Belknap House about to open its doors

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Despite encountering some unexpected hurdles, Colleen Garrity, the present of Belknap House, said on Thursday that the cold weather emergency shelter for families with children is scheduled to open on Monday, Feb. 13.

Garrity said that the furnace, which was anticipated to last through the winter, abruptly failed, and has been replaced along with two hot-water heaters, all at an unforeseen cost of some $10,000. But, she added that the kitchen, including the appliances and cabinetry, has been installed, and, through the efforts of many volunteers, much of the interior of the building has been painted. With new plumbing and wiring and the removal of asbestos and lead paint, she said, "We have a very, very safe building."

With a target of $25,000, the second annual fundraising drive collected more than $13,000 and the St. James Episcopal Church-Laconia last Sunday awarded a New Hampshire Episcopal Diocese Mission Resources Grant of $6,000 toward the project.

"It's been good, but we can always use more," Garrity said of the fundraising effort. "We're always fundraising. It's constant."

The shelter will have space to house six families, consisting of as many as 19 individuals. Only families referred by the welfare director of either the city of Laconia or one of the 10 towns in Belknap County will be housed at the shelter, which will be a "dry" facility, allowing no alcohol or drugs. The originating municipality will be responsible any costs or services associated with sheltering the families.

Belknap House will operate as a shelter in the cold weather months from October to May and as a hostel during the remainder of the year. The shelter will operate around the clock — 24 hours a day, seven days a week — from October until May. Garrity said that the annual operating budget for the facility is expected to fall between $110,000 and $120,000. She said that fees from the hostel are projected to contribute some $40,000 towards the operating budget.

Karen Welford of Laconia, who was among the founders of Better Together, will be the executive director with responsibility for overseeing and managing all aspects of the operation of Belknap House as well as for pursuing partnerships with local businesses, governments and civic organizations. Tammy Emery will serve as family support coordinator, responsible for assisting families overcome the challenge of homelessness and place them in transitional or permanent housing. The staff will be complemented with volunteers taking operational responsibilities as well as helping with family activities and children's programs.

Garrity said that while there have been referrals, at least two single women have inquired about finding shelter at Belknap House every week for months. "We expect to be very full very quickly, Garrity said.

Whiskey Barrel opening this weekend

By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Another formerly vacant storefront in downtown Laconia is being revitalized this weekend, as the space at 546 Main St., most recently the home of the Funky Monkey, has now become the Whiskey Barrel, a country-flavored nightspot. The bar is holding its grand opening this weekend, with live entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights, and a Super Bowl party on Sunday.

The Whiskey Barrel is fashioned after a bar of the same name in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Bernie Goulet, owner of both locations, said that the owner of the Laconia Whiskey Barrel will be managed by his partner, Matt Menengas.

The first bands to perform locally will be some of the best-known local country bands, such as the Eric Grant Band on Friday night.

"Eric is one of the rising country bands, he always brings a big crowd down. He's got a lot of intensity and energy, I think he'll be a great opening band," said Goulet. Jodie Cunningham, another New Hampshire-grown talent, will perform on Saturday night. Both shows are expected to start a little after 8 p.m., he said. On Sunday, during the Super Bowl party, the Whiskey Barrel will have a live DJ playing songs.

While later acts will carry a cover charge, Goulet said that there will be no cover to attend the opening weekend. 

"We want people to come down and see what we've done," he said.

Goulet said Thursday that he had been waiting to confirm the grand opening until he received his liquor license, which he finally secured on Wednesday. The Whiskey Barrel, fashioned after a nightclub of the same name in Haverhill, Massachusetts, will begin serving casual American food in about a month, and a special, temporary liquor license was necessary to allow the business to serve only drinks in the mean time.

"We suggest people go downtown, get a bite to eat, and then come down and see some great entertainment," said Goulet.

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Belmont Town Meeting Saturday to consider raises for police, fire

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

BELMONT — An an agreement with the police union and the local government to restructure the pay scale will cost taxpayers about $250,000 over the next three years if warrant Article 18 is passed by voters this year.

