To The Daily Sun,
I read with shock at the article in The Sun on Tuesday (Nov. 18) indicating the tax rate in Belmont will rise by 23.3 percent and blaming this outrageous rise on the drop in assessed valuation.
Other towns around us such as Gilford's increase is 0.7 percent, Barnstead at 2 percent, and Center Harbor at 4 percent. One would think that these towns also suffered drops in their respective towns assessed valuations?
This is a huge problem for the taxpayers in Belmont and we should remember this at the next election in March and when we have a chance to vote on the next budget. Belmont continues to be one of the highest taxed town in the entire state.
Last Updated on Friday, 21 November 2014 12:15
To The Daily Sun,
Regarding the current plight of the Belknap Mill, as a former treasurer of the Belknap Mill Society from the Spring of 2011 to the Spring of 2014, I would like to offer some observations and insights.
The Belknap Mill, as for many in Laconia, has been part of my life for many years. My grandfather was one of the early supporters who "saved" the mill. My mother was a long-time board member. I began volunteering for the award-winning fourth grade program in 1999. At the same time, I helped digitize the society's extensive photo collection and worked on developing most of the society's story boards in the Knitting Room and Power House.
Prior to serving as treasurer, I served on the board in 2005 and 2006 as secretary.
The Belknap Mill, founded in 1823 as a hosiery mill, grew up alongside the rest of Laconia. Indeed, many today have friends or relatives who worked there until it closed in 1969. The mill has reflected the economy and people of the region and nation throughout its life. In the post-war period, New England mills shuttered one by one as manufacturing moved south and then overseas.
Even after closing its doors, the mill continued to be an active player in Laconia's life by becoming the focal point of competing approaches to urban renewal. Much of Downtown Laconia was demolished by the "new is better" urban renewal folk. The Belknap and Busiel Mills were saved by a group who represented an emerging approach of redeveloping and preserving historically significant structures in downtowns. Indeed, this conflict made Life magazine in 1970. The Belknap Mill was known nationwide as a symbol for preservation and restoration. The Belknap Mill was an early addition to the National Register for Historic Places.
The group who worked to save the mill was originally called the Save the Mill Society. In 1977, declaring the mill saved, the group renamed itself The Belknap Mill Society. Over the years, the membership of in the Belknap Mill Society Trustees has read like a "Who's Who" of Laconia area business and civic leaders.
During its early years, the mill housed many of the area's non-profits including the Belknap County Extension Service, United Way, Family Services and many others. It became the Meeting House of N.H., so declared by Governor Hugh Gallen. The city regularly hosts inaugurations and other city-wide meetings at the Mill. Many who have attended as youngsters in the fourth grade program, returned as young adults to marry and later to
participate in some civic function.
The Mill survived on rents, grants, fees, donations, fund drives and memberships during this time. At one time in the 1990s, its membership reached 800. Unfortunately, the mill continued to reflect the nation and area. Americans just are not getting as involved in their civic institutions as they once were. Women in the workforce, multiple jobs, more geographically, diverse communities, fewer locally owned corporations, electronic communities, diverse cultural institutions all combine to weaken civic organizations. Grant-making institutions rarely fund operating expenses and never for more than a year or so at a time.
As former treasurer, I can assure you that the Belknap Mill has not been even close to a break-even point for many, many years. To understand why:
1. Operating costs are extremely high due to aging and inefficient heating and lighting plants. The furnace is 50 years old and requires constant maintenance. The lights even cost more to run than the furnace.
2. Maintenance and upkeep for a 190-year-old building that also has stringent historic-landmark requirements. Due to various LCHIP grants received, the N.H. Department of Historic Resources has a legal easement on the property to ensure compliance with their standards. Even simple tasks such as fixing the windows or replacing the door take a major design and approval process. The work on the cupola that began in 2011 has required a very long and expensive process.
3. The tenant leases, written years ago with unbreakable clauses, are well below current market rates.
4. The third-floor capacity is not large enough to attract money-making events. Its floor needs refinishing. The kitchen is ancient and the rest room facilities are inadequate and not ADA accessible.
5. Today, there are several excellent conference/event venues in the Lakes Region that successfully compete with the mill in price, capacity and services available.
Even when at full capacity, the mill with all its functions, tenants, programs, and grants has operated thousands of dollars in the red. The balance in the past has been made up with random bequests and gifts. And this is the norm for cultural institutions in the state. Everyone must raise thousands of dollars a year over and above its operating revenue. This is true for the Capitol Center in Concord, the Palace in Manchester, the new Winnipesaukee Theater in Meredith and would have been true of the Colonial Theater.
Over the last 15 years, the economic climate for non-profits of all kinds has shifted dramatically as government support has dwindled to next to nothing. Even if the mill never received a dime from the city, many others did. Now, all those non-profits are out there competing for the grant dollars, volunteers and corporate support. The Belknap Mill Society Trustees never successfully grappled with these issues. When a new board of trustees analyzed the financial condition in 2011, membership was down to only 30 people. Private donations were almost non-existent. The physical building had deteriorated to a significant degree.
