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Belmont voters said 'no' so fire department will keep old ladder truck in service

BELMONT — After voters rejected the purchase of a used ladder truck at Tuesday's annual balloting, Deputy Fire Chief Sean McCarthy said the department would have to make do with their existing one.

A warrant article asking voters to raise and appropriate $300,000 with offsetting revenue from the Fire/Ambulance Special Revenue Account was defeated in an election that saw a majority of some 600 Belmont voters reject a number of warrant ariticles.

"We've just got to make (this truck) work," McCarthy said.

McCarthy said the existing ladder truck is a 1988 and was purchased by Belmont Fire and Rescue in 2008 for $250,000. In previous selectman's meetings, Fire Chief David Parenti said a made-to-order new ladder truck can cost between $1 and 1.5-million and take eight to 11 months to build and deliver.

Right now he said the current truck is in service but has often been out-of-service for repairs. At this time, the pump is not working but he said firefighters have been able to use an external pump.

McCarthy said the department was avoiding spending too much money on repairs until after the March 10 vote.

He said it is due for a ladder check-up as well as a few other things that need to pass an inspection.

The Ambulance/Fire Special Revenue Account — or Comstar Account — was established pursuant to a state law created in 1994 that allowed communities to take the money from ambulance run revenue and put it in a special equipment account traditionally used as a way to gradually save money for large purchases like firetrucks and ambulances.

In Belmont the account is labeled Comstar because that is the name of the company that is hired to perform all of the ambulance billings.

Using an account like Comstar, say its proponents, means the town doesn't have to create capital reserve funds for large fire vehicle purposes or see wild swings in the municipal budget when they have to be replaced.
Detractors say the ambulance run money, much of paid through insurance carriers, would normally go into the general revenue account of the town and be appropriated as voters see fit.


Last Updated on Friday, 13 March 2015 01:19

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2 petitions, somehow lost in the shuffle, should have required 2/3 vote to approved remove Gilmanton properties from Historic District

GILMANTON — It appears that even though a majority of Gilmanton voters agreed that two property owners in the Historic District could leave its jurisdiction, they will remain included — at least until issues surrounding a protest petition filed by three other residents is resolved.

George Roberts, who claims to own at least 20 percent of the property in the Gilmanton Meetinghouse Historic District and is a direct abutter of Craig Gardner, who wants to leave, filed what is called a protest petition with the town back in January.

Under the provisions of N.H. RSA 675:5, Roberts had the right to require a 2/3 majority vote because he owns more than 20 percent of the district.

Roland Huber's neighbors, Brenda Mosser and Karen Acton, also claim to own more than 20 percent of the land filed and have filed the same petition against him. His other neighbor, Mustafa El Sharif wrote a letter to selectmen supporting their protest.

The Gardner and Huber petitions were supported by a majority of the nearly 900 votes cast on Tuesday but, but neither reached anywhere near the  66.6 percent threshold.

It is unclear what happens next.

Gardner wanted his property out of the district because he built a fence made from vinyl off of the side of his garage that is 6-feet tall. His home was built in 1977 and has vinyl windows and doors. The Historic District Commission objected.

Huber wants to leave the district because he is trying to fix up a home that has been in his wife's family for 150 years and is using or trying to use materials, like vinyl, that the Historic District Commission says are inconsistent with the time period they are trying to preserve.

Huber, who lives on disability income, said he cannot afford to fix up his house using wooden materials that often cost two or three times as contemporary products. He also said newer products are more energy efficient.

Voters narrowly agreed with Gardner and Huber giving them each about 51 percent of the vote.

According to members of the Historic Commission and Roberts, one of the biggest issues is that neither homeowner came to them with their intentions beforehand and both knew their property was in the Historic District and the rules applied to all houses in it — including permission to do any construction on the outside of the home.

According to copies of the protest petitions sent to The Daily Sun yesterday, both were filed in a timely manner.

The law says any protest petitions must be filed within seven days of the "opening of town meeting".

While it appears RSA 675:5 has not been updated since the passage of SB-2 (the Official Ballot Act) the protest petitions were received 11 days before the Deliberative Session of Town Meeting that was held on January 31 and well before voting day last Tuesday.

The provisions of the law requires the town moderator to announce at the opening of town meeting and that the moderator post the protest petitions at the polling place.

