Councilor & fire chief spar over 'unique' Laconia

LACONIA — Sparks flew in the City Council chamber on Monday night when Fire Chief Ken Erickson presented the 2015-2016 Fire Department budget proposal, prompting Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5) to challenge his portrayal of the city, along with his assessment of what is required to protect it.

Hamel referred specifically to a section of Erickson's report entitled "Laconia — A Unique City," in which the chief noted the high rates of unemployment, poverty and crime as well as as its "thousands of combustible buildings and homes." The number of structure fires per 1,000 residents,, Erickson calculated, is "one of the highest in the state." He concluded that "our fire department is not staffed adequately to protect and respond to all the various hazards and risks."

Hamel dismissed the description of Laconia as "unique", likening it other old mill towns scattered across the state. He called Erickson's characterization of the city "a tear down", asked "why the hell would anyone move here," and remarked that after reading it "everyone should move out."

Quickly Erickson insisted "my intention was not to degrade the city of Laconia," but he repeated "Laconia is a unique city from my perspective. I have a responsibility," he continued, "to tell you what we need to protect the city."

In particular, Erickson listed funding to retain the four firefighters, hired and paid for the past two years with a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which expires in October, as his top priority.

City Manager Scott Myers has recommended a plan to fund the positions for the next three fiscal years. LRGHealthcare, which contributes to the cost of ambulance service under a contract with the city, will bear half the annual cost of the four positions. The balance would draw on an account established in anticipation of the expiration of the grant, money budgeted to fund the positions through the current fiscal year on the assumption the grant would expire in May and $100,000 in unexpended grant funds. These funds would be supplemented by appropriations of $50,000 in 2016 and $45,000 in 2017 and 2018, representing total new expenditures of $140,000.

The four positions, Erickson said, provides the department with nine firefighters on each shift. The additional personnel has contributed to fewer emergency recalls, which have decreased by 72 percent — from 222 to 62 — from 2010 to 2014, contributing to reduced expenses for overtime, At the time, fire suppression capability has grown, injuries have diminished, response times have improved and inspections have increased. Erickson said that although additional personnel was not solely responsible for the improved efficiency and performance, it was major factor.

But, when Erickson reminded the councilors that Municipal Resources, Inc. recommended the department field 12 firefighters per shift and indicated he would request another four positions in the near future, Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) cautioned him. "You're asking use to stretch and stretch," he said, explaining that there are levels of risk. "It would help your cause not to push the envelop by trying to eliminate all risk."

2 more instances of drive-by vandalism & 2 drug overdoses keep police busy

LACONIA — Police said yesterday that two of instances of vandalixm reported to them Saturday morning are related to he recent spate of crimes committed by someone who pops out of a four-door sedan and uses a slingshot or similar devise to shoot golf balls or golf-ball shaped rocks at people's cars.

Sgt. Gary Hubbard confirmed that there was an attack on Dolloff Street and on Clinton Street that mimic the rash of attacks that took place late last week. Dolloff Street is in the south end while Clinton Street is in Lakeport.

In other area public safety news, police and firefighters responded to two drug overdoses Monday night — one on Brigham Street and one on Messer Street. Both victims were revived by Narcan that was administered by EMTs or Paramedics with the Laconia Fire Department.

Gilford Police and fire official also saved a victim in Sargent Park from an overdose yesterday afternoon. That person was administered Narcan by Gilford Fire and Rescue Personnel.

Belmont Police continue to investigate an attempted burglary at the Belmont Firearms and Range early yesterday morning.

Anyone with any information about any of the above are encouraged to call the Laconia Police at 524-5252, the Belmont Police at 267-8350 or the Gilford Police at 527-4737.

