By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
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.
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.
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.
No contested races.
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.
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.
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 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.
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