Town Clerk Debra Cornett said she just learned about the petitions yesterday and that Moderator Mark Sisti didn't know about them when he opened both the deliberative session and the polls without any mention of them.

Two of three selectmen said the petitions were included in package presented to them at one of their late January meetings. Both confirmed Town Administrator Arthur Capello said in an open meeting that the petitions were forwarded to the town attorney, who advised not to do anything with them because the town was "all set".

Last Updated on Friday, 13 March 2015 01:07

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Governor's proposed budget includes $2 million from sale of State School property

CONCORD — Governor Maggie Hassan has counted proceeds of $2 million from the sale of the former Laconia State School property on North Main Street as revenue in her 2016-2017 state budget, a proposal that may rekindle the city's interest in acquiring the site.

In 2012, the city offered to purchase the property for $2.16-million, but the state agency in charge did not respond to the offer.

"I would advocate for acquiring the property, if it were offered at its appraised value," Mayor Ed Engler said yesterday.

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.

The terms of the proposed transaction are stipulated in House Bill 2, the so-called "trailer bill" that accompanies the biennial budget, which directs the commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services 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.

At the same time, the governor seeks to exempt the transaction 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.

The city mounted an effort to acquire the property soon after the closure of the Lakes Region (prison) Facility in 2009. In 2011, the Legislature directed the New Hampshire Department of Administrative Services (DAS) to offer the entire site to the city for "not less than $10-million" and, if by June 30, 2012 the city failed to accept the offer, to offer it to Belknap County "at fair market value" with a deadline of August 15, 2012. If neither the city nor the county purchased the property, it would be put on the open market.

However, the 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 City Council authorized City Manager Scott Myers and City Councilor Matt Lahey to offer 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.

When the did not acknowledge the offer, Lahey wrote to Governor John Lynch and the five Executive Councilors reaffirming it. "The city is ready, willing, and able to acquire this property, to address the environmental issues and to return the property to productive use, he wrote, asking the Governor and Council to place the offer on its agenda and "act favorably". Again the state did nothing and the city withdrew its offer.

The property has been for sale on the open market since 2012, but the state has received no offers. The value of the property is depreciated by environmental contamination at the site. Unlike the state, which was responsible for the contamination, the city is eligible for federal funding to clean up the property.

In 2010, Credere Associates, LLC of Westbrook, Maine completed a Phase I environmental assessment of the property, which identified likely risks to the natural environment and human health primarily in and around the buildings. Credere found that soil and groundwater have been contaminated by petroleum and other hazardous materials from leaking storage tanks, floor drains and waste disposal at several locations. Moreover, there are indications that the same contaminants, along with PCBs, pesticides, insecticides and coal ash, may have reached soil and groundwater at another half dozen places. Records shows that sewer treatment on the property included a chlorination plant with associated sludge beds. Furthermore, the age and condition of the buildings suggest that asbestos, lead paint, mold and PCBs are likely present in many of them.

The city need not own the property to apply for funding to commission an environmental assessment. But, it must own the property and not be responsible for the contamination to apply for funding to clean it up.

The Brownfields Cleanup Program administered by the United States Environmental Protection Agency awards grants of up to $200,000 per property parcel for as many as three parcels a year, with a 20-percent local match in cash or kind. By subdividing the contaminated portion of the site into three separate parcels, the city could apply for as much as $1.2 million in a two- year period to fund clean up at the site.
In addition, the EPA provides grants of up to $1 million to municipalities and economic development corporations, like the Belknap Economic Development Council, to capitalize revolving loan funds, which provide low or no-interest loans to for-profit and no-profit entities for clean up operations.

Last Updated on Friday, 13 March 2015 01:01

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City entered March $36,805 over winter road budget

LACONIA — With half-a-dozen heavy snowfalls in February, the Department of Public Works had overspent its winter maintenance budget by the end of the month.

Altogether the department spent $115,214 in February bringing total expenditures for the season to date to $442,805, $36,805 more than the $406,000 budgeted. The DPW has spent $331,000 for purchases of sand and salt as well as vehicle costs, $86,375 for over-times and $28,430 for outside contractors.

City Manager told the City Council this week that he would seek to defray the overage with unspent funds from the public works budget before drawing on the winter maintenance reserve account, which has a current balance of $95,310.

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 March 2015 12:53

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