To the Editor:

Newport’s Recreation Department has been located at its location in the 80 year old former armory since 1967. Starting in the 1990’s, the space limitations of the former armory has been impacting the number of our children and fellow citizens that could participate in activities.

And since the 1990’s, architects and engineers have informed us of the space we need to serve our community and the decaying condition of the former armory. In 2014, a committee of community members surveyed 641 of us and learned the Recreation Department is servicing us well and that we need a new or improved recreation center.

The committee also discussed the difference between a recreation center and a community center and determined Newport needed a Community Center. Their report and survey results are at https://www.newportnh.gov/community-center-committee

Shortly after becoming Newport’s Town Manager, Hunter Rieseberg revived the Community Center Committee and with the support of the Board of Selectmen, he and the committee commissioned a feasibility study for a community center.

The feasibility study looked at three options, renovating and expanding the current recreation department building (the old armory), using Towle School, and building a new facility. Building a new facility was the least expensive option to meet the recreation and community needs in a center.

At the May 2018 town meeting, we approved an expense of up to $200,000 to hire a firm to take our feasibility plan and create design/build plans that would give our community the details and the not to exceed cost for a new community center.

The Community Center Committee, after interviewing several candidates, hired Bread Loaf Corporation of Middlebury, Vt., to firm up the plans for our community center.

Our Community Center Committee members, working with the professionals from Bread Loaf, took the feasibility study proposal and refined it into a smaller facility that shares the property with the little league field by Meadow Park and reduces the project cost, while meeting the needs of the Recreation Department and opportunities for community groups. All of the current Community Center Committee work with Bread Loaf can be reviewed at https://www.newportnh.gov/home/pages/proposed-community-center

This new community center will not only improve the image of Newport to people that may want to move here, or locate or expand a business here, it will also allow many more of our children to be able to have a safe place to go after school and to attend summer day camp.

Our current recreation department building (the old armory) is full after school and in the summer. Many of our children have to be turned away. There have been several questions and concerns about the proposed new community center. Most have been answered, like the cost of utilities (about $9,000 more per year), or why no pool (about $4 million to build). But the biggest concern about building a new community center is cost and our ability to pay for it.

Recognizing this, the Board of Selectmen, the Friends of Recreation, and the Community Center Committee are committed to raising $3 million of the cost of the center through grants, donations, and other nontax sources. The bond article for funding the center also requires that construction shall not start until the $3 million of donations is committed. The taxpayers of Newport will then be responsible for payment of the $3.5 million bond over the next several years.

Because of the way bonds work, Newport would not execute the bond until the center is substantially complete. By the time we would need to start paying for the center, in a year or two, we will be able to visit and enjoy what we are buying. While the actual terms of the bond would not be decided until it is time to execute it, and the tax impact will decrease over time, the worst case tax impact is estimated to be 72 cents.

Why is now the time to vote to build a new Community Center in Newport? I hear that this is not a good year. Well, I don’t remember when we ever said this is a good year. But this year will be better than next year. Inflation will increase the cost about $300,000 next year, and so on every year after that. The town has commitments to over half of the $3 million of donations for this project.

There is no guarantee that those donations will be committed in the future if the vote for the center fails this year. There is also a belief held by some in our community that we need to “fix the schools” and lower property taxes before building a community center. This is a hard pair of expectations to meet. Newport is a property poor town and our schools have high special education needs, limiting the school district’s ability to fund the services it needs.

But, this may be the year we see our schools fixed and our property taxes lowed! The New Hampshire House passed a two-year state budget that would lower our property taxes and allow for resources to be invested in fixing the schools. The House budget boosts K-12 education funding by $164 million. Newport would see an additional $666,697 from the state next year and $2,219,643 the following year, a total of $2,288,640 over two years.

If all is used to reduce our property tax, the reduction would be about $6.63. In reality, some would be used to lower the property tax rate and some could be used to restore staff and services to improve our schools. And with the ability to improve the schools and a lower property tax rate, a new community center will not be as tough an investment to make in our community. But it is not a sure thing.

This House budget proposal needs to get through the New Hampshire Senate and then signed by the Governor. Newport is not the only community to benefit from this House budget proposal. Claremont would see $5 million of tax relief over two years, Charlestown would see $2 million and most of the other communities in Sullivan County would have some tax relief.

The House budget also includes $500,000 to fund a commission to study and recommend the best way for New Hampshire to fund education going forward. More on the House budget education funding impact can be seen at https://reachinghighernh.org/2019/04/12/house-passes-budget-that-would-boost-education-funding-by-164-million-over-2-years/

But, as we all know, there is no free lunch. When the state gives an extra $164 million for K-12 education, it has to take it from somewhere, or someone else. To find the $164 million, the House budget would cancel a business tax cut that has not gone into effect yet. It would also count on revenue from online sports betting and are proposing a new tax on capital gains. New Hampshire already taxes interest and dividends.

This would add our income from capital gains as taxable. Which means, since our primary residence would be excluded, only the profits we earn from the sales of our second home would be taxable. But, for the typical homeowner of Newport with a home assessed for $150,000, the House budget could reduce their property tax bill by up to $994 over two years.

Before we see tax relief over the next two years, the House budget needs to pass through the New Hampshire Senate and be signed by the Governor. Our Senator is Ruth Ward. She is very good about keeping in touch with her communities and learning what is important to us. If you feel that the House budget is good for you and our community, let her know.

If you feel the House budget is not good, let her know. If you want to know more, let her know. Ruth’s email is Ruth.Ward@leg.state.nh.us Let Governor Sununu know how you feel about paying property taxes vs. capital gains taxes, his contact information is at https://www.governor.nh.gov/contact/index.htm

This is why the time for the new community center in Newport is now! It will always cost more next year, the donations may not available if this year’s vote fails, and we have more children that can benefit from the new center today than the current center can serve.

And, the state government is making serious efforts to reduce Newport’s property tax burden by the time we would start paying the community center bond.

I urge all citizens of Newport to support the bond for construction of the Community Center when voting on May 14.

Jeff Kessler

Newport

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