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Laconia city manager an advocate for giving municipalities fairer shot at arguing with utilities over property tax bills

CONCORD — Imagine if property taxpayers challenging the assessment of their home, were denied not only access to the appraisal of their property but also forbidden to question the appraiser. Yet this where municipalities find themselves when public utilities question the value placed on their property by cities and towns.

Last week the N.H. House Municipal and County Government Committee considered legislation to address the issue.

Property owned by utilities is liable to local property taxes as well as the state utility tax, which is levied at a rate of $6.60 per $1,000 of the assessed value of utility property. The New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration (DRA) assesses the value of utility property to administer the state utility tax. Some municipalities, including Laconia, apply the DRA's assessment, but according to the New Hampshire Municipal Association, most cities and towns perform their own appraisals.

Utilities frequently appeal their assessments with the Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA), citing the values calculated by the DRA, which usually fall below the assessments performed locally. But, the DRA is not permitted to disclose its appraisals to municipal officials, Nor are officials of the DRA willing to be questioned about their appraisals. In short, municipalities are left to dispute the valuations of utility property with no information about how they were calculated.

Laconia City Manager Scott Myers said that without the DRA's appraisals municipalities must choose between the costs of commissioning an independent appraisal and negotiating a settlement with the utilities.

House Bill 192, sponsored by Representatives James Coffey (R-New Ipswich), Clyde Carson (D-Warner) and David Karrick (D-Warner) would address the problem by prohibiting either utilities or municipalities from invoking the DRA's assessment in any proceedings appealing the tax on utility property.

The bill is supported by the New Hampshire Municipal Association, of which Myers is vice-chairman.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 February 2015 02:01

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Michael Pelczar & David Bennett, Sr. bring field of Meredith Selectboard candidates up to 8; 2 seats available

MEREDITH — Two more candidates — Michael Pelczar and David Bennett, Sr. — filed for the two open seats on the Board of Selectmen before the filing period closed last week, increasing the field to eight. The election is March 10 and the two candidates with the highest vote totals will be declared the victors.

Rosemary Landry, Michael Hatch, Jonathan James, Bev Lapham, Raymond Moritz and Roland Tichy filed earlier in the week. All eight candidates are making their first bid for elective office.

Pelczar, a fourth generation contractor, owns and operates Inter-Lakes Builders, Inc., which constructs custom homes. Born and raised in Meredith, he described himself as "a regular Joe" who seeks to perpetuate the character of the community. "Change is not my favorite thing," he said, "but change is inevitable. The changes that have taken place have been good for the town and I want to keep change on that path."

"I have no agenda," said Pelczar, who added that if elected he would follow the course set by Carla Horne, who is retiring after chairing the Selectboard this year, by "representing all the people of the community." Like Horne, he opposed the traffic plan for the 3/25 corridor featuring three roundabouts. "It didn't address enough to pull the trigger on a $5-million project," he said, calling the public hearing on the proposal "a shining moment for the town".

Like Pelczar, Bennett is a lifelong resident of Meredith with deep roots in the town. A member of the first graduating class of the vocational technical center in Laconia, he has spent his life building, repairing and racing automobiles and motorcycles. He managed parts departments at local dealerships in the 1970s before opening his own garage and later worked at Meredith (now Laconia) Harley-Davidson. "I had my first race care before I had my license," he remarked.

Bennett described himself as "a unique individual," adding "I'm an interesting person when people get to know me." He said that his grandfather was a selectman in Natick, Massachusetts for years and confessed he had "hemmed and hawed about it for years." Since retiring he said "I have some time and decided I should get my butt out the chair." Although he considers himself "old school," he stressed that "I'm not totally conservative. I know that things have got to change," he continued, "but Meredith should keep its rural values." If elected, he said he intended to "keep my shut and my eyes and ears open before making up my mind."

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 February 2015 01:28

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New Joshua's Law aimed at curbing domestic violence

By Gail Ober

LACONIA — It's been a month since Joshua's Law went into effect and for Laconia Police Prosecutor Jim Sawyer and Franklin Police Chief David Goldstein it couldn't have happened soon enough.

Joshua's Law established domestic violence as a specific crime in New Hampshire.

"It makes a lot of sense and I support it," said Sawyer last week.

"It was about time," echoed Goldstein, who holds a doctorate in domestic violence-related criminology.

Joshua's Law was signed last year by Governor Maggie Hassan and is named for Joshua Savyon, a 7-year-old Manchester boy who was shot to death in 2013 by his father, who then killed himself after a domestic violence incident. It went into effect on January 1.

Sawyer said that until the beginning of the year, police charged crimes according to the statute that governs each individual crime. Now, if the responding officer can prove a domestic or "intimate" relationship between the victim and the accused, he or she can charge the same crime but as domestic violence.

So far this year, Sawyer said he had charged a specific domestic violence charge under the new law between 10 or 12 times for three or four assaults.

An often used scenario to explain the difference is if a man punches someone at the bar, then the crime is typically simple assault. If the same man punches his significant other or any family member it is domestic violence simple assault — a Class A misdemeanor that is possibly punishable by incarceration. If a threat involves a deadly weapon, the crime is charged as a Class B felony.