To survive another 10 years — much less another 190 years, the Mill needs over $500,000 for immediate capital improvements, a $3 million-5 million endowment, an active "Friends of the Mill" that can generate the additional $100,000 needed to operate the Mill over and above its ability to generate revenue.
In the last three years, the mill was coming back and showed Laconia what it once was in terms of cultural and educational activities and what it could be. Unfortunately, the mill never successfully attracted a strong enough "Friends" group to support it. The clock is running out.
The City Council is holding a public hearing on the Belknap Mill on Dec. 8 at 7 p.m. I do find it ironic that the meeting is being held not in the mill but in the City Council chambers. Given what I hope is a massive turnout of support, I would hope the council would relocate the public hearing to the mill. The mill has been a source of inspiration, delight, hope and history for many, many people within Central New Hampshire. It should be seen while people are talking about its future.
Last Updated on Friday, 21 November 2014 12:10
To The Daily Sun,
The Gilford Candlelight Stroll Committee has been working since January planning for our third annual stroll on Saturday, Dec. 13, from 5 to 7 p.m. The horse and wagon ride has been booked. Once again, there will be a big bonfire at the Village Field, thanks to the volunteer efforts of the members of the Fire Department and Public Works. The library will again be offering the young people the opportunity to make a holiday ornament in its Children's Room and there will be line dancing in its meeting room — fun for all ages, thanks to its many volunteers.
Many volunteers are still needed to help make this stroll a success. Without candles there would be no Candlelight Stroll. Two volunteers are doing the big job of getting the candles into the hundreds of bags. This is a bid help. We need volunteers to light the candles (Maybe homeowners would light those in front of their homes?), and volunteers to put out the lights and help to collect the bags with the holders so they can be used again.
The Middle High School, along with the Elementary School, will have students from their choruses out caroling. However, two hours is a long time for anyone to be out in the cold singing, more volunteers who like to sing or play a musical instrument would be greatly appreciated.
The Candlelight Stroll is an event that can be enjoyed by all, thanks to the many volunteers who donate their time. We thank those who have donated so we may have candles to line the street, to be able to offer the wagon ride, and to have flyers so visitors may be able to see what activities are being offered and at what times. However, we still need volunteers, so please contact any of the above named people to help.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 November 2014 11:48
To The Daily Sun,
Nobody wants their real estate taxes to increase during this troubled economy. We can't afford the increase, families are stressed enough with the cost of groceries and gas.
Tax Increment Financing is the difference between the amount of property tax revenue generated before TIF district designation and the amount of Property Tax Revenue generated after the TIF designation.
Although politicians portray TIFs as a great way to boost the local economy, there are hidden costs they don't want taxpayers to know about. Cities/towns generally assume they are not really giving anything up because the forgone tax revenue would not have been available in the absence of the development established by the TIF. This conclusion is often wrong.
The down side, and the word that is not spoken, is the shift of taxes being paid from the wealthy corporations to small businesses and regular citizens. Cities/towns giving tax breaks to that, put people out of business. The higher the property taxes, the more tax revenue to pay off development bonds.
The rest of us pay taxes for normal services like public safety, building inspections, and street maintenance and those services come out of the general fund. And as the costs go up, and the money from the general fund is given to these businesses through a TIF, the tax burden gets shifted to the regular people who don't have the same political clout. It's a crummy way to treat your tax paying, law abiding citizens. TIFs now appear in affluent neighborhood's subsidizing high-end housing developments, big box retailers and shopping malls.
TIFs subsidized big business at the expense of less influential competitors and ordinary citizens. Roads, sewers, and schools are public costs that come from growth. Unless spending is cut — and if a TIF really does generate economic growth — spending will rise. The burden of paying for these services will be forwarded to taxpayers. TIFs take away small business monies and give to large corporations, with the end result being the demise of the small-business owner.
In Dover the city council is pushing TIFs, in Concord they now have an advisory committee, and in Laconia, Edward Engler, editor and president of The Laconia Daily Sun, who is the mayor, likes TIFs. What is happening in your town/city. What is happening in Meredith?
Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 November 2014 11:41
To The Daily Sun,
Need Thanksgiving desserts?
Please consider attending our second annual Dessert Auction this coming Sunday at the Beane Conference Center on Blueberry Lane, Laconia, from 3 to 5 p.m. Scores of beautiful desserts provided by local bakeries, restaurants and volunteer bakers will be offered via a live auction led by PK Zyla. Admission is a canned good or non-perishable food item. Refreshments will be served.
This is a critical fundraiser for Hands Across the Table which offers a free hot meal every Wednesday evening at the St. Andre Bessette Parish Hall on Gilford Avenue in Laconia. HATT's mission is "To feed all who are hungry in body and spirit. We do so willingly and with compassion and understanding."
Debbie Frawley Drake
HATT Board & Auction Chair
Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 November 2014 11:30