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Belknap Mill Society posted $59,000 loss in 2013

LACONIA — Spared from the wrecking ball in 1970, the Belknap Mill once again faces a clouded future, which will be the topic of public discussion when the City Council meets on Monday, December 8.

Last month the Belknap Mill Society, the nonprofit corporation that owns the mill, announced that it no longer has the financial capacity to own and maintain the oldest unaltered, brick textile mill in the country and one of the first buildings placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The board of trustees has said it would prefer to "partner" with the city itself or a private party in the ownership and operation of the building, which would remain open to both the public and the society. However, Chris Santaniello, the executive director of the Lakes Region Community Services Council who is president of board, said that without such a partnership, the property would have to be offered for sale on the open market.

Mayor Ed Engler has acknowledged that at a private meeting with the City Council in October the trustees of the society offered the mill to the city for an undisclosed price. However, he said that councilors asked that other avenues be thoroughly explored before a municipal purchase could be explored.

According to the Form 990, which the society, as a tax exempt, nonprofit corporation files each year with the Internal Revenue Service, the society posted operating losses of $20,325 in 2012 and $59,279 in 2013. According to the balance sheet, the society ended 2013 cash, savings, and accounts receivable of $73,246 and liabilities of $15,422.

David Stamps, who served as treasurer of the society from 2011 to 2014, said that the mill "has not been even close to a break-even point for many, many years."

Santaniello said that the society has drawn on its reserves to maintain operations and has sufficient funds to enable the society to keep the mill open for six or seven months.

The society's operating budget in 2013 was $216,678, including compensation and benefits of $86,741 and occupancy expenses —utilities, insurance and maintenance — of $57,000. Total revenues were $157,399, leaving an operating deficit of $59,279. Rental income of $51,301 represented the largest single source of revenue. Two spaces in  the mill are rented to law practices and the society also rents space, particularly the function room on the third floor, to civic organizations and private parties on an event-by-event basis. The society realized net gains of $22,809 from the sale of securities. Fundraising events grossed $45,048, which less expenses of $28,837 yielded net income of $16,211, and membership dues and cash contributions returned $33,694. The society also collected $15,465 in proceeds from charitable gaming at Seabrook Greyhound Park.

The filing indicates that membership dues and contributions fell almost 70-percent between 2009 and 2013, from $111,388 to $33,694. The society offers memberships to businesses at dues ranging from $100 to $5,000 and to individuals at dues ranging from $50 to $5,000.

Meanwhile, the costs of operating and maintaining the building, constructed in 1823, continue to rise. Stamps estimated that a minimum of $500,000 in capital investment, including new heating and lighting systems, is necessary to put the structure in good repair.

Stamps said that membership, which had reached 800 in the 1990s, had had plummeted to around 30 by 2011. Andre Paquette, who served on the board from 1982 to 1991, said that when he rejoined it in 2011 "business memberships were non-existent."

Paul Morin, whose family owned the mill before it ceased operating in 1969, served as a trustee from 1995 until 2007 and, like Paquette, returned briefly in 2011. By then, he said, the mill was struggling financially. He found that no aggressive grant writing or fundraising efforts were underway. Longstanding members were not pursued to renew and new members, especially businesses, were not aggressively courted. Instead, Morin said the board intended to develop what he called "a high-end art gallery and gift shop" to bolster the revenue stream. The plan, he said, displaced the historical features and character of the mill, which he believed represent its value and attraction. "We could see this coming," he said

Meanwhile, reductions in government funding bred stiffer competition from ever more nonprofit corporations competing for public and private grants, corporate sponsorships and private contributions. And the local economy was reeling from the effects of recession.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 December 2014 02:14

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Shaker administrators recommending universal pre-school program for 4-year-olds instead of all-day kindergarten for 5-year-olds

BELMONT — Top administrators at the Shaker Regional School District have recommended a universal pre-kindergarten program for the school district as part of next year's programming.

Superintendent Maria Dreyer, Canterbury Elementary School Principal Mary Morrison and Belmont Elementary School Principal Sheila Arnold made their recommendations to the School Board at its regularly scheduled meeting late last month.

According to draft minutes of the meeting, the three told the School Board that research shows the benefits of pre-school can substantially reduce costs to the district in the future because there would be fewer special education referrals, better classroom behavior, lower crime rates and lower delinquency rates.

Dreyer also said that the program can be accomplished within the proposed school budget for 2015-2016, which is down slightly from this year.

Dreyer said that should the district add a universal half-day pre-school program, the district would continue with half-day kindergarten instead of moving toward a full-day kindergarten. She told the board that while full-day kindergarten is important, her research shows adding a pre-school program can show longer lasting benefits for students than only having a full-day kindergarten.

She also told the board there is some state and federal funds that could be available for a pre-kindergarten program.

The administrators said the pre-school could be accomplished within the current proposed budget. Dreyer told the school board that if the program is implemented, there would be four 2.5-hour sessions in Belmont and one 2.5-hour session in Canterbury for 4-year-olds.

They told the board there is room at both elementary schools for the pre-school programs. Dreyer said there also may be an opportunity to open up the program to other communities who could tuition in their students.

Administrators said transportation for preschoolers could be combined with special education transportation already provided for Special Education preschoolers.

Although it has not yet been scheduled, School Board Chair Heidi Hutchinson said there will be a second meeting scheduled specifically to gather public input.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 December 2014 01:18

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Gilmanton says state laws prohibits 'boot drives'

GILMANTON — Selectmen will not be passing a regulation prohibiting solicitation to include the town Fireman's Association "boot drives" because further research of the part of the town administrator shows that state law already prohibits them.