Belmont voters will discuss this and other warrant articles at the deliberative session of Town Meeting this Saturday at 10 a.m. at Belmont High School.

Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin said the pay scale restructuring came as the result of some research done by the town and the union representatives into how much other officers in the area and in similar sized communities are earning.

"We found we were at very low side of that scale," said Beaudin.

The warrant article is broken into to columns so voters can understand how much of the increase is raises and how much are increases driven by insurance costs and state retirement contributions.

For the first year, the salary increases are to $37,540 or an average of $2,681 per union officer, of which there are 14. In the second year of the contract, each officer can expect on average an additional $2,167 each; and in year 3, each officer can expect an average increase of $2,140. On average, each union police officer can expect a total $7,000 raise over the three years of the contract.

Insurance and retirement costs are expected to increase about $10,700 in year one, and about $9,000 additionally each year for the final two years of the contract or through 2019.

The Board of Selectmen and the Budget Committee support the passage of the money portions of the proposed contract.

"We support our Police Department and support them making comparable wages as do those in other departments," said Beaudin.

The town has also negotiated three-year contracts with the Fire Department and the Public Works Department. Salaries for the 10 union firefighters will cost taxpayers about $67,244 over the next three years, or an average of $6,700 in pay increases per firefighter.

Benefits including the health insurance and contributions to the state retirement system are expected to rise by $4,420 in the first year of the contract, an additional $5,600 in year two, and an additional $4,960 in 2019 or the last year of the contract.

The voters are also being asked to approve the money portions of a new Department of Public Works contract that, if approved, will increase wages for 10 DPW union workers about $72,573 over the three-year term of the contact or about $7,200 per employee.

Benefits are expected to go up by $2,982 in the first year of the three year contact and an additional $1,577 for the second year and an additional $2,012 in year 3.

Beaudin said the same pay scales as before are being used for Fire Department and Public Works employees, and that the increases requested are for step and cost-of-living increases.

The selectmen and the Budget Committee support passage of the money portions of each of the union contract requests. Each warrant article is also accompanied by a follow-up article that, if they fail, will allow a special Town Meeting to reconsider the vote on the money portions of the contract.

Article 9, if passed, will allow all veteran, their spouses or surviving spouses to take a $500 tax credit of their property taxes. This expands the tax credit to all veterans who served at least 90 days of active duty and who was honorably discharged or separated from the military.

Article 10 proposes to take the first $166,400 of the ambulance billings and direct them to the general fund to pay for certain operating expenses. The town has been supporting this expense for the past five years.

Article 11 seeks to spend $119,482 on a replacement communications system. The town is not asking for any new tax money and proposes to take $69,482 from the fire/ambulance equipment fund and $50,000 from the capital reserve account established for this purpose in 2005.

Article 12 seeks to spend $60,776 for the second year's payment on a new pumper truck. The money is proposed to come from the fire/ambulance equipment fund.

Articles 13 and 14 seek to raise $40,000 fro a cab-and-chassis forestry vehicle and $15,000 for an all-terrain vehicle for the Fire Department. All of the money is to come from the fire/ambulance revenue account.

Article 15 proposes to spend a total of $20,604.15 from the John M. Sargent Trust Fund for various Belmont groups including the Boy and Girl Scouts, the Old Home Day Committee, and two of the town's food pantries.

Article 17 is the general appropriation warrant article for a proposed annual 2017 operating budget of $7,586,951. The default budget is $7,563,786.

Article 24 through 33 seek to send various amounts of money into the town's capital reserve and maintenance funds that include the town bridge repair capital fund, the property revaluation capital fund and the general cemetery maintenance fund.

Articles 34 and 35 seek to spend $232,710 for the operation and maintenance of the town water distribution and treatment system and $538,037 for the town's sewer collection and disposal system. Users fees will pay for these expenditures that are both recommended by the Budget Committee.

Articles 36 and 37 propose spending $4,500 on the Heritage Fund and $5,000 to be placed in the Village Rail Spur Trail Capital Fund established in 2016.

While voters may amend the wording and dollar amounts presented in the articles at the deliberative session of Town Meeting, the final vote won't be taken until March 14, along with election of town and school officials.

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