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Belmont Mill worth saving, contractor tells selectmen

BELMONT – After hearing a presentation from a masonry expert who said the historic Belmont Mill is worth saving, selectmen asked their general contractor to prepare an estimate in time for a vote at annual town meeting in March.

Scott Whitaker of Building Envelope Specialists – a subcontractor for Bonnette, Page & Stone -- told the board last night that with the exception of the interior portion along the wall that burned in 1992, the masonry is in very good condition.

"At the end of the day, this is a solid building. It is a good candidate for keeping, not demolishing," said Whitaker. "This has a lot of life to it."

Whitaker explained the process he used to evaluate the mortar, telling the board "not all mortar is alike." He said the discolorations in the mortar come from different recipes at different times, but that the brick walls are sound.

He said the south side wall, where he believes the fire either started or burned the hottest, is the only problem area. While the exterior-most wythe -- or a continuous vertical section of masonry one unit in thickness -- was replaced during the reconstruction 17-years ago, the interior wall portions of that wall needed some work.

He said much of the damage to that section likely came during the fire. He said bricks are use to being hot, but what stresses them is when they are hot and then rapidly chilled – like in a fire fought with water.

He said they should leave the outside wythe alone and evaluate and replace the bricks and mortar as needed up to the original 24 inches of base on the first floor and 16 inches on the second floor. Above, that, he said the brick looks good.

Resident Mark Mooney asked Whitaker if he had actually taken apart any of the sections along the wall that was exposed to the hottest fire.

Whitaker said he had not, but had drilled some test holes and determined that some of the wall is spongy and would need some work.

Selectmen unanimously supported the project, but only if it was a repair that would last a minimum of 30 to 40 years.

Whitaker said that with regular maintenance, he feels the building is solid for at least 75 years.

Whitaker, working with Bonnette Page & Stone, said they would have a dollar amount for the proposed work by Dec. 29 or 30.

Selectmen said the Budget Committee has to have it in the form of a warrant article before Jan. 6.

Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin also asked Whitaker to make a presentation to the Budget Committee, the same or similar to the one he made to selectmen. Selectmen also said they would like to host a separate question-and-answer session for the townspeople in addition to the Budget Committee presentation and public hearing.

Selectman Jon Pike said he would like to the session taped and put up on the town Website for those who couldn't attend the question-and-answer session.

Contractors said the final budget estimate would be presented to the Board of Selectmen at 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 29 at the Corner Meeting House.

The date of the question-and-answer session will be set after selectmen get the final estimates.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 December 2014 01:32

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County Convention picks Tilton as chair

LACONIA — Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) was elected chairman of the Belknap County Convention by a unanimous vote last night with Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) selected as vice chairman and new commission member Brain Gallagher (R-Sanbornton) was elected clerk.
''This is not something I particularly wanted to do but agreed to take on. We have duties to perform here and we have responsibilities here,'' said Tilton, who two years ago was a candidate for chairman but lost 9-7 to Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), who did not seek re-election this year.
Joining the three delegation officers as members of the convention's Executive Committee are Rep. Guy Comtois (R-Barnstead), Rep. George Hurt (R-Gilford), Rep. Don Flanders (R-Laconia) and Rep. Mike Sylvia (R-Belmont)
The Executive committee was scheduled to meet following last night's public hearing on the proposed county budget to take up a request from Belknap County Commissioners for a $2,000 transfer in the maintenance budget. The transfer will allow the county to undertake repairs on a malfunctioning heating system at the Belknap County Courthouse.
County Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia), who did not seek re-election to a third term, served as the presenter for the county's budget request . The commission recommend a $27.3-million budget for 2015, which represents a 6.8 percent increase in expenditures and a 10 percent increase in the amount to be raised by property taxes,
The proposed increase in expenditures is the first since 2009, when the budget rose by 3.7 percent, before decreasing every year since. Likewise, the amount to be raised by property taxes has also fallen every year since 2009, when it grew by 0.9 percent.
The budget proposes expenditures of $27,330,778, which less revenues from sources other than property taxes of $12,296,021, leaves $15,034,757 to be raised by property taxes -- or $1,371,443 more than the $13,663,314 raised this year.
Personnel costs account for the largest share of the increased expenditures. The budget includes a 3 percent step increase for eligible employees, that is, those not at the top of their pay scale, based on their job performance as well as a 1.4 percent cost-of-living allowance (COLA) for all employees. This would be the first pay raise since 2012. The cost of the health insurance plan in which most employees are enrolled is budgeted to rise by 6.4 percent, and the less popular plan by 4.9 percent.
The budget for the Corrections Department funds the benefits of two positions created in the 2014 budget that were not filled this year because funding for the benefits was withheld. It also includes funding for the compensation and benefits of one additional officer. There is also funding for the compensation and benefits of a human resource director, a position that has been vacant for about six months, in the administrative budget.
Only two capital projects are funded by the budget — replacement of windows at the Belknap County Courthouse and a time and attendance system. The commission stripped funding for schematic design of an expanded, renovated or rebuilt county jail along with improvement of the HVAC system at the existing facility. However, the commissioners provided funding for the purchase of four cruisers in the Sheriff Department's budget.
The commission recommends drawing $1,775,000 from the fund balance to offset property taxes in 2015. The fund balance is estimated to have a balance of about $2.6 million at the end of 2014. The budget projects that $500,000 in excess revenue and $300,000 in operational savings will accrue to the fund balance in 2015. Withdrawing $1,775,000 would leave an estimated balance of $1.7 million at the end of 2015..

Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 December 2014 02:41

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At City Council, no public consensus on Belknap Mill’s future

LACONIA— The prospect of the Belknap Mill Society divesting itself of the mill drew a standing room only crowd to City Hall last night when the City Council hosted a public discussion of the future of the oldest unaltered, brick textile mill in the country and one of the first buildings placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Representing the trustees, attorney Paul Fitzgerald, the first of three former mayors to speak, refrained from offering a recommendation, but urged the council to look ahead rather than back and consider "what is best for the mill and what is best for the city."

Christine Santaniello, president of the Belknap Mill Society, assured everyone that the society has no intention of dissolving, but will continue as a nonprofit corporation for the purpose of sustaining the museum as an embodiment of the city's industrial heritage. "We are not abandoning our mission," she said. "We are looking to sell the building so we can continue with our mission."

Noting that the mill has always been open to the public and is called "the official meetinghouse of the State of New Hampshire," Santaniello said that the trustees first approached the city. She said that trustees seek to keep the building "in the hands of the public," adding "the public must want this and the city must accept this." However, she conceded that if the city shunned a partnership, the the society would court other nonprofit corporations and failing that seek a private investor.

Santaniello said that the mill has operated at a loss for years, deferring necessary maintenance to reduce its expenses and drawing from reserves to balance its budgets. She claimed that no effort had been made to replenish reserves. In the past, she said that donors made contributions to bridge the gaps, but explained that these were not substitute for a stable cash flow that would enable the society to defray operating expenses and accrue reserve funds.

"The mill is down to bare bones staffing and expenses," Santaniello said "We can't cut any more. We have hit the wall. There are no more rabbits in the hat. We need a partner," she continued. Out first option is the city," she repeated, "which is why we are here tonight."

The second former mayor to speak, Tom Tardif reminded the council that easement attached to the mill prescribed that Belknap County, not the city of Laconia, is ultimately responsible for "the care and custody of the mill. We have a vested interest in the mill," he said, "not as property taxpayers, but as individuals. The financial burden should not fall on the city of Laconia."

Former mayor Rod Dyer acknowledged that in 1973 the city council agreed to sponsor the Belknap Mill Society, but a year later a newly elected council rescinded this action and the county took the place of the city.

However, Fitzgerald explained that only if the Belknap Mill Society dissolved, would its assets, including the mill itself, revert to the county, stressing, as Santaniello stated earlier, that the society does not intend to dissolve. In response to a direct question from Mayor Ed Engler, Fitzgerald said he was confident that the society has the authority to sell the mill, with the understanding that the terms of the easement would apply to the new owner.

Former Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives George Roberts of Gilmanton, a past president of the society and a member since its beginning, expressed concern that the trustees approached the city about selling the mill without first convening a meeting of the membership. "The members should have a role and this process should have begun with the membership," he said. He called on the trustees to convene a meeting of the membership. "The society must go inside itself and ask what do you want to save," he remarked. Meanwhile, Roberts suggested the city could assist the society by abating the $6,000 in property taxes the society pays on the space it rents as well as renting space itself.

Lou Guevin, who served on the fundraising committee of the society, indicated that the society's financial problems could be overcome with an aggressive fundraising campaign. "As a taxpayer," he remarked, "I'd hate to see the city put any money into the building."

On the other hand, Charlie St. Clair highlighted the significance of the mill to the community and hoped the city and county could put it on a sound footing. "Whatever it takes," he said, "it should be done."

Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 December 2014 02:23

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Woman charged with taking bag from fire truck

LACONIA – A local woman is being held on $500 cash bail after allegedly stealing a firefighter's bag from a ladder truck which had been sent to what turned out to be a false alarm at the Laconia Parking Garage at 12:30 a.m. yesterday.

Police said Jasmin Sanchez, also known as Jasmin Braley, 34, whose last known address was 6 Spring St., was stopped by police walking down Main Street wearing polka-dot pajama bottoms, a firefighter's sweatshirt, and hat, and carrying the bag with the firefighter's name on it.

After setting bail Monday, Judge Jim Carroll ordered Belknap County Jail to ask the N.H. State Hospital for a mental health evaluation.

Affidavits obtained from the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division, said police went to the Landmark in on Saturday, after getting a report that a guest (later identified as Sanchez) was screaming at staff and throwing things out her fourth floor window.

Police talked with Sanchez, who allegedly admitted to using heroin. She was taken to the Lakes Region General Hospital for mental health evaluation and drug exposure, according to affidavits.

She was released from the hospital a short time later.

At 12:30 a.m. Monday, police and firefighters responded to an alarm at the Laconia Parking Garage. When they arrived they found human feces under the pulled fire alarm, the affidavit stated.

While dealing with the fire alarm, a firefighter saw a woman, who police identified as Sanchez, throwing trash cans at the ambulance. The firefighters saw Sanchez take a bag off of one of the fire trucks.

Sanchez is charged with one count of receiving stolen property. Police said the case is still under investigation and additional charges could be forthcoming.

Carroll also ordered her not to enter the Landmark Inn.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 December 2014 01:41

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