According to N.H. State Law RSA 265:40, "no person shall stand on the traveled portion of a roadway for the purpose of soliciting a ride, employment, business or contributions from the occupant of any vehicle."

During a "boot drive", members of a given fire department typically stand in or on the edge of a roadway holding high, rubber boots and ask motorists to drop small bills and change into them. The money is then donated to a worth cause.

In short, the Gilmanton Fireman's Association's "boot drives" conducted typically on the weekends N.H. Motor Speedway holds it races, are illegal, according to town officials.

In addition to the law, a letter from N.H. Department of Transportation District 3 Supervisor Mark Morrill to the town reiterated that boot drives are not legal.

"There is no permit because it is a safety issue," Morrill wrote, when Town Administrator Arthur Capello inquired about a permit for the Gilmanton Firemans Association.

The subject of the "boot drives" came to the forefront in Gilmanton after selectmen received a letter from a resident complaining about them and asking who would be liable should one of the firefighters get injured during an event.

A public hearing was held in November that was attended by a number of residents including members of the Fireman's Association, who said they supported the drives and money they raise through the drives goes for equipment and for programs for the youth of Gilmanton including the Boy Scouts.

Some, including Selectman Brett Currier, said the boot drives cheapen the image of the town and make it look like the town doesn't adequately fund the Fire Department. Selectman Stephen McCormack told the audience that they board had to look at the safety concerns surrounding "boot drives" and other forms of solicitation on public roadways.
That meeting ended with Capello saying he would contact the state of New Hampshire DOT for further instructions and possible permitting regulations.

In a letter sent yesterday from Capello to the president of the Gilmanton's Fireman's Association, Capello wrote that "... the conclusion cannot help but the that solicitation of funds on any roads or right of way is an illegal action."

Capello said he also reviewed the statute with the police chief, who is in agreement with his and Morrill's interpretation of RSA 265:40.

"From this day forward, any solicitation is prohibited on any street, highway and right of way in Gilmanton," he concluded.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 December 2014 12:58

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Disputing priorities, lawmakers refuse transfer to pay county legal bills

LACONIA — The Executive Committee of the Belknap County Convention last night turned down a request from the Belknap County Commission to transfer $28,000 in order to pay the county's unpaid legal bills, which now amount to some $24,000.
The action came on a 6-3 vote on a motion made by Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), chairperson of the convention to deny the request. She was supported by Executive Committee Chairman Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), Rep. Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton), who will be sworn in as a new member of the county commission on January 2, Rep. Guy Comtois (R-Barnstead), Rep. Robert Greemore (R-Meredith) and Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith). Opposing the motion were Rep. Don Flanders (R-Laconia), Rep. Ian Raymond (D-Sanbornton) and Rep. David Huot (D-Laconia).
Worsman moved to deny the transfer request after questioning county officials on why the legal bill from the Hatfield and Upton law firm of Concord, which represented the convention's Personnel Committee in the appeal of the commissioner's dismissal of Belknap County Nursing Home Administrator Mathew Logue, hadn't been paid yet but that payments had been made to attorneys representing the commission in its dispute over budget line item authority with the convention.
''The oldest bills were paid first,'' said Belknap County Administrator Debra Shackett, who said that she expects that the county will be receiving more legal invoices in the near future, which will have to be paid.
Worsman said that at the Executive Committee's October 27 meeting a transfer of $8,000 to the convention's legal line budget was made and maintained that the money was intended to pay for the Hatfield and Upton law firm's work with the Executive Committee, which had reinstated Logue by a unanimous 3-0 vote.
But Shackett and County Financial Director Glenn Waring challenged Worsman's account of that meeting, as did Commissioner Steve Nedeau (R-Meredith), who said that the convention lacks the authority to direct commissioners on what bills should be paid.
Committee Chairman Tilton said that the procedure on appropriating funds for the convention's legal expenses and those of the county commissioners had been changed several years ago and that with the commissioners already having expended $16,609 of the $17,000 budgeted by the convention that he thought it was ''not a good use of money'' and that he was opposed to adding more funds for legal fees.
Rep. Burchell told the commissioners ''you continue to throw away money on a issue that will go away on January 2'', referring to a statement that he and fellow incoming commissioner Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) issued recently saying that they plan to drop an appeal commissioners are planning to make to the state Supreme Court of the Personnel Committee's reinstatement of Logue as head of the nursing home.
But Nedeau said that Burchell may not be able to cast a vote on that issue, maintaining that there may be a conflict of interest as Burchell serves as a member of the Personnel Committee and voted to reinstate Logue.
Rep. Huot argued for approving the transfer, maintaining that ''it's not a good idea for the county not to pay its bills'' and said that the committee's action exceeded its authority. He said that action was tantamount to saying ''we're not going to authorize the payment of bills now in hand because we don't like the actions taken by the commissioners.''
He said that the legal battle over line item authority in the budget took place in court long after the 2014 budget had been approved and that resulted in running up legal bills beyond what had been appropriated and that the only resort for the commission if the transfers were denied would be to seek a supplemental appropriation.
The meeting also saw another transfer request denied for $2,4000 in the part-time wage account of the Belknap County Registry of Deeds to its full-time wages. That also came by a 6-3 vote.
The committee did approve the transfer of $5,000 in the Sheriff's Department for vehicle maintenance and another $1,500 for vehicle repair, $64,000 from various accounts to pay the nursing home's $485,000 bed tax and $4,400 for medical examiner costs for the County Attorney's office.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 December 2014 02:42

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