City agrees to pay $27k assessment from Public Access television

LACONIA — The City Council this week entered into a one-year agreement with Lakes Region Public Access Television (LRPA-TV) that will provide residents and organizations within the city access to MetroCast cable television to produce and telecast pubic interest, cultural, educational and governmental programming.

In return the city will contribute $26,772.50 to LRPA-TV's operating budget, compared to the $20,000 the city budgeted for the station a year ago. The annual fees are based on the city's pro-rata share of the operating budget calculated as the number of its able television subscribers as a percentage of the total subscribers of LRPA-TV's member community subscriber base. There are 5,090 subscribers to MetroCast Cablevision in the city.

City Manger Scott Myers said that $20,000 for LRPA-TV is included in his proposed city budget for 2016-2017, but assured the council that funds were available to defray the balance of the annual fee.

City Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5), who serves on the Board of Directors of LRPA-TV, said that the station has trimmed its operating budget to approximately $100,000 and needs about $10,000 to bring it into balance. He said that Belknap County was paying for LRPA-TV to tape meetings of both the county commission and convention and several towns are paying the station for taping special meetings.

"We are hiring an office manager and developing a business plan," Hamel said. "We're moving forward."

Belmont, Gilford, Meredith and Northwood have also entered agreements with LRPA-TV.

City's property tax base predicted to grow 1.6% this year; total would be be $1.845 billion

LACONIA — Assessor Jon Duhamel told the City Council this week he was very confident that the total assessed valuation of taxable property in the city would match or exceed the figure of $1,844,646,944 projected in the 2016-2017 budget, which represents an increase of 1.6 percent.

As the assessed valuation rises, other things being equal, the tax rate falls, with million dollars of assessed value representing about a penny on the tax rate. Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3), who chairs the council's Finance Committee, has stressed the importance of accurately forecasting rises and falls in the assessed valuation during the budget process in order to project the property tax rate, which is not finally set by the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration until October or November.

City Manager Scott Myers said that the projected increase consists primarily of $29 million worth of new construction added to the tax rolls between April 1, 2014 and April 1, 2015, He said that the appreciation of values due to the improving condition of property markets could add another "couple of million" to his projection.

Myers noted that in first two months of the current tax year the value of new construction reached $3.1 million, about $800,000 more than last year and twice the pace of two years ago.

In 2007, the assessed valuation was $2,165,286,000, but it shrank steadily throughout the recession and beyond to $1,803,880,000 in 2013 before rising by approximately $12 million to $1,815,944,646 last year.

Duhamel noted that housing sales have risen every year since 2010, from 242 to 361 last year, signaling a recovering market. Foreclosures, after peaking at 93 in 2012, slide to 85 in 2013 and plummeted to 26 in 2014 and the number of tax abatements filed, which climbed to 442 in 2010, has fallen to just 54 last year. Nevertheless, average and median sales prices remain shy of pre-recession levels.

Class of 2015 makes great strides in academic excellence (330)

LACONIA – As part of his graduation speech Saturday morning, Principal Jim McCollum noted that the Class of 2015 helped reshape Laconia High School.

While McCollum was speaking of their enthusiasm and spirit, more importantly, he was speaking about their academic achievements.

"Three years ago, we had just five Advanced Placement courses," McCollum said. "Now we have 10 AP classes and have tripled the number of students taking them."

Advanced Placement classes are considered the most rigorous classes that can be offered in high school and, in Laconia's case, are weighted on a 5.0 scale. McCollum said yesterday that 88 students in the school took AP classes this past year and more than 100 students have enrolled in them for next year.

McCollum also said that three years ago, the Class of 2015 had five Running Start programs -- a cooperative agreement with Lakes Region Community College whereby a student can pay $150 per class and get full college credit for taking it.

Now, he said, there are 14 Running Start classes available to Laconia High School students, meaning an ambitious student who works really hard can save thousands of dollars by taking Running Start classes and getting credit for them when they enter college.

"Starting next year, we'll literally be sending kids to college," McCollum said. "We literally have the ability to have our kids walk with a high school diploma and an associates degree," he said.

He said it's about rigor and what educators want students to know.

"High school is supposed to be fun," said McCollum, noting there is more to the high school experience than just academics. "But it's also about hard work, just like a profession or professional research."

McCollum also noted that writing proficiencies set by standards mandated by the now defunct No Child Left Behind Act have gone from 33 percent reading at a proficient or better level to 66 percent proficiency or above standard.

"These kids and their parents deserve a ton of credit," said McCollum. "They didn't shy away from going for more rigor."


Forrester, Hosmer on opposing sides regarding Laconia DHHS office closure

CONCORD — The future of the Laconia District Office of New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will hinge on the outcome of the committee of conference where negotiators from the House and Senate will reconcile the differences between the versions of the 2016-17 state budget adopted by the two chambers.

The companion bill to the budget, House Bill 2, adopted by both the House and Senate, directs the commissioner of DHHS to consolidate district offices to reduce general fund appropriations to the department by $1 million in each year of the biennium.

Last week, HHS Commissioner Nick Toumpas confirmed that the Laconia office, along with its counterparts in Claremont, Conway and Rochester, have been identified for closure, trimming the number of district offices from 11 to seven. There would be no reduction in personnel, he said. Instead, costs would be spare primarily by reducing leasing expenses.

State Sen. Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said yesterday, "I'm willing to have a conversation about the Laconia office. I have no interest in making life more difficult for people who are already having a hard time." However, she asked if $1 million in general fund appropriations was not cut from the budget of DHHS, where is the cut going to come from? What else are you willing to give up?"

Forrester flatly ruled out any increase in revenue to keep the offices open.

"It's never going to happen," she said.

State Sen. Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia), who serves on the Senate Finance Committee, said that the closure of district offices of DHHS was "one of the reasons I voted against HB 2," along with the failure to adequately fund substance abuse programs, dipping into the Renewable Energy Fund and refusing to extend the New Hampshire Health Protection Program.

Hosmer charged that the Republican majority in the Senate put itself in "an ideological box" by not only refusing to consider any measures to increase revenue but also by foregoing $23 million in revenue by reducing both the Business Profit and Business Enterprise taxes, a step he called "disingenuous."

Although Forrester and Hosmer insisted they were willing to discuss the future of the district offices, both indicated that partisan differences would hinder negotiations. Insisting that the budget process has been "open, transparent and inclusive," Forrester said that the atmosphere has become "very partisan."

Hosmer claimed that the Democratic minority in the Senate was "anxious and willing to work on the issues, but our input was not welcome, if it was contrary to the ideology of the Republican majorities in the Senate and House."

There are 62 employees working in the Laconia District office with 11,938 open cases. The office serves the city of Laconia and 25 towns (Alexandria, Alton, Ashland, Barnstead, Belmont, Bridgewater, Bristol, Campton, Center Harbor, Dorchester, Ellsworth, Gilford, Gilmanton, Hebron, Holderness, Meredith, New Hampton, Plymouth, Rumney, Sanbornton, Thornton, Tilton, Waterville Valley and Wentworth).

Laconia, Belmont and Gilford are in Senate District 7, represented by Hosmer, while 18 of the 22 towns in the catchment area of the Laconia District office are in Senate District 2, represented by Forrester.