property while awaiting a search warrant and, once it was granted, they located and removed the drugs and paraphernalia, which also included packaging material and syringes. They also seized a locked safe, phones and several weapons. The drugs are being processed for transport to the state lab for analysis and classification, Mann said.

“This agency, along with our law enforcement partners, remain fully committed to doing everything we possibly can to combat the scourge of illegal narcotic drug sales and distribution in our communities,” Mann said. “If you have any information about areas where you suspect drug activity to be ongoing, please call your local police department or the statewide tip line at 1-800-NAB-DOPE.

 11 06 Belmont drug seizure

Belmont Police released this photo of the items seized Friday at a home on Orchard Hill Road. (Courtesy Belmont Police Department)

Local educators oppose school voucher bill, fear hurting public schools


LACONIA — School Superintendent Brendan Minnihan is one of many educators strongly against a school voucher bill that will be heard in a New Hampshire House committee Wednesday.

Proponents say it would inject needed competition into the educational arena, while giving parents additional choices on how best to educate their children.

Senate Bill 193 would give parents state funding to teach their children at home or to send them to private schools.

“It's a mechanism that purposefully or not would divert funds from public schools,” Minnihan said.

The bill, which has passed the Senate, would allow parents who work with an approved scholarship organization to receive 90 percent of the state's per pupil adequate education grant, which is more than $3,000.

If students leave public schools and enter private schools, funding to public schools would decrease, while many costs would likely stay the same, Minnihan said.

Proponents say that if a school has fewer students, its costs would decrease, but Minnihan said that unless there was a major migration of students from a particular grade in a school, the number of teachers would likely have to stay constant. Other costs like utility bills and transportation would also stay fixed.

Minnihan said public schools are to be valued and adequately supported.

“Public schools are important for promoting democracy and getting along with people from different socio-economic groups, religions and demographics,” he said. “Public schools have an important connection to the community. Not to say other schools don't have community, but it may not be one attached to your town.”

He also said that schools are equipped with options that can give children many of the educational choices that might be sought in a private education.

Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, the bill's author, said the measure would improve education outcomes.

“What we know nationwide is that any time you create any type of competition in education, you get a better product,” he said. “By introducing competition, you'll get better-trained students. This has happened all around the country, and test scores in nearby public schools have increased.”

He disputes the notion that public schools would lose money.

“I don't know how that would happen,” he said. “You get that argument from the teachers union, but if a child moves out of state now, that doesn't harm a public school. It's not designed to have any effect on the public school. This would assist families in sending their child wherever they wish.”

Rep. Joe Pitre, R-Farmington, the bill's House author, said the measure empowers parents.

“Parents have a fundamental right to determine the education and upbringing of their children,” he said.

He said it's important to increase educational options to deal with the specific needs of students.

“As human beings, we're not all the same,” Pitre said.

Any financial effects on public schools would be minimal, he said.

Reaching Higher NH, a group that supports public schools, put out an analysis paper on the legislation that concluded taxes would need to be raised to make up for lost funds to public education.

“Our analysis shows that rural or property-poor municipalities would be disproportionately impacted by SB 193,” the group said in an analysis paper. “Berlin, for example, would need to raise taxes by 12 cents (per $1,000 in equalized valuation) in order to compensate for the loss of state aid should approximately 1 percent of its students choose a voucher; Moultonborough, in contrast, would only need to raise its local taxes by $1.01 to compensate for 1 percent of its students choosing a voucher.”