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‘Smokey’ signs find their way back to Belmont FD

BELMONT — Smokey Bear's signs were recovered or returned to the Fire Department over the past weekend,  Chief David Parenti said yesterday.

He said all but two of them were recovered Saturday after someone left a tip with the Belmont Police. The other two were returned to them Sunday in person by a teenage girl.

"All I was told was that her mother found them in the house and told the teen to return them," Parenti said. "She gave them to one of the younger guys."

But, said Parenti, not only does Smokey have his signs, he said he is very grateful for the support show by the community over the seeming loss of the signs.

"One man even stopped by and offered to make us a new set," he said, noting the department's Facebook page lit up with responses and offers of help.

"Unfortunately, we had to put a lock on Smokey's signs but I guess that's what we have to do," he said.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 June 2015 12:11

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Barnstead man killed, two others injured when motorcycles collide head-on in Gilmanton

GILMANTON – A Barnstead man died Saturday afternoon after he was involved in a head-on collision at 5:24 p.m. with another motorcyclist on Route 107 or Province Road near Gardener Cove Road.

Sgt. Matt Currier said the investigation shows that the late Matt Kendall, 48, of Province Road was traveling north with his wife Virginia Kendall, 43, who was a passenger.

Kendall entered a corner and drifted over the double yellow lines and collided with Daniel Roy, 52, of Quebec, Canada, who was traveling south. Roy's wife, who was riding ahead of him on her own motorcycle said she was able to swerve around the Kendalls but her husband could not. She told police she heard the crash.

Police said Matt Kendall was pronounced dead at the scene. Virginia Kendall was airlifted from the Gilmanton Public Safety building to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon with severe injuries. Daniel Roy was taken by ambulance to Concord Hospital with serious but non life-threatening injuries.

That section of Province Road was closed for several hours. The motorcycles were removed by Rusty's Towing.

Gilmanton Police and Fire Departments were assisted by Belmont Police and Fire Departments and Barnstead Police and Fire Departments.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 June 2015 12:06

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Thin City Council majority poised to keep 4 'SAFER' firefighters on payroll

LACONIA — The City Council on Monday night agreed in principal to trim some $200,000 from the fiscal year 2016 municipal budget recommended by City Manager Scott Myers in order to reduce the projected increase in the 2015 property tax rate for 36 cents to 25 cents, but wound up nearly halving the estimated rate hike while still funding the retention of four firefighters who were hired with grant money.

Myers proposed city expenditures of $22.9, a negligible increase of just $8,446 over the current year. However, revenues from sources other than property taxes, including the use of unreserved fund balance, are projected to drop by 7.1 percent, leaving $15.8 to be raised by property taxes. The budget of $32.6 million proposed by the school district, representing a 5.5 percent increase, is offset by $19.6 million in revenue, leaving $18.5 million to be raised by property taxes.

Together with the county tax assessment of and state education tax, the total amount to be raised by taxes is $41.8 million and the projected property tax rate is $22.76, 36 cents more than the current rate of $22.40.

The new budget takes effect on July 1 but the council is not expected to vote on final approval until it meets again on July 13, a timetable that is allowable under the City Charter.

Henry Lipman, who chairs the council's Finance Committee, began discussion by explaining that $20,000 of expenditures amounts to a penny on the tax rate and calculated that reducing the budget by $220,000, with the cuts shared evenly between the School District and city departments, would reduce the tax rate increase to a desired level of 25 cents.

Myers, who originally projected the assessed valuation of taxable property to rise 1.6 percent to $1,844.646.944, after reconsidering trending property values, suggested increasing the projection by an even $5 million, which he said would reduce his projected property tax rate by 36 cents to 29 cents. At the same time, he advised the council that there were no provisions in the 2016-2017 state budget that threatened revenues the city expected to receive from the state. With the adjustment to the assessed valuation, Myers said the council could meet the Finance Committee's target by cutting expenditures by just $100,000,

Although the councilors agreed to raise the assessed valuation, their appetite  for paring spending was not slaked.


The Cuts

The budget process has been overshadowed by the future of four firefighters, hired and paid for the past two years with a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which expires in October.
Retaining the four positions, which enables the department to staff each shift with nine firefighters — six at the Central Station and three at the Weirs Beach Station — is the highest priority of Fire Chief Ken Erickson.

Myers has recommended a plan to fund the positions for the next three fiscal years. LRGHealthcare, which contributes to the cost of ambulance service under a contract with the city, will bear half the annual cost of the four positions. The balance would draw on an account established in anticipation of the expiration of the grant, money budgeted to fund the positions through the current fiscal year on the assumption the grant would expire in May and $100,000 in unexpended grant funds. These funds would be supplemented by appropriations of $50,000 in 2016 and $45,000 in 2017 and 2018, representing total new expenditures of $140,000.
Anticipating the councilors may be evenly divided, Mayor Ed Engler said that he was prepared to cast the deciding vote in favor of funding the four positions as Myers proposed with the condition that the Fire Department's overtime budget be reduced by $50,000. This, he explained, would enable the positions to be funded without raising new money through property taxes.
A straw poll confirmed the council was split, with councilors Ava Doyle (Ward 1) David Bownes (Ward 2) and Lipman joining the mayor and councilors Brenda Baer (Ward 4), Bob Hamel (Ward 5) and Armand Bolduc (Ward 6) still opposed to funding the positions..
The council also agreed to shelve the purchase of new radios for the Fire Department for a year. The budget allocates $155,000 for the purchase, of which $85,000 is included in the budget and the balance drawn from the Motorcycle Week special revenue fund. The council halved the budgeted amount, which together with the $50,000 stripped from the overtime budget — actually several different line items — would reduce appropriations for the Fire Department by $92,500.
In May, the Finance Committee advised School Superintendent Terri Forsten that they expected the School Board to cut its budget by as much as $150,000 and both Lipman and Hamel repeated the request when the council met this week Speaking for the School District on Monday, Ed Emond, the business administrator, said that $150,000 could be eliminated from the budget by shelving budgeted contributions to a capital reserve fund for repairs at Laconia High School and a fund to offset future increases in health insurance costs.

