By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The City Council this week unanimously endorsed the recommendation of the Weirs Tax Increment Financing District Advisory Committee to bury utility lines and install new street lighting on Lakeside Avenue between Endicott Street North (US Route 3) and Tower Street.
The project is a proposed enhancement to the planned replacement of the water main, improvements to the storm drainage and sanitary systems and reconstruction of Lakeside Avenue to be undertaken this year and next. The so-called "base project" is expected to cost $1 million, which City Manager Scott Myers has included his his recommended 2016-2017 municipal budget.
Burying the utility lines would add $1,150,000 to the cost of the base project, $700,000 to bury the lines, $250,000 to replace street lighting and a percentage for design and contingencies. Removing the 14 utility poles would require replacing the 12 street lights mounted on them. Since the existing lights are 30 feet above the street, they illuminate the width of Lakeside Avenue. Replacing them will require lining both sides of the street with 50 LED lights mounted 16 feet high and spaced 75 feet apart.
Myers said that extending the project another block to Foster Avenue would add between $250,000 and $280,000 to its cost and noted that improvements to the roadway, water main and sewer system are not planned to extend past Tower Street.
Speaking to property owners at The Weirs, Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5) said "Things need to be improved and updated up there. I want to see something done. It's time for the owners to come to the plate and do something."
Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2) echoed these remarks.
"The business model at The Weirs is older than me," he said. "Look at your business model and see what you can contribute to the year-round vision of The Weirs."
Originally the advisory committee proposed applying 80 percent of the revenue accruing to the Weirs Tax Increment Financing District to servicing the debt incurred to finance the project. Tax increment financing allows municipalities to delineate TIF districts, then apply a portion of the future tax revenues that accrue from the increase in assessed value generated by new construction, expansion or renovation of property in the district to finance public improvements within it. Myers anticipates that within five or six years the Weirs Tax Increment Financing District will have accrued sufficient funds to begin servicing the debt. In the meantime the city would defray the debt on the understanding it would be reimbursed.
Councilor Ava Doyle (Ward 1) offered a motion to approve the proposal. However, Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) offered what he called a "friendly amendment" to require the Weirs Tax Increment Financing District to apply 100 percent of its funds to servicing the debt.
Joe Driscoll of the Weirs Tax Increment Financing District Advisory Committee said that if all its funds were applied to this one project, the committee would have no purpose. He said that the committee has been asked to consider options for the sidewalks, crosswalks and bump-outs, all part of the reconstruction of Lakeside Avenue and all adding to its cost. Without funding, he said, there would be no point pursuing these options.
Doyle called Lipman's amendment "not all that friendly." When he suggested 90 percent, Doyle remarked, "It's getting better" and the council ultimately agreed to settle for 85 percent for three years then 80 percent afterwards.
Myers explained that the city's share of the debt service would be booked as a debt, not as budgeted expense that would preclude expenditures of an equal amount.
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