Stand-off in Gilmanton over who will fill vacant Selectboard seat

GILMANTON — Selectman Don Guarino, who chairs the board, and Michael Jean found themselves at loggerheads after questioning the three candidates — Rachel Hatch, Brian Forst and Brett Currier — seeking to fill the third seat on Board of Selectmen emptied by the resignation of Steve McCormack.

Guarino favored Currier. Jean preferred either of the other two. And when neither budged they tabled the appointment until their next meeting, both indicating they would not change their tune.

McCormack resigned earlier this month in response to criticism that he had revealed that police Chief Joe Collins would be retiring at the end of the year after the subject was discussed at a non-public meeting of the Selectboard. Currier's son Matthew, currently a sergeant with the Police Department, has already been named to succeed Collins on January 1.

Guarino began by describing all three candidates as qualified for the position, though he quipped that Hatch, the administrative assistant at the Gilmanton School District, "would be perfect for the selectmen's administrative assistant, but the job's not open."

Forst, who chairs the Budget Committee and served one term as selectman in the past, said that if he was appointed he would relinquish the chairmanship of the Budget Committee and not seek re-election to the Board of Selectmen.

Likewise, Hatch, also a former selectman, said that she intended only to complete the unexpired term of seven months.

Currier, completed a term as selectman last March and, after failing to file for re-election, polled 278 write-in votes to finish second to Jean for the lone seat on the ballot.

Guarino held that by tradition the runner-up at the March election should be appointed, noting that Hatch, who finished behind David Clairmont in 2007, was was named to complete his term after his death. Jean countered that his 463 votes, together with the 160 votes polled by Scott Dunn, represented 623 cast against Currier, which must not be ignored.

"If the town wanted him, he' be sitting here and I wouldn't be going through this mess," Jean said.

Jean asked each of the candidates half a dozen questions. All agreed that little could be done to reduce the burden of property taxes in light of the dearth of commercial property in town. Hatch recalled that efforts to trim costs have met with concern from the public about depleted services. "There's no simple solution," she said, adding "we're trying to get a healthier tax base."

Forst noted that the town tax rate has been stable and remarked, "I don't see the belt being loose on the town side or on the school side." He cautioned that promising to lower the tax burden would be "kicking the stone down the street."

While Currier also doubted the tax burden could be lightened significantly, he stressed that it need not increase. "I can't see anything in this town we're lacking," Currier said, adding that municipal departments are large enough for towns with twice the population of Gilmanton. "Employees are well rewarded and their equipment is adequate," he said, "but we don't need more and more. Slow it down."

While both Hatch and Forst were open to the establishment and use of capital reserve funds in certain circumstances, particularly if they were established and funded by warrant articles subject to the approval of voters. Currier disagreed. He described capital reserve funds as "taking money out of taxpayers' accounts and putting it in the town's saving account" and said that the money would be spent on projects and equipment with life spans longer than those who paid for them, who "will never enjoy their use".

All three expressed concern at the dissension aroused by the Gilmanton Year-Round Library, particularly the prospect of providing funding for the library in the town's operating budget. Hatch observed that the library has become something of a "community center" and warrant articles to fund it have carried by rising margins during the past seven years. She expected the selectmen will ultimately have to address the issue.

Forst said only that he would "like to see the town stop being divided over such a simple situation."

Currier flatly oppose funding the library in the operating budget, but said "I'm not against the library." Noting that the success of warrant articles to fund the library, he remarked "the petitioned article will sell itself. You don't need to sell the library itself."

All three agreed that zoning ordinances and building codes should be enforced, but cautioned against officials aggressively seeking problems to address. "I don't want the building inspector acting as a constable," Forst remarked. Asked if they would disband the Historic District Commission, the three said that any such initiative should not come from the Board of Selectmen. And no one expressed enthusiasm for expanding the Selectboard from three to five. "It's challenging enough to have three well-rounded selectmen," Forst said while Currier said he would not propose it and the question should be left to the people.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Board of Selectmen is Tuesday, August 11.

Shots fired through front door of Meredith house

MEREDITH — A Lempster, Mass. man, who allegedly fired two shots through the screen door of an occupied home on Corliss Hill Road on Sunday morning, is being held in the Belknap County Jail in lieu of $100,000 cash bail following his arraignment Monday in 4th Circuit Court-Laconia Division.

Jesse Lohman, 33, of 137 Charlestown Turnpike Road, Lempster is charged with reckless conduct, being a felon in possession of firearm and receiving stolen property — all felonies.

According to police, Lohman, driving a black Toyota Rav4, appeared at 42 Corliss Hill Road, the home of Thomas and Janice Joslin, shortly before 10 a.m. on Sunday. When Joslin answered the door, Lohman said that he was looking for a woman named Cassandra. When Joslin told him he had come to the wrong house, he returned to the Rav4. Joslin, who had stepped outside, told police that he went back into the house, looked out a window and saw Joslin toss a knife from the vehicle then raise a handgun, aim toward the house and fire twice through the screen door. Joslin and his wife took cover and called 911.

By the time police arrived, the Joslins had fled from their home and hidden in a barn across the street. Officers found Lohman between the Joslins' home and a detached garage He then walked to the Rav4 parked in the driveway. In his affidavit Lieutenant Keith True described Lohman as apparently "agitated, throwing his hands in the air and carrying on." He got into the car, appeared to look for something then got out and stood in front of it. Officer Philip McLaughlin, armed with a rifle and behind cover, ordered Lohman to the ground. He complied and was taken into custody without incident.

