LACONIA — The Belknap County Convention's decision to impose a 5 percent across-the-board cut in funding for six so-called "outside agencies" came under fire at Monday night's meeting of the convention, at which it finalized the county budget.
The agencies were slated to receive a total of $441,409, about 1.5 percent of the $27 million county budget. The cut, which was passed on March 9 by a 12-5 vote, amounted to a little over $22,000.
The six agencies are the UNH Cooperative Extension Service, which was slated to receive $163,000, the Belknap County Conservation District, $97,304, the Belknap Economic Development Council, $75,000, Genesis Behavioral Health (the regional mental health agency), $34,2000, the Community Action Program, $60,905 and Greater Lakes Region Child Advocacy Center, $11,000.
The cut was proposed last week by Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith), who said that the convention, through gradual reductions of outside agency funding, should ''set them on a path of independence by setting a goal where we get out of the business of subsidizing them.''
At this Monday's meeting former Meredith selectman Miller Lovett recalled that Eliza Leadbeater, former executive director of the BEDC, had once called the outside agencies ''the crown jewels of Belknap County'' and said that an attempt to gradually decrease their funding and ultimately end it was ill-advised.
Lovett said that cutting county funding would result in an increase in local property taxes and said that the gradual reduction of state and county support for Genesis, which he said is being squeezed little by little, is part of ''the scandal we're on the verge of'' when it comes to mental health funding.
Former representative David Huot of Laconia expanded on that theme, providing some historical context to what Lovett had said was an emerging scandal. He explained that in the wake of the closing of Laconia State School in the 1980s New Hampshire developed a community mental health system which was ''second to none'' — with Genesis being one of the regional mental health centers.
He said that since that time state mental health programs have been starved for funding, resulting in the state being sued and agreeing to a settlement which provides for $27 million in additional state funding.
''If the state doesn't live up to the bargain, the people who brought the suit can go back to court in case in which there's no way we can win. And that will costs us a lot more than $27 million.''
He said that he viewed outside agency funding as an investment in the county and said all of the agencies provide services to the county's communities and are better funded at the county level than at the community level.
Paula Trombi of Meredith said she didn't agree with Vadney at all, which prompted him to respond that ''the people spoke loud and clear in the election and they want to cut spending.''
Rick DeMark of Meredith said that the work done by the conservation district and the extension service helps support agricultural activity in the county which he says provides a strong boost to the local economy, a view supported by John Hodsdon of Meredith, who has been involved with the Conservation District.
Jan Hooper of Center Harbor, former head of the Belknap County Conservation District, said it wasn't sensible to consider phasing out the agencies. ''Think about the ramifications. At some point your family may be affected.''
Center Harbor Selectman Richard Hanson said that he thinks the convention is mistaken in cutting agencies which he says provide needed services. ''I respect the desire to save money, but I don't think these cuts do that,''he said, maintaining that costs would be passed along to the towns.
Last Updated on Thursday, 19 March 2015 11:06
Cactus Jack's bringing mini carnitas to Taste of the Lakes Region on Sunday; T-Bones will feature clam chowder
by Rachel DiMaggio
MEREDITH — This year's Taste of the Lakes Region event on Sunday evening will include two dishes from the Great New Hampshire Restaurants' family. Cactus Jack's and T-BONES Great American Eatery in Laconia both plan to bring an item that shows off their flavors. The Altrusa Club of Laconia's annual, much-looked-forward-to fundraiser will take place at Church Landing from 4 to 7 p.m.
Megan Robinson has been with Great New Hampshire Restaurants for over three years and has been director of Catering and Events for the past year. Although Cactus Jack's is known for Southwestern flavors and T-BONES has a classic American menu, there is something these restaurants share. Robinson said both restaurants focus on made-from-scratch cuisine; the soups and even the sauces are made in house.
The Cactus Jack's menu offers house specialties like Chicken Espinica with spicy cheese sauce and kid-sized burgers and fajitas. They will be serving miniature carnitas tacos (seared shredded pork with traditional fixings). The carnitas have been popular at the Manchester location, and will be a new addition to the Laconia menu this summer.
