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New law aimed at preventing dealers from using next winter's money to buy this winter's oil

LACONIA — Curtis Stafford of Stafford Oil Company, Inc. applauded the Legislature for tightening the regulation of pre-buy contracts for the purchase of heating fuels. "I think it's going to protect the consumer and have a positive impact on the industry," he said yesterday.

This week House Bill 1282 carried the New Hampshire Senate by a voice vote after the House of Representatives passed it by a convincing majority of 226 to 98 in March. Although the bill will be referred to the Senate Finance Committee in accord with Senate Rules, this week's vote is unlikely to be reversed.

The legislation addresses an issue that has dogged the Legislature for the past five years. In that time, according the Attorney General's Office, three independent heating oil firms have failed, leaving customers $650,000 out-of-pocket. This past winter was marked by the struggles of Fred Fuller Oil & Propane Co., among the largest home heating oil dealers in the state, to make timely deliveries to its prepaid customers, which prompted the Attorney General's Office to intervene.

Stafford said that perhaps the most important provision would forbid dealers from advertising or soliciting prepaid contracts earlier than May 1 or later than October 31. He explained that the current law, by allowing such contracts to be closed after January 1 — before the next year's heating fuel season begins on May 1 — enables dealers to apply funds for future purchases to current operations. By changing the date, Stafford explained, the bill intends to ensure that the proceeds from prepaid contracts fund future purchases at the contracted price and not finance operations during the remainder of the current season. He said that in effect the bill would manage dealers' cash flow.

Current law requires that within seven days of entering into prepaid contracts dealers must commit to a futures contract or other arrangement that guarantees the purchase of fuel representing 75-percent of the maximum number of gallons their prepaid contracts bind them to deliver. Alternatively dealers may post a surety bond payable to the Attorney General equal to at least 50-percent of the amount paid by customers for prepaid contracts or a letter of credit, also payable to the Attorney General, representing 100 percent of the dealer's cost of the fuel required to fulfill prepaid contracts. The bill would add a fourth option by allowing dealers to acquire an inventory of fuel amounting to 75 percent of the volume their prepaid contracts require them to deliver.

The bill would further require dealers to register their intent to offer prepaid contracts with the New Hampshire Secretary of State by May 1 each year as well as file annual reports with the agency by December 1. The annual report must demonstrate how the dealer has complied with the statute, including how prepaid contracts are secured.

Finally, the bill adds both making false statements and failing to deliver contracted fuel violations of the Consumer Protection Act.

"The bill gives the law a lot more teeth," said Stafford, a director of the Oil Heat Council of New Hampshire, which assisted lawmakers in drafting the bill.

Last Updated on Saturday, 03 May 2014 01:05

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Question raised as to whether residents of other Belknap towns should again be able to serve on Laconia Airport Authority

LACONIA — Mayor Ed Engler, who serves as chairman of the Laconia Airport Authority, earlier this week briefed the City Council on the possibility of changing the composition of membership of the authority in order to reflect the regional nature of the facility and expand the pool for the recruitment of members.

Engler said that Diane Terrill, the manager of the airport, has raised the issue. which was also discussed briefly when the authority met last month. He stressed that no formal proposal has been framed and he would ask the council to consider the matter at a future meeting.

Engler noted that although the airport represents a regional asset that contributes to the economy of both Belknap County and the Lakes Region, for the past 15 years the membership of the authority has been effectively confined to residents of Laconia and Gilford. Apart from failing to reflect regional interests beyond the two communities, this limitation shrinks the pool of suitable candidates to serve as appointed authority members, Engler said.

Meanwhile, selectman Gus Benevides, who represents the town on the authority, put the question to the Board of Selectmen last week, which expressed itself opposed to any change to the composition of the board.

Laconia owns the airport property, which lies entirely in the town of Gilford. As the owner, the city is party to the authority's relationship with the Federal Aviation Administration, while development at the airport is subject to the Gilford zoning ordinance in addition to the approval of the authority and FAA.

Property taxes levied on property at the airport leased to taxable entities, which amount to more than $150,000 a year, flow exclusively to Gilford.

The authority was originally chartered by the Legislature in 1941. Since then the corporate charter has been amended twice and any change would require another act of the Legislature.

Initially the authority consisted of five members — three elected officials, who serve ex officio, and two appointed members. The Mayor of Laconia, or designee, chairs the authority and the Gilford Board of Selectmen and Belknap County Commission each choose one of their number, or designees, to serve on the authority. The appointed members need only have been residents of Belknap County.

In 1983 the charter was amended to expand the board from five to seven members. The three elected officials remained, while two residents of the state were added to the two residents of the county to increase the number of appointed members to four.

The present composition of the Authority was established in 1999, when the Legislature reestablished the charter. There was no change in the three elected officials, but again the membership was increased — this time from seven to nine — with the addition of two appointed members. Moreover, the new charter, for the first time specified that all six of the appointed members must be residents of Laconia and Gilford and assigned four seats to Laconia and two to Gilford. The effect was to assure the city a majority of the membership.

The appointed members are elected by the "appointive agency," consisting of the Laconia City Council, Gilford Board of Selectmen and Belknap County Commission, for four-year terms, but not more than two consecutively.

At present, two 4-year terms are up for appointment and both must be filled by Laconia residents. The appointive agency meets Monday night at City Hall at 7 p.m. to interview four applicants. The election will be held a week later at 5:45 p.m.