Lohman was in possession of one live round, a holster and a hypodermic needle containing what police suspected was methamphetamine. A backpack on the ground near the Rav4 was found to contain magazines and loose rounds for a Glock 9 mm. handgun, which along with two knives were taken as evidence. Police subsequently learned that the Rav4 was stolen from the Circle K store in New Hampton.

When questioned police said Lohman "was agitated at times and acted paranoid at other times." He admitted he was a drug addict as well as a member of Brothers of White Warriors, a prison-based gang. But, he refused to answer questions to to explain his behavior.

Lohman has an extensive criminal history, including a conviction for burglary, a felony, for which he was sentenced to one to seven years in New Hampshire State Prison in 2000. He is scheduled to appear in 4th Circuit Court for a probable cause hearing on August 4.

Out-of-town police cost more per hour: city's Motorcycle Week fund takes hit

LACONIA — This year the city closed the books on Motorcycle Week with red ink as expenses of $149,163 exceeded revenues of $146,851 by $2,312.78.

This was the first loss posted since 2007 when the revenues collected and expenses incurred by the city from regulating and policing Motorcycle Week were removed from the general fund budget and treated as a special revenue fund. Since 2007, revenues have amounted to $1,534,875 and expenses to $1,262,259, leaving the revenue fund a surplus of $272,615. During this period the City Council has drawn $161,462 from the special revenue fund to fund purchases of vehicles and equipment approved expenditures for the police, fire and public works departments, leaving the fund with an outstanding balance of $111,123.

City Manager Scott Myers told the City Council last night that the loss stemmed from the increased cost of out-of-town police, particularly officers from the Police Department at the University of New Hampshire. He explained that in the past years out-of-town officers were paid a negotiated rate, but this year out-of-town departments began billing the city the higher rates they charge for special details. The city has budgeted $70,000 for out-of-town police in earlier years, but actual expenses have ranged between $49,000 and $55,000. This year, Myers said, the city budgeted $70,000 and spent $70,721.

Councilors Henry Lipman (Ward 3) and Bob Hamel (Ward 5) suggested that as the crowds at the rally appear to have diminished and become more orderly the police presence should be adjusted accordingly to spare the city the rising cost of out-of-town officers.

Alpine coaster ride at Gunstock OK'd

LACONIA — The Belknap County Convention voted 11-2 Monday night to approve a $2.6 million bond issue which will add an alpine coaster attraction to the Gunstock Mountain Resort's Adventure Park offerings.

The vote came after a public hearing on the proposal and survived an attempt to postpone the vote until next month when more members of the 18-member convention could be present.

Rep. Peter Spanos (R-Laconia), who had originally questioned whether a vote should be taken with so many members absent, changed his mind later in the evening after seeking an assurance from Rep. Russ Dumais (R-Gilford), who chairs the convention's Gunstock Area Committee, that the proposal put forth by the Gunstock Area Commission, which projected the investment would pay for itself within five years, was a sound plan.

Dumais, who at one time had worked as a manager for Attitash Mountain, which installed an Alpine water slide at the former Alpine Ridge Ski Area in Gilford in the the 1980s, said that the proposal was a good plan and that he supported it.

Rep. George Hurt (R-Gilford) also questioned the wisdom of taking a vote last night and voted against taking a vote, along with Rep. Roy Howard (R-Alton) and Rep. Sherry Lebreque (R-Belmont). That proposal lost 10-3 and Hurt then joined the majority in the 11-2 vote for the project.

Convention Chairman Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) argued for taking a vote, pointing out that there were many instances in recent years when major decisions were made without all convention members being present.

He and Convention Vice Chairman Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) both maintained that the convention should act in a timely manner in order to allow the project to proceed and allow the county to obtain the lowest interest rates possible.

Hurt had earlier asked what harm would there be in putting off a vote on the proposed project for a year or two.

Greg Goddard, general manager of Gunstock Mountain Resort, said that Gunstock was continually reinvesting in its infrastructure and that the projected surplus of over $500,000 a year from the alpine coaster ride could be used for more improvements to the area's year round attractions.

He said that the coaster, which carries riders in carts running on rails, will be built adjacent to the tubing hill and ski jumps.

Looking up the hill, the track taking riders to the starting point will follow to the right of the roadway that serves the jumps, reservoir and cell tower. The downhill track will wind through the wooded area to the right of the uphill track, making two complete circles and several sharp turns along the balance of its length. The downhill track will be 2,660 feet long with a vertical drop of 221 feet and a maximum grade of 18 percent. A round trip will take between four and five minutes, leaving the same amount of time to load and unload passengers. With 40 carts, the coaster can carry 250 riders an hour.
It is estimated that the ride will be completed in July 2016.

The project is estimated to cost $2.6 million, of which the purchase of the coaster represents $1.5 million. Goddard anticipated that the coaster will operate at 25 percent of capacity in the summer, and 30 percent of capacity and operate only Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in the winter, when there are more visitors at the resort. Altogether the coaster is expected to carry nearly 85,000 riders a year. At an average ride price of $12, the coaster is projected to return an annual operating profit of $530,000, which is one-and-half times the highest annual debt payment of the 10-year bond issue which is being sought to finance the project.

The convention also held a public hearing on the request of the Gunstock Area Commission for a $650,000 revenue anticipation note, which was approved by a 12-1 vote. The note will be repaid by April 1, 2016, from operating receipts.