The difference, said Sawyer, is that the person assaulted in the bar, though still a victim, can go to his or her own home while the victim of domestic assault can't necessarily find a safe place to go.

The same principle applies to other crimes commonly associated with domestic assault, like criminal threatening, criminal mischief, obstructing the report of a crime and interference with freedom.

While simple assault can be negotiated by the down to a Class B misdemeanor, domestic violence simple assault cannot.

The difference, said Sawyer, is the definition of the relationship now provided by Joshua's Law.

Goldstein was in on the ground floor during the shaping of Joshua's Law and served as chair of the police advisory committee.

"(Joshua's Law) allows us to help the people we were intended to help," he said.

Goldstein said Franklin Police, and most other departments, have been tracking whether or not certain crimes are domestic related for years. Since 2011, he has been able to use the data to get a grant for a domestic-violence officer and liaison who will follow cases through the criminal justice system and work with the victim to get help.

"Every year I apply for a grant made available through the federal Violence Against Women Act (passed initially in 1994) and every year I get it," Goldstein said.

Goldstein also said that not all victims of domestic violence are women; in 24 percent of his cases last year the victims were men.

He said the domestic violence calls peaked in 2011, the same year he got his first grant, with 122 individuals seeking help from the Crisis Center of Central New Hampshire in Concord.

In 2014, he said 78 victims sought counseling in Concord, representing a 33 percent drop.

Goldstein said there are 21 different crimes associated with domestic violence and last year his department responded to 657 calls for service that resulted in 119 arrests.

In 2013, he said there were 792 calls for service that resulted in 104 arrests.

Laconia Police Sgt. Thomas Swett said nearly all departments, including Franklin, use the LAP (Lethal Assessment Program) when responding to domestic violence calls. LAP is a questionnaire specifically designed to assess the level of danger a victim is in.

Described as a matrix, Swett said police interview willing victims and in some cases in Laconia, police call the New Beginnings crisis shelter immediately, meaning the victim is potentially in grave if not lethal danger from the abuser.

One addition both Sawyer and Goldstein like is the inclusion of domestic pets in orders of protection. "Pets are often used to control a victim," said Goldstein.

The domestic violence laws in New Hampshire are not without controversy. Since 2003, police officers have had the ability arrest without a warrant within 12 hours after a domestic assault.

This year, Rep. Daniel Itse (R-Fremont) has filed a bill in the Legislature to repeal the 12-hour warrantless arrest policy. This is not Itse's first time trying to amend this portion of RSA 594:10.

According to WMUR television news, Itse testified for House Bill 207 in front of the House Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety on January 22 saying that it is not acceptable to detain anyone without a warrant.

Others, including the head of the Crisis Center of Central New Hampshire, Jill Rockey, testified against the change. She said every time a bill to eliminate the 12-hour warrantless search provision pops up, she opposes it.

Sawyer said yesterday that should Itse's bill pass, it could seriously effect the way police handle domestic violence. He said law that allowed warrantless arrests was codified in 1989 for six hours after the alleged assault which was extended to 12 hours in 2003.

"This is to protect the victims," Sawyer said.

As of July 2014, the criminal code that allows for the protection of persons from domestic violence (RSA 173-B:5) allows that should a restraining order be issued to protect a victim, the defendant shall relinquish "any and all deadly weapons specified in the protective order that are in the control, ownership, or possession of the defendant, or any person on behalf of the defendant, for the duration of the protective order."

Sawyer added that if a person is convicted of domestic violence, he or she can never legally own or possess a firearm in the state.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 February 2015 01:11

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Roland Tichy & Michael Pelczar join those running for selectman in Meredith

MEREDITH — When voters go to the polls on March 10 to fill the two seats on the Board of Selectmen left open by the retirement of Peter Brothers and Carla Horne they will have a choice among seven candidates — Rosemary Landry, Michael Hatch, Jonathan James, Bev Lapham, and Raymond Moritz, who were profiled in Friday's newspaper, Roland Tichy and Michael Pelczar — all of whom are making their first bid for elective office.

"I guess I'm pretty opinionated," Tichy said Friday, confessing that he does not always agree with what happens in town and asks himself "you should do something that." When he saw that two seats on the Selectboard were up for election, he decided to toss his hat in the ring.

Tichy drives a school bus for the Inter-Lakes School District as well as serves as an independent troubleshooter for owners of Apple computers. A member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, he is the shop steward for the drivers of the Inter-Lakes and Moultonborough school districts.

"I've always been interested in politics," said Tichy, who described himself as "fiscally responsible and socially progressive. I'm a bit all over the map," he continued, "but that's not atypical for New Hampshire." He indicated he would like for there to be closer control over spending and questioned whether a town the size of Meredith needed a police station and community center larger than those of Laconia. ,

However, Tichy said "there is no particular hot button issue in Meredith right now, adding that "I'd like to keep the town as it is. But, show me what would improve things and I'll listen."

Michael Pelczar, who with his brother Joseph, owns and operates Inter-Lakes Builders, Inc., could not be reached for comment late last week.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 February 2015 02:26

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