Public safety enjoying quiet Motorcycle Week so far

LACONIA — Law enforcement officials say that the 92nd anniversary Laconia Motorcycle Week has been uneventful and quiet so far but that there will be an increased police presence in the Lakes Region in the days ahead in expectation that he crowds will grow as the weekend approaches.
''There have been no incidents. We've had a quiet few days'' said Sgt. Charles Johnson of the New Hampshire State Police at the daily Laconia Motorcycle Week Association press conference held Tuesday morning at the Naswa Resort.
Captain William Clary of the Laconia Police Department agreed. ''Monday was an uneventful day, probably due to the bad weather,'' he said. Clary said that the department had its normal amount of downtown activity Monday and will also be increasing its presence in the Weirs area in the days ahead.
Kirk Beattie, assistant chef of the Laconia Fie Department, said that the department will be ''appropriately staffed'' in the coming days and observed that the cyclists who have shown up at the event so far ''are doing well and behaving themselves.''
Laconia Motorcycle Week executive director Charlie St. Clair said that about 80 riders had shown up Tuesday morning for a Gypsy Tour ride which left rally headquarters on the Weirs Beach boardwalk for a scenic ride to Bentley's Saloon in Arundel, Maine.
He said that despite Monday's rain which cut the turnout for he second annual Mae West Memorial Run, which benefits the New Hampshire Humane Society, he expects that proceeds from this year's event will exceed the $5,700 raised last year.
He said that a couple of hundred people took part in the annual MC Week cruise on the M/S Mt. Washington Monday and that many were intrigued by the summer homes they saw on islands in Lake Winnipesaukee.
''They wondered how police and firefighters responded when there were situations on the islands,'' said St. Clair.
Beattie observed that the annual Peter Makris Memorial Run which was held Saturday helps support the efforts of the Laconia Fire Department to provide services to the island dwellers.
Wednesday will see a covered bridge Gypsy Tour leaving rally headquarters at 10:30 a.m. for a 200 mile scenic ride which will take in at least 10 covered bridges in New Hampshire.
On Thursday there will the annual ''Ride to the Sky'' up the Mt. Washington Auto Road, which is open only to motorcycles and the 22nd annual POW/MIA Freedom Ride from Lowe's parking lot in Gilford to the POW/MIA monument at Hesky Park in Meredith. The ride gets underway at 6 p.m.

Sale of Laconia State School property remains in state budget as House & Senate negotiate

CONCORD — As members of the House of Representatives and Senate thrash out their differences over the 2016-2017 state budget, Governor Maggie Hassan's proposal to sell the former Laconia State School property on North Main Street has been endorsed by both chambers.
When the governor broached the sale of the property in February, Ed Engler, the mayor of Laconia has said that he would advocate for acquiring the property if it were offered to the city for its appraised value or less. Yesterday he reaffirmed his commitment to pursue the acquisition of the property when, as the law stipulates, it is offered to the city.
The governor directed the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) to sell the property and included $2 million in proceeds from the transaction, the apparent selling price of the property, among the revenues in her proposed budget. Although some members of the House have opposed selling the property in the past, the provision was included in the budget adopted by the House in April. The Senate, where the proposal to sell the property originated in 2011, concurred.
The terms of the proposed transaction are stipulated in House Bill 2, the companion bill to the budget, which directs the commissioner of the DAS to execute the sale. The transaction would be subject to the requirements of RSA 4:40, the statute governing the sale or lease of state property, which stipulates that it must be first be offered to the municipality or county where it is located. But, the transaction would be exempt from the review and approval of both the Council on Resources and Development, a panel representing executive departments and agencies, and the Long Range Capital Planning and Utilization Committee, consisting of four members of the Senate and four members of the House of Representatives, as the law requires.
In 2012 an appraisal prepared for the state by the Bureau of Right-of-Way of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation placed the value of the site at $2.16 million. In April, 2012 the Laconia City Council offered to purchase the property, together with the Robbie Mills Sports Complex, an abutting 10.2-acre parcel owned by the state and leased to the city for 99 years, for $2.16 million. The state did not respond to the offer.
The property consists of 202 acres bounded by North Main Street to the east, Meredith Center Road and Eastman Road to the north and Ahern State Park to the west and south and divided roughly in half by Right Way Path. Among the 26 buildings on the site, the appraiser found less than a handful salvageable and estimated the cost of demolishing the rest at more than $2 million.
An initial assessment of the site by Credere, LLC of Westbrook, Maine in 2010 indicated that there were typical but significant environmental concerns, most of them confined to the 75 acres housing the buildings. Soils and groundwater are likely contaminated by petroleum products and possibly other hazardous materials while asbestos, lead paint and other contaminants are present in the buildings.