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Short-sighted to cut tourism budget

When the House of Representatives voted to cut New Hampshire's tourism marketing budget, they put at risk revenue from tourism, one of the cornerstones of the state's economy and of the state's tax base.

Tourism is New Hampshire's second largest industry, generating more than $5 billion of economic activity per year in the state. In 2014, the tourism industry supported 68,000 jobs in New Hampshire.

The number of visitors to the state has been growing steadily, tied to the growth in promotion by New Hampshire's Division of Travel and Tourism Development (DTTD). In 2014, 4.7 percent more visitors came to the state than in 2013, and their total spending increased by 6.9 percent.

In 2009, the N.H. legislature passed a law dedicating 3.15 percent of revenue from the rooms and meals tax to tourism promotion. The Legislature has suspended this law to cut $3.77 million, almost half of the Division's total budget, from DTTD's Tourism Development Fund.

Most states, including nearby Maine and Massachusetts, spend more than New Hampshire currently spends on tourism promotion. With cuts of this magnitude, New Hampshire will have one of the weakest tourism promotion budgets in the country.

What happens to tourism after a state stops promoting? When Colorado cut its tourism marketing budget from $12 million to zero in 1992, the state lost 30 percent of its market share within a two-year interval. After Colorado reinstated its promotional spending, it took 11 years to regain the market share it lost.

A reduction in tourism to New Hampshire would be devastating to our economy, and it would severely diminish tax revenue for our state government. A study by The Institute for New Hampshire Studies at Plymouth State University has determined that DTTD's promotional activities generate at least $585 million in tourism spending annually. Losing that amount of spending would result in a loss of $53 million in net tax revenue to the state.

We understand that the Legislature faces many tough decisions as they decide on the state budget for the next two years. However, cutting promotion for tourism is short-sighted and fiscally irresponsible. In fact, we would argue that an increase in the tourism budget is the more logical path to solving our financial problems. In Fiscal Year 2014, state and local governments took in $9.23 of tax revenue for every dollar invested in tourism promotion.

Joined by members of the N.H. Travel Council and others in the tourism industry, we urge the Legislature to approve a budget that continues to fund tourism promotion at its previous level. It's an investment that benefits all New Hampshire residents.

(Rusty McLear is co-owner and president of Mill Falls at the Lake in Meredith. Alex Ray is owner and founder of The Common Man family of restaurants. Together, they are the principals of Granite State Hospitality, the company that is currently building the new State Welcome Centers on I-93 in Hooksett.)

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Caboose needs to be moved before WOW Trail goes by our building

To The Daily Sun,

Before the WOW Trail gets final approval to continue the trail from Main Street in Laconia to the Belmont line, a caboose behind our building on 100A New Salem St. needs to be moved. At the Laconia Planning Board meeting on April 7, the WOW Trail presented a plan that says, "Existing R.R. Tracks and ties to be removed by contractor". These are the same tracks that this Caboose sits on. Then a fence will be built. When this happens there will be no access to the Main Line to move this caboose.

Richard Mitchell (AKA Canterbury Classics/Pitman's Freight Room) had a lease with the State of New Hampshire for part of the New Salem Side Track in Laconia from 1997 to 2004. In 1999 he placed a caboose behind our building at 100A New Salem St which has made a great grudge fence. In a letter from Assistant Attorney General Anne Edwards dated August 10, 19988 she says, "However, the Department of Transportation does have a policy that it will consider other abutting landowners' interest in an area when it issues a lease. Therefore, based on this policy and the bureau's mistaken belief that Mr. Mitchell owned your building, the bureau is willing to grant you a license to pass and repass over the state's right-of-way behind your building. By way of further explanation, Mr. Mitchell did not inform the bureau employees that he owned your building; they made that mistaken assumption on their own."

This "mistaken assumption" continues in a communication titled, "WOW Trail Phase II, Laconia" from HEB Engineers' Jay Poulin (lead civil engineer) to Brain Lombard, N.H. Railroad Operations Engineer, Number 23: "The owner of Pitman's Freight Room has expressed an interest in keeping the siding track in place so that he can move the caboose out from the back of his building if and when he needs to." The Caboose is not behind his building.

The Governor and Executive Council at their September 8, 2004 meeting did not renew his lease. He hasn't had a lease since May 2004 but still has the caboose in the same spot for 11 years without paying the $986 yearly lease fee for a total of $9,860, or the general liability insurance coverage in the amount of $1,000,000 each occurrence. In a Right-to-Know request to Shelly Winters, administrator of Bureau of Rail Transit, I asked for "copies of all payments to the State of N.H. paid by Richard Mitchell or by his various AKAs starting in 1997 to March 30, 2015 for the lease or sale of part of the Concord to Lincoln (railroad) corridor. All billings from the State of N.H. to Richard Mitchell or his various AKAs for the lease or sale of part of the Concord to Lincoln Corridor." Shelley Winters replied on April 17, "Please be advised that we have researched our records and do not have any additional documentation to provide". No billings and no payments?

Former Administrator Christopher Morgan of the Bureau of Rail & Transit wrote to Richard Mitchell on July 2, 2004, telling him, "Given the opposition to your lease of the portion of the corridor adjacent to an abutting property owner, the department has decided that we will not lease you the half of the corridor that abuts that property. We would be willing to lease you the half of the spur that abuts your other parcel, and allow you to move the tracks to accommodate your caboose on that land (as well as your land). The existing lease has expired, however, and the caboose may not remain where it is."

In communications with former DOT Commissioner Carol Murray dated July 13, 2004, she wrote, "In talking to the people in Rail and Transit after our visit with you, it is clear to me that the original lease was in error, at least in my opinion. I believe that the rail car is on state land with no lease to allow it there and the Attorney General's Office has been contacted to see what the appropriate action is to deal with this. The lease was never signed, so essentially Mr. Mitchell is there with no legal agreement to be there. Tenant at will means he can be removed at any time."

On September 28, 2005 she wrote, "I was by there last week and saw that the car was still there. The issue has not yet been pursued by the Attorney General's Office — but I have asked them to get on it." On June 19, 2006 she wrote, "This was turned over to the Attorney General's Office and I will be honest that I haven't followed up with them. I will also check with the Attorney General's Office to get an update on what is happening with this issue."

On March 13, 2015 I made another Right-to-Know request of Shelley Winters asking for any communications between the Attorney General's office and former Commissioner Carol Murray, former Administrator Christopher Morgan or any other DOT employee concerning this side track. Her answer: "I was remiss in my original correspondence to inform you that any communication between the department and Attorney General's Office is protected from disclosure under both the attorney-client privilege and RSA91-A:5,IV and thus will not be provided." What is in these Attorney General communications that they have decided not to follow the directives of the former Governor & Council, commissioner and administrator? RSA 228:57 Sale or Lease; "The commissioner as sole agent for the state, with approval of the Governor and Executive Council is authorized to sell, transfer or lease all or part of the rail property."

David Gammon

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