Capital Comments: Hassan sworn in as governor, sets out priorities

Capital Comments from State Senator Bob Odell

Inaugurations of New Hampshire governors are always exciting and each one ties us to our long history of democracy as a state and nation.

Governor Maggie Hassan, a former State Senate colleague of mine for four years, is the second woman to be governor of New Hampshire and the first Democrat to replace another Democrat since the 19th century. Last Thursday, she was also the first woman sworn in by a female Supreme Court Chief Justice. Continue reading

NH lawmakers convene this week amidst talk of gun ban repeal

“Like the start of any good game, formalities are on tap this week as the holiday calm lifts from the State House for the opening of the 162nd General Court. But some lawmakers will be busy even before those begin,” reports Front Door Politics in today’s Daily Dispatch: “Opening Ceremonies.”

Formalities: 1) Convening sessions for the House and Senate on Wednesday morning, including a joint House-Senate session in which Secretary of State Bill Gardner will report the November election vote totals for Governor and Executive Council. 2) Gov. John Lynch will be officially inaugurated to his fourth consecutive term on Thursday.

Bearing Arms at the State House: The Joint Legislative Facilities Committee has already made headlines. Last week, House Speaker William O’Brien (R-Mont Vernon) said at a committee meeting that he wants to lift a ban on guns and other “dangerous weapons” at the State House complex.…Read more via Front Door Politics, the Daily Dispatch

Power Outages in NH 2nd Only to 2008 Ice Storm

As of 5 a.m. Saturday, February 27, many New Hampshire towns remained in the dark, according to Public Service of New Hampshire. PSNH’s town-by-town report estimates that in Bradford 100% of their customers are without power, yet only 10% of Sunapee is still experiencing outages as of this morning. Yet many areas of Newbury, New London, Springfield and Wilmot remain without electricity according to the PSNH report.

The early morning assessment shows 46% of PSNH customers statewide without electricity including many towns in the Lake Sunapee region. For the Town by Town Report, visit PSNH.

This, the February 2010 winter wind storm has resulted in the second largest power outage in recent state history. The hardest hit areas in New Hampshire are the central, southern and southeastern regions.  High winds came through the area Thursday night and Friday morning taking down trees, tree limbs and power lines.

Gov. John Lynch on Friday urged those New Hampshire residents without power to make appropriate plans to stay warm and safe during what is expected to be a multiple day power outage, and up to a week for some customers. The governor declared a state of emergency to ensure all state resources are available to help families impacted by the winter storm and resulting widespread power outages and he  activated 50 members of the National Guard to assist local communities as needed.

The scope of the power outages is second only to the ice storm of 2008. About 30 state roads, many secondary roads remained closed or partially closed as of Friday evening.

Sunapee Restaurant Owner Tapped for NH Liquor Commission

Gov. John Lynch today announced he will nominate Joseph Mollica of Sunapee to serve on the NH Liquor Commission at Wednesday’s Governor and Council meeting. Mollica is the owner of One Mile West Restaurant in Sunapee.

“Joseph Mollica has an exceptional business background and his expertise in the restaurant industry will be an asset to the commission,” Gov. Lynch said. “I know he will bring a valuable perspective to the Liquor Commission.”

The legislature is currently studying various ideas to re-structure the Liquor Commission, including moving from a full-time three-member commission to an executive director model.

If confirmed, Mollica would finish the term of former Commissioner Pat Russell, who retired earlier this year. The term will expire July 1, 2011.

Mollica has more than 20 years experience as a business owner in the restaurant industry, having owned and operated establishments in New Jersey, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. He graduated from the Johnson and Wales University in 1982 with a degree in culinary arts and food service management, according to the governor’s press release.

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Sunapee Ski Resort Fails in Motion for Reconsideration

Following on her dismissal of a lawsuit against Governor Lynch and the state of NH last month over expansion at Mount Sunapee, Judge Nicolosi of the Merrimack Superior Court denied on Friday the ski resort’s motion for reconsideration. In her denial released yesterday morning, Judge Nicolosi found “no ambiguity  in the Lease nor any language directly guaranteeing expansion, the Court finds that Sunapee has no right to expand….”

Tim and Diane Mueller of Sunapee Difference LLC operate the ski area Mount Sunapee Resort located within Mount Sunapee State Park. The resort developers sought to change the leasehold area and gain an additional 175 acres to facilitate private condo development on  the western side of the mountain. They took their expansion argument to court in order to force Governor Lynch to approve their proposal for Mount Sunapee. They said expansion was always contemplated, even before the lease was signed in 1998.

The Mueller’s controversial request was formally made public in the resort’s 2005-2009 five-year master development plan for the state-owned ski area. However, the state refused to approve that aspect of the plan.

The next master plan is due in a few weeks and will be completed by June 1, according to the resort’s General Manager Jay Gamble. At a Mount Sunapee Ski Area Advisory Committee meeting held in Newbury on Thursday, Gamble did not say whether the new master plan for the ski area will again seek an expansion of the leasehold area.