Next year the tenure of two more members — one from Laconia and one from Gilford — will expire.

Last Updated on Friday, 02 May 2014 12:53

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House committee crafts RV taxation bill that's now to Laconia's liking

CONCORD — The Municipal and County Government Committee of the New Hampshire House of Representatives this week unanimously amended a bill intended to clarify the taxation of recreational vehicles. The amendment would spare Laconia from losing $2 million of assessed valuation, foregoing $220,000 in property tax revenue and adding a dime to its tax rate.
Senate Bill 333, as introduced by Sen. Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith), would exempt from property taxation recreational vehicles remaining in any one city, town or unincorporated place for fewer than 45 days as well as recreational vehicles stored or placed on a rented campsite at a recreational campground or camping park no matter for how long.
Forrester introduced the bill at the request of the New Hampshire Campground Owners Association to mend what she called "a crazy quilt" by which recreational vehicles are treated differently by different cities and towns. Some are taxed as real estate while others are not. Some municipalities bill the owners of the recreational vehicles while others, unable to identify the owners, bill the campground owners.

However, Laconia Assessor Jon Duhamel discovered that there are more than 400 recreational vehicles sitting year-around on a dozen campgrounds that the city has taxed for years, but would become exempt from property tax if the bill were enacted as written.
When the bill reached the House, city officials voiced their concerns about the erosion of the city's tax base, prompting the Municipal and County Government Committee to seek a formula that would ensure consistent treatment of recreational vehicles, spare campground owners responsibility for collecting or paying taxes and safeguard the interests of municipalities.
The amendment, which the committee adopted 19-0, exempts only those recreational vehicles with a maximum width of eight-feet, six-inches, registered as motor vehicles, bearing a current number plate and located at a campground from property taxation. In other words, so-called "park models," wider than eight-feet, six-inches that cannot be transported without a special permit, and unregistered recreational vehicles less than eight-feet, six inches in width, would be taxed as real estate.
Before April 1 each year campground owners would be required to provide municipal assessors with the name and address of the owners of recreational vehicles at their campgrounds and to identify those exempt from property taxation. Campground owners would not be responsible for the payment of any taxes imposed on recreational vehicles at their facilities.
City Manager Scott Myers said that the amendment mirrors the practice the city has followed since 1999, when the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that trailers meeting certain criteria should be taxed as real estate. He said that the amendment addresses the major issues of concern to both the city and campground owners.
Since the bill bears on taxation, if it passes the House it could be referred to the Ways and Means Committee, which will report it back to the House for a second vote.

If the amended bill clears these hurdles, the Senate, which adopted the bill in its original form, will be asked to concur with the bill as amended by the House or to request a committee of conference to resolve the differences between the two chambers.

"We still have a way to go," Myers remarked.

Last Updated on Friday, 02 May 2014 12:45

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Jenkins and VanTassel seek to replace retiring Giunta on Sanbornton Selectboard

SANBORNTON — After serving on the Budget Committee for 12 years, Jeff Jenkins is seeking a three-year spot on the Board of Selectmen. He faces former town highway superintendent Johnny VanTassel who is making his first bid for public office.

The slot on the board they both seek is being vacated by Guy Giunta.

Jenkin said yesterday that as a member of the Budget Committee, he was charged with managing the overall amount to be raised by taxes and ensuring that amount remained reasonably constant.

"As a selectmen, I'll have to deal with the big picture—- like employee issues and things like that," he said.

Both men have identified the roads in Sanbornton as their top priority but have a slightly different approach to the job.

When asked, Jenkins said he thinks the town should spend more money on improving roads but noted he wouldn't agree to it until their was some kind of long-range plan for the entire town.

VanTassel was the highway superintendent and a long-time employee of the town of Sanbornton before becoming the highway superintendent in neighboring Northfield. He said he's familiar with the roads, the infrastructure and knows what needs to be done.

VanTassel's goals for his three-year term are to have a long-term and a short-term plan for the maintenance and repair of the roads and some of the town's red-list budgets.

When he was asked if the town spends enough money on its roads, he said "yes" but would like to see some kind of infrastructure plan.

"We need to use (the money) wisely and got the most out of it," VanTassel said.

"I would like to see more roads finished to the point where they can be maintained at a reasonable cost," he added.

VanTassel said the "town has pulled out all the stops" and purchased or leased some very good equipment for the roads and was working on a maintenance plan when he left to take the job in Northfield.

Both men said they are mindful of the overall budget and the taxpayers acknowledging that with little to no commercial property in town, it is very difficult to raise property taxes.

VanTassel described himself a the kind of person who likes to listen to people and try to help them. He said he has worked in both the private sector and the public sector and can appreciate the needs of both. 

Jenkins said through his time in the military and his later career with the N.H. Department of Transportation he feels he is a problem solver. Jenkins is a private consultant and contract administrator to a number of municipalities — work he continues today.

Both men serve on the Road Privatization Committee with Jenkins as a voting member due to his role on the Budget Committee and VanTassel and a non-voting adviser because of his former job as the Sanbornton road superintendent.

Both agreed the work of the committee is still incomplete and neither would offer an opinion on whether or not the town should subcontract the road work or continue to have a department of public works.

VanTassel and Jenkins will be participating in a candidate's night tonight at the Sanbornton Public Library at 7 p.m. Voting in the race for Selectboard will take place on Tuesday, May 13.

Last Updated on Friday, 02 May 2014 12:26

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