Lipman asked if the cost of operations could be reduced, in particular if the special education account could be reduced. Emond reminded him that the funds were set aside for unforeseen expenses associated with a student whose identity was unknown. He noted that the district added one new position to teach law enforcement at the Huot Technical Center, replacing contracted services.

Hamel said that $150,000 was a small share of a $32.6 million school budget. He noted that the taxpayers have supported construction of a new middle school and improvements at the high school and said "it's time to give them a little bit of a break." Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4) said that the increase in the school budget "looks a little high" and told Emond "I'm sure you'll find the money. You always do."

Ultimately the council followed Lipman's suggestion to require the School District to reduce its operating expenses by $100,000 and, failing that, cut appropriations for the capital reserve and stabilization funds by $150,000.


The Savings

Altogether the cuts to the city budget amount to $92,500. However, Myers reminded the council that the subscription to Lakes Region Public Access-TV was under budgeted by $6,722. The council also approved Hamel's proposal to borrow $60,000 to replace windows at City Hall, which would increase payments of principal and interest by $1,200. Consequently the net reduction in the city budget would be $84,578, which represents 4 cents off the property tax rate. The requested cuts to the school budget would reduce the tax rate by at least 5 cents and at most 7 cents.

With the increase in the total valuation the budget cuts would decrease the projected increase in the property rate from 36 cents to at most 20 cents and at least 17 cents, sparing the owner of a $200,000 home at most $38 and at least $32 in annual property taxes.

When the mayor opened the public hearing on the budget at the same meeting, not a single member of public rose to speak.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 June 2015 11:59

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'Game changer' – Impact of planned sale, renovation of Colonial Theater weighed

LACONIA — "A game changer" were the words most often heard following the announcement this week that the Colonial Theater, dark since 2001, would be renovated and reopened as a civic auditorium.

The Belknap Economic Development Council (BEDC) and City of Laconia have partnered to acquire the theater, together with the commercial and residential units on the lot at 609-621 Main St. and during the next 18 months arrange a financial package of $15 million to renovate the entire property, a project expected to be complete by Christmas 2018.

Randy Eifert, president of BEDC, said that when the agency decided to invest in redeveloping distressed property it considered several buildings downtown, but chose the theater, concluding that its renovation and reopening would have the greatest impact.

Jack Dugan, executive director of the Monadnock Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), recalled the experience of Keene where the revitalization of a theater — also named the Colonial —was the first step in the recovery of downtown. Describing the theater as "the centerpiece," adding: "... it is one of the first places we bring people. It's a selling point."

Dugan said that the theater, owned by a nonprofit corporation and operating 364 days a year, enhanced the value of other distressed properties and when the MEDC redeveloped two other buildings, "the momentum began to grow and private developers began to invest." Describing the theater as the "centerpiece," he said that downtown, with its specialty retailers and numerous restaurants has become "a third place where you're not at home or at work but comfortable when you're hanging out."

The construction of what Dugan called "high-end condominiums and rental units," has drawn affluent empty-nesters and young professional families to live within walking distance of downtown. "Success will build on itself," he remarked. "The snowball effect is amazing."

Russ Thibeault of Applied Economic Research explained that in the past downtowns were anchored by department stores which were then eclipsed by several generations of even larger, often discount retailers operating outside city centers where parking was plentiful. Theaters, or cultural and artistic centers, he said, have become the anchors of revitalized downtowns, not only in Keene but also in Concord, Portsmouth and Lebanon, where they have spawned boutiques , cafes and restaurants.

City Manager Scott Myers stressed the assurance that the Colonial Theater would not only change hands but also be restored and reopened within a specific period of time. He said that this signals there are attractive opportunities for potential investors, particularly in the current environment before interest rates and property values have begun to rise.

Myers noted that even before the announcement Charlie St. Clair invested $315,000 in acquiring the former Bloom's Variety Store at the corner of Main and Hanover streets that houses the Laconia Antique Center, and brothers Mark and Chris Condodemetraky bought the Piscopo Block at the corner of Main and Canal streets for $392,500.

These transactions came on the heels of the opening of the Holy Grail Restaurant & Pub on Veterans Square, which marked a major investment in the conversion of the former Evangelical Baptist Church and coincided with the renovation of a rental units on Main Street to house Wayfarer's Coffee Roaster, which opened this week.

John Moriarty of the Main Street Initiative, who purchased and rehabilitated 600 Main Street, has been associated with efforts to acquire and restore the Colonial Theater for years. He recalled that the late, Paul Normandin once reminded him that "it is not fair to think of the Colonial as savior of downtown Laconia. I realize other things have to happen," he continued, "but, renovating and reopening the Colonial will overcome a perception that has overshadowed downtown." He believes that "others will discover what savvy people have known, that downtown Laconia is intrinsically valuable and under-priced."

"It's a beautiful situation that will generate some positive momentum," said Kevin Sullivan, an agent with Coldwell Banker Commercial Weeks Associates, who owns property downtown. He called the Colonial Theater "the highest profile property in the entire downtown corridor" and said that the prospect of its renovation should increase interest in vacant space along Main Street and raise the value of nearby properties. "There is a positive buzz going around," Sullivan remarked.


Last Updated on Monday, 22 June 2015 11:57

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