Yesterday’s denial ends consideration in the Merrimack court. The Muellers have 30 days to file for an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Related articles:

NH judge denies motion in mount sunapee case (Boston.com)

Mount Sunapee asks judge for reconsideration (Eagle Times)

Judge sides with State in resort lawsuit (Concord Monitor)

Judge Dismisses Mt. Sunapee Lawsuit (SunapeeNews.com)

A copy of the court’s decisions can be found at Friends of Mount Sunapee.

NH Revenues Decline and Caseloads Rise

“The impacts of the global economic recession are part of every discussion in the Senate Finance and Ways and Means Committees as we push to have committee votes at the end of May,” reports NH State Senator Bob Odell in this week’s Capital Comments. “Dealing with the economy’s impact on revenues and expenses complicates the budget process.” And as revenues decline, “caseloads of those who utilize services provided by the state are rising,” notes Odell. “The dilemma for legislators will be to secure revenues to pay the state’s share of these programs with the other funds coming from the federal government. It is tough to cut costs when we have an obligation to those who meet an income or medical criteria and thus qualify for assistance.” Odell also discusses the situation facing area auto dealers and the auto dealer protection law (SB 153) that Governor John Lynch signed last week. Read more in this week’s Capital Comments…

Related article: Lynch signs auto dealer protection into law (UnionLeader.com)

NH’s Bud Fitch Explains Stimulus Program

This week Orville “Bud” Fitch was on The Exchange, NH Pubic Radio. Several months ago, Gov. John Lynch put Deputy Attorney General Fitch in charge of the state’s Office of Economic Stimulus. As a guest of Laura Knoy on Thursday, Fitch gave an over-view of what his work is like heading up the new state office. Hear the  interview on-line (using Windows Player or MP3) via: NHPR – The Exchange.

The state government website is: http://www.nh.gov/recovery/

The federal government website is: http://www.recovery.gov/

Gov. Lynch Points to Recovery Job Grants

Gov. John Lynch this week encouraged businesses, nonprofits and municipalities to apply for $2.9 million in youth summer jobs grants being made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The NH Workforce Opportunity Council has begun accepting requests for proposals from businesses, nonprofits and local communities. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until the funds have been exhausted.

For more information regarding the youth employment grants, go to www.nhworks.org.

Information regarding grant funding, and other aspects of the federal stimulus package, can be found on the homepage Governor’s Office of Economic Stimulus at www.nh.gov/recovery.

It is important for our young people to get the skills and experience necessary to strengthen our workforce here in New Hampshire for the future. These grants will provide opportunities for many young people, can help communities meet critical needs and are another example of how we can use stimulus funds here in New Hampshire to create jobs and get people working. – Gov. Lynch

Lynch Says Inventory of Stimulus Funds Now Online

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch today announced that the Office of Economic Stimulus has created and put online at www.nh.gov/recovery an inventory of federal stimulus fund programs.

The inventory includes a one-page sheet on each of the programs that the state is likely to receive funding through; the responsible state agency, where applicable; and the program’s current status. The reports will be updated as the federal government releases more information on the programs.

Much of the funding provided by the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be distributed through existing grant programs already administered by state agencies. Other funds will be awarded through a competitive bidding process.

“We are working to provide citizens and communities with as much information as possible about how the stimulus package will impact New Hampshire. This inventory of programs will help communities and citizens understand what may be available, and potential timelines,” Gov. Lynch said.

“In addition, on the state level, we are working to get funding out the door as quickly as possible to begin creating jobs and stimulating New Hampshire’s economy,” Gov. Lynch said.

Information regarding grant funding, and other aspects of the federal stimulus package, can be found on the homepage Governor’s Office of Economic Stimulus at www.nh.gov/recovery.

The state Department of Transportation has already begun accepting bids for about $60 million worth of projects funded through the federal stimulus package. Also, the state Department of Environmental Services has been working with local communities to identify wastewater and drinking water projects that fall within the scope of the federal stimulus law.

Towns May Lose, Schools May Gain

A New Hampshire Public Radio “town meeting minute” last Wednesday captured the worry of towns these days. Governor John Lynch says proposed cuts in state money for municipalities will be offset by federal stimulus funds sent to school districts for education.

Federal money is one of the big unknowns this year. The governor said he would cut state money for towns but expected Washington dollars to more than compensate. However, just about all of that federal money goes to schools. Jessie Levine, Town Administrator in New London, says that’s the problem. LEVINE: Most of the school and town budgets are entirely separate and the town process has no control over how the school spends its budget. — See Federal Relief for Towns: Look to the Schools | New Hampshire Public Radio.

Lynch on Friday again tried to reassure towns that they will not see deep cuts. However, many more questions than answers remain. NH town administrators and a spokesperson for the NH Center for Public Policy Studies discussed the situation on WMUR Close-Up Sunday morning. All agreed that towns are facing tough choices and even tougher choices next year.

As Sunapee voters head to the polls on Tuesday, few details are available about the impact of all these possible funding changes, especially as they relate to shifting needs and demands.

