County commissioners hold the line on taxes

LACONIA — Belknap County commissioners are holding the line on taxes.
Chairman David DeVoy said that although the total spending proposal for 2016 is up more than 31 percent, the amount to be raised by taxes is the same as this year, $13,387,714.
The proposed 2016 budget of $35,235,571 includes $8,113,359 for a new county jail, to be financed by a borrowing, as well as $350,000 in anticipated grants for the Corrections and Sheriff's departments.
This year's budget was $26,823,695. The 2016 proposal, minus the county jail bond, is $27,122,212.
DeVoy said the commissioners will present their budget proposal to the Belknap County Convention on Dec. 7. At that meeting, the commissioners will also discuss their plans for financing the $8 million bond for the new community corrections facility.
DeVoy said the county must respect Laconia's property tax cap, which will likely prohibit any increase in the amount to be raised by taxes.
Commissioners are looking to structure the bond issue with an eye to keeping payments lower, especially during the early years while the county is still paying off $1.4 million in other debts.
Devoy favors a bond anticipation note which would allow the county to borrow only the amount it needs, when it needs it, not the entire $8 million. He hopes to present that plan to the convention at the Dec. 7 meeting.
After approving the bond issue on Nov. 2, the county convention passed a nonbinding resolution to use the county's unreserved fund balance to pay off the county's current $1.4 million debt obligation over the next three years, saving $1 million in interest charges. The resolution, proposed by Rep. Brian Gallagher (R-Sanbornton) and passed by a 12-3 vote, recommends a 20-year bond issue with level payments of $530,000 per year over the life of the bond.
Convention Chairman Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) opposed the nonbinding recommendation, saying he favors a 25-year bond spreading the cost of the new jail over a longer period so taxpayers who would benefit from the new facility would be paying a larger share.
Commissioner Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) recently reminded the commission of the convention's overwhelming vote in favor of Gallagher's recommendation.

Laconia trash container set on fire

LACONIA – Fire Chief Ken Erickson said a 15-yard trash container fire on 10 Lindsay Court Tuesday at 5 p.m. was deliberately set. Police and fire officials are seeking the public's help in learning what happened.
He said the fire burned for about 20 minutes before being extinguished by Laconia Fire crews.
Erickson said this is the second fire of unknown origin in the immediate neighborhood.
On Nov. 10, a fire in the rear of a three-story apartment building was extinguished by firefighters who had to evacuate the building at 3 a.m.
Erickson said he had no reason to think the two fires are related but noted they occurred within 50 yards of each other.

Colonial Theatre renovation project making progress

LACONIA — The Colonial Theatre redevelopment project is moving along in high gear, Mayor Ed Engler told the city council Monday night.
“The committee in charge of the project is hard at work. We’re meeting on an almost daily basis and there have been no setbacks,” said Engler.
The committee is working with a consultant to raise $2 million in private funds for the $15 million project, but will wait until it is “well into a success mode before a general announcement will be made” about the fund drive, Engler said.
The project drew more than 20 proposals from architectural, construction and engineering firms which wanted to be involved with renovating the historic theater.
“There’s tremendous regional interest in this project,” the mayor told the council.
All the firms chosen to work on the project were local: Misiaszek & Turpin PLLC of Laconia will provide achitectural services; Bonnette, Page & Stone of Laconia will be construction manager and Rist-Frost-Shumway Engineering of Laconia will provide engineering services.
Engler observed that the architects, better known locally as “Sonya and Rob,” have a view from their office at the Busiel Mill of the back side of the Colonial complex and are very excited about the opportunity they have to work on the project.
The three-building property is now owned by 609 Main Street LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Belknap Economic Development Council, and was purchased for $1.4 million from Patricia Baldi, whose late husband Lawrence acquired it in 1967. The City of Laconia loaned the Belknap Economic Development Council the purchase price for a term of up to 18 months, with interim payments of interest only.
The economic development council has contracted with Bayside Rentals and Management of Meredith to manage the property.
During the next 18 months the economic development council will put together a $15 million package to fund the renovations. When the financing is arranged, the economic development council will repay its $1.4 million loan from the city, which in turn will lend economic development council $2 million to $3 million, with payments of interest only for a term of seven years to complete the renovation and restoration.
Once the theater is restored, the city will lease the property as the sole tenant for seven years, operating it as a civic auditorium. After seven years the city will have the option to acquire the auditorium, but not the residential and commercial units on the property, by forgiving its outstanding loan to the economic development council.
The entire property is 38,642 square feet, with the theater representing approximately 20,000 square feet. The half-acre parcel has 91 feet of frontage on Main Street and 209 feet on Canal Street. In addition to the theater, the property includes four storefront units on Main Street, each about 1,150 square feet, five retail units on Canal Street,  between 250 and 1,500 square feet, and 18 apartments on the second and third floors of the Main Street building.
Built by Benjamin Piscopo in 1913, the theater opened on April 13, 1914, as one of the grandest vaudeville and movie houses in New England. As motion pictures overtook live performances in the years after the First World War, the theater became a cinema, hosting the world premiere of “Peyton Place,” the saga of small town scandal written by Grace Metalious of Gilmanton. In the 1980s, the ornate auditorium fashioned by Italian artisans was divided into a multiplex cinema with five screens. In 2001 the Colonial went dark after 87 years.

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Laconia drug counselor is charged with raping a patient

CONCORD — A Laconia alcohol and drug counselor has been charged with two counts of felonious sexual assault resulting from an incident that allegedly occurred with a patient, said the division director for heath care professionals.
Jay Bernier, whose practice is on 206 Fair St. was also suspended from practice by the Board of Licensing for Alcohol and Other Drug Use Professionals. He also has offices in Concord. His license was suspended after an emergency hearing on Tuesday.
Bernier's arrest came on Oct. 27 after an investigation by the Merrimack County Sheriff's Department and his arrest was effected by that organization.
According to an emergency order of suspension released Wednesday by the licensing board, the alleged victim sought counseling from Bernier and attended approximately 14 to 20 sessions with him in 2014.
Either during the sessions or immediately thereafter, the order says Bernier developed an inappropriate relationship with the client. The investigation said Bernier went to the salon where the client worked to get a haircut on Nov. 3, 2014, and this was witnessed by two of her coworkers.
The client also said Bernier sent flowers to her at her place of employment and took her out shopping for clothes three times. The order said there were witnesses to this.
The order noted that Bernier and the woman were Facebook "friends" and he had "liked" several of her photographs.
Bernier also allegedly "hugged and kissed her on multiple occasions and sent her sexually explicit text messages on more than one occasion."
The order said that on Nov. 6, 2015, the client reached out to Bernier for help and upon his request she visited his Laconia office around 11 a.m., where he allegedly performed a sex act on her.
While Bernier has not been through the criminal process at this time, "the board finds that public health, safety and welfare require emergency action in this case," read the emergency order.
"Further, the board believes there is a reasonable basis for both immediately suspending Bernier's license on a temporary basis and for commencing an expedited disciplinary proceeding against [Bernier] pursuant to [state law and license requirements.]
According to the license board rules, an adjudicatory hearing shall commence within 10 working days after an emergency suspension. Bernier has been ordered to appear before the board at 9 a.m. on Dec. 3.

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