Published Date Written by Barbara TetreaultJust over a month on the job, Woodburn held a town meeting Monday night at the city hall auditorium.
Following through on one of his campaign issues, Woodburn said he wants to see the Shelburne, Littleton, Colebrook, and Lebanon rest areas open and operating year around. The Shelburne rest area has been closed and the other three operate from May through October. He said he has been talking to N.H. Highway Safety Coordinator Peter Thomson about using some federal funding for the rest areas.
Woodburn said the rest areas welcome visitors to the state and send a message about how the state is run.
Another priority is changing the distribution formula for rooms and meals tax revenue. Woodburn said the current formula distributes rooms and meals tax revenues based on population instead of where the money is generated. Under the system, he complained that Coos County is a donor county –receiving less than its fair share of rooms and meals revenues. Woodburn said the Mount Washington Hotel is the single largest generator of rooms and meals revenue in the state. But with small populations, he argued the towns in Coos County do not get as much money as larger communities without the tourist amenities.
Woodburn has also signed on as a co-sponsor of a bill to allow a single well-regulated casino in southern New Hampshire. He was able to get the bill's main sponsors to include a provision that ten percent of the revenues from the casino would be dedicated to economic development in the North Country. The rest of the revenue would be split between education and roads and bridges.
Woodburn said the bill would raise an estimated $5 million to $10 million annually for economic development in the North Country. He said the money would be dedicated to actual projects and not to studies. Woodburn said he decided to throw his support behind the bill because the state desperately needs additional revenue and there is no political will to raise taxes. Further cuts to state programs, he said, would be felt in the North Country, which is already hurting.
"We have great needs in the North Country," Woodburn told the small crowd.
He said the bill calls for a competitive bidding process but said he expects the most likely location would be the Rockingham Park in Salem. Woodburn said he believes the measure will pass in the state Senate and has a good chance in the House. Gov. Hassan has indicated she would support a single casino.
Kevin Shine of Milan noted many area states have casinos and asked if there were concerns about market share for a new one in New Hampshire. Woodburn said experts in the business believe one in the southern part of the state would be successful. He said he understands the casino in Oxford, Maine is doing well.
Berlin Mayor Paul Grimier said he has publicly supported the concept of the Northern Pass transmission project and believes the siting issues can be worked out. He said his concern is the project is being crushed before it is properly vetted. He said many of the region's energy generating plants are aging. While natural gas is currently down in price, Grimier said that can change and the state needs to look long term at energy needs.
Grimier said he feels the strong opposition to the project makes many supporters hesitant to speak out. He said there needs to be an opportunity for a dialogue on the project.
Woodburn said the project cannot go forward without the support of the North Country. He said Public Service of N.H, has refused to listen and negotiate with residents. Woodburn said he believes PSNH must agree to bury sections of the transmission line. He said the region and state need to find a solution because the issue is "taking all the energy out of the room".
The senator said PSNH is not helping its cause by challenging its valuations in scores of small communities. He said communities are being forced to fight to maintain their property valuations against what appears to be a concerted effort by many of the state's largest utilities to use their financial resources to reduce their tax bills.
City Councilor Mike Rozek asked Woodburn to support improvements to Route 2. Grimier also requested the senator support maintaining the state's voluntary motorcycle helmet use position.