The proposed operating budget for the Sunapee schools for 2009-10 is $9,881,537. Yet, enrollment continues to steadily decline. 465 students were attending Sunapee grades K-12 as of Oct. 1, 2008, according the SAU office.

The proposed operating budget for the town for 2009-10 is $5,691,897. These budgets do not include money articles for town and school projects and capital expenses, which are listed separately.

For historic spending trends for Sunapee and other towns, see the NHPR Town Meeting website.

Click here, the town website, for the 2009 Town Warrant. The school warrant is not available on-line.

Budgets, sample ballots and warrants are in the Sunapee Annual Report mailed to households last week.

Stimulus $ Increases NH Unemployment Benefits

Gov. John Lynch announced last week that he has signed an agreement with the federal government increasing unemployment benefits for New Hampshire citizens. The increase is part of the federal stimulus package.

This came as the number of unemployed in NH increased to 5.1% in January, up .8 percent over the month before. That translates into about 6,600 fewer people working in January vs. December.  Yet, the Granite State appears to be holding up better than most.

While markedly better than national levels and averages, the New Hampshire economy is finding it harder to withstand the impacts of national economic trends. Maintenance of a healthy New Hampshire economy will depend on a stable and improving United States economy. – Vital Signs 2009 – NHES Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau

There was some good news for the jobless.

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, unemployment benefits are increasing $25 a week through calendar year 2009. The increase, which is federally funded, begins this week and will appear in checks within the next couple of weeks. The $25 increases applies to all benefit payments including first 26 weeks of regular unemployment benefits and the 20-week federal extension.

“This is the worst national recession since the Great Depression. New Hampshire families and businesses are being impacted and I believe strongly we should do what we can to assist families through these difficult economic times and increasing unemployment benefits is one way we can do exactly that,” Gov. Lynch said.

For more information, contact NH Employment Security at www.nh.gov/nhes, or call 1-800-852-3400.

Lynch on Local Aid

Sunapee and other NH communities use various forms of state aid to help balance budgets. Yesterday, before the House Finance Committee in Concord, Gov. John Lynch talked about his proposed budget and how it will affect cities, towns and local aid.

The Nashua Telegraph reports: “Lynch proposes suspending two state aid programs for local governments and reducing a third. He told the House Finance Committee on Tuesday that federal stimulus money distributed to communities – plus increases in state aid to schools – should benefit property taxpayers overall. Lynch acknowledges schools may get increased aid while local governments get less. He says he’ll work to make sure both get the right amount of aid.”

A quick over-view can be seen at: http://www.nashuatelegraph.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090213/NEWS02/302139893

Sunapee Town Manager Donna Nashawaty and selectmen discussed at length February 9 state spending and state aid expressing concern over possible cuts in revenues from the  State Rooms and Meals Tax, Highway Block Grant, Shared Revenues and other state grants.

Town officials and tax payers across the state are always worried about cost-shifting to the local level and the impact it will have on essential town services, budgets and property taxes. This year, with the economy in a tail-spin, there’s more worry than ever.

Everything and More About the Stimulus Package

“The word of the month appears to be ‘stimulus’,” writes Christine Walker, the executive director for the the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission in the February 1 E-bulletin. To get a copy, email your request to info@uvlsrpc.org.

The Commission is making available to member communities lots of materials and information.

“Instead of attempting to explain our interpretation of what will happen with President Obama’s Stimulus package we [The Commission] have simply compiled a number of resources so that our communities can best respond to myriad of activity taking place around the state.”

“Beware this can get quite overwhelming,” Walker wrote.

“The one piece of advice that we can offer to our communities is to make sure that you are familiar with the current funding resources that are available to municipalities and be prepared to apply for funding quickly.”

The Commission has posted documents and links including a handy Q & A from the National Association of Regional Councils, which you can here. Note, file size is 2.7 MB: Stimulusfaq122308

The Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission is a not-for-profit, voluntary association of 27 municipalities in western New Hampshire. We provide a mechanism for communities that live, work and recreate together to plan for the balanced growth of the Region and collaborate on issues of common concern.

Bud Fitch Named to Head NH Economic Stimulus Office

NH Deputy Attorney Orville “Bud” Fitch will lead up  a new NH Office of Economic Stimulus, which will be created by an executive order of Governor John Lynch.

According to the Nashua Telegraph, January 30, 2009, “Fitch’s job will be to coordinate the state receipt and then use of federal stimulus money New Hampshire stands to receive more than $300 million mostly tied to federal grant programs in transportation, education and health care for the elderly, poor and disabled.”

Fitch will keep his position in the AG’s office.

Earlier this week, the U.S. House passed an $819 billion economic package, which is now before the Senate.

Budget Shortfall Looms as NH Legislature Convenes

Capital Comments from State Senator Bob Odell

Week of January 5, 2008

There will be two interesting days in Concord this week.  The first is Convening Day on Wednesday.  Article 3 of Part II of the New Hampshire Constitution requires that the House and Senate “shall assemble annually on the first Wednesday following the first Tuesday in January . . .” Continue reading

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