The menu at T- BONES includes steaks, burgers, seafood, and other American favorites. Robinson shared the story of the T- BONES dish, as well. "Since we're representing Laconia, we chose to do our award-winning clam chowder."
Robinson also voiced her support of Taste of the Lakes Region as a way for the company to be involved in the local community. She said the restaurant staff "really enjoy the opportunity to get out and show people new stuff and meet customers face to face."
In total, 20 regional restaurants are bringing samples of their most popular dishes to the event. And Hermit Woods Winery will also be sampling fruit and honey-based wines.
Tickets for Taste of the Lakes Region are selling for $25 each and can be bought online (www.altrusalaconia.com) or at Hart's Turkey Farm Restaurant, Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Laconia, and Hector's Fine Foods & Spirits. As alcohol will be served from a cash bar, only adults 21 and up may attend.
Last Updated on Thursday, 19 March 2015 10:58
LACONIA — The building at 781 Union Ave. that houses the Lakeport Opera House was sold last week to KMH Realty Corporation for $40,000.
The property at the corner of Union Avenue and Clinton Street at Lakeport Square, was owned for many years by Gerard Horn. Originally it was scheduled to be sold at auction, but the auction was canceled when Horn accepted the offer of KMH Realty Corporation.
The city currently assesses the 18,000 square foot building and 0.19-acre lot for $224,800, with the building representing $156,400 of the value of the property.
KMH Realty Corporation, formed in 2005 by its president Kevin Michael Hutchinson of 27 Dutile Road, Belmont to purchase, sell and rent real estate, owns a dozen other properties in the city. All are older properties, eight dating to the late 19th century, according to the records of the Assessing Department, and all residential, including seven multi-family buildings and five single-family units. Hutchinson did not respond to telephone calls.
Hutchinson is also vice president of WJK Realty Corporation, whose president Walter J. Hutchinson also lists his address as 27 Dutile Road, Belmont. Both KMH Realty and WJK Realty share the same address — P.O. Box 745, Winnisquam.
Last year, city officials evacuated and shuttered a four-unit apartment building at 145-147 Union Ave., which was then owned by WJK Realty. Fire Chief Ken Erickson described fire code and sanitary conditions in the building as "deplorable." In January, the property was acquired by Wells Fargo Bank. WJK Realty also owns residential and commercial properties at 322 Union Ave. and 322 South Main St.
The three-story frame building at Lakeport Square was built in 1885 and faces Union Avenue. It was known as the Opera House Block for the theater on the second floor, which after staging plays, reviews, concerts and recitals as well as hosting dances, receptions and graduations and finally showing movies went dark about half-a-century ago. For some years the theater has served as storage space.
The Lakeport Post Office once operated on the ground floor, which was home to a variety of retail stores through the years, including a drug store operated by Horn, a pharmacist who is now retired. Most recently a pawn shop and second-hand store occupied the space.
The International Order of Odd Fellows and Darius A. Drake Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of veterans of the Civil War, took rooms on the uppermost floor.
There is about 4,500-square-feet of space on the ground floor and almost 9,250-square-feet of space on the upper floors.
Although structurally sound, the wiring and plumbing date from near the beginning of the last century. Moreover, the building does not meet current building codes. Horn recalled that some years ago the Streetcar Company approached him about acquiring the building, but abandoned the project after learning that the cost of restoring the theater alone would be close to $1 million.
Astride a busy intersection with limited on-street and off-street parking, the location has been a handicap to commercial enterprises. The single story brick building next door, once home to a dime store, stood empty for several years before a restaurant opened more than a year ago only to close in fewer than three months.
Members of the Heritage Commission toured the building. But, Pam Clark, who chairs the commission, said since no application to demolish the building has been filed, the commission has yet to hold a formal discussion about its future.
Last Updated on Thursday, 19 March 2015 10:49
By Thomas P. Caldwell
HILL — Voters of the Hill School District came out in force on March 18 to decide whether to end their Authorized Regional Enrollment Area agreement with Franklin and enter into a 10-year tuition agreement with the Newfound Area School District. Both measures passed, but the tuition agreement vote was a close, 75-73 decision.
Discussion on those two articles, both of which went to ballot votes, took up most of the three-and-a-half-hour district meeting. The $2,114,133 school district budget and other warrant articles took up barely half an hour, in keeping with past years when the meeting has taken as little as 12 minutes for completion.
The Edward Amsden Auditorium was close to capacity, with all chairs taken and some residents standing, while non-residents lined up along the back wall to observe the discussion. Franklin's mayor, Ken Merrifield, and some city councilors, along with Franklin School Board Chair Tamara Feener and Representative Werner Horn, were there to see the results, as were School Administrative Unit 4 Superintendent Stacy Buckley and Newfound School Board members Jeff Levesque and Benjamin LaRoche.
Voters found it difficult to separate the article seeking to dissolve the AREA agreement from the next article, seeking approval of the Newfound tuition agreement, and Moderator Gerard Desrochers allowed some crossover discussion.
The Hill School Board emphasized that withdrawing from the AREA agreement would provide the school district with a choice of where to send its students, as well as giving Hill more bargaining power than it has while locked into the existing agreement.
School District Attorney John Teague explained that AREA agreements originally were intended as a means of transitioning into a cooperative school district, but most of them ended up stalling, and he said there is a lot of discussion at the state level on whether the AREA school districts should continue. Most AREA agreements are established for a specific period of time, but Hill's agreement with Franklin has no end point and the current agreement has been in force for 11 years, he said. The article on the warrant was the sole means of ending the agreement, he told the audience.
Many parents, however, said they saw the article as a means of forcing the voters to approve the Newfound agreement, rather than offering a choice. Many questioned what would happen if they voted to withdraw and then turned down the Newfound agreement. Would the school board be able to get a tuition agreement with Franklin in time for the coming school year?
School Board Chair Shelly Henry said they would be forced to do something, but she could not say what it would be. Teague suggested that the school board might put together a one-year tuition agreement, and then negotiate a long-term agreement that would come back to the voters for approval.
Most speakers, including current and former Franklin students, defended the city's school system, saying it was getting a bad rap. They shared anecdotes about caring teachers and student successes and said Franklin's test scores were as good or better than Newfound's. They also questioned why, if Hill was concerned about Franklin's educational offerings, the board had not raised those issues with Franklin officials.
Vice Chair Nancy Coffin said Hill has brought up educational concerns to the SAU 18 Board, but "That hasn't been the focus." Issues such as the search for a new superintendent have taken up that board's time, she said. "They're still not talking about education."
The withdrawal decision required a ballot vote. With 161 residents casting votes, the withdrawal passed, 93-68.
Going on to the Newfound agreement, residents complained about a lack of choice with only one tuition plan on the warrant. A motion to table the article was defeated, as was a proposed amendment that would make it a five-year agreement, rather than 10.
Karen Hildreth warned that no one knows what the costs will be in the coming years, and being locked into a 10-year agreement will keep boosting property taxes higher.
Selectman Mike Brady said that, having sat on the AREA withdrawal committee, he was convinced the school district should go along with Newfound. "Without a doubt," he said, "anyone who reviewed that information would know that Newfound is the proper alternative."
Although that article did not have a legal requirement for a ballot vote, residents called for one. When the results showed a two-vote margin for passage, they called for a recount. Both times, the vote was 75 for the tuition agreement and 73 opposed.
Voters also approved the $2,114,133 budget; set stipends for school district officers; agreed to place $7,000 from the unexpended fund balance into the special education expendable trust fund; approved placing $3,500 from the unexpended fund balance into the school building and maintenance expendable trust fund; and discontinued the heat system fund and placed the $350 plus interest from that account into the school building and maintenance expendable trust fund.
Last Updated on Thursday, 19 March 2015 10:12
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