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Franklin whitewater park, other projects may be stripped from budget 

Monitor staff
Published: 3/29/2019 4:06:04 PM

Dreams in Franklin of seeing state funding for a whitewater park project seem to be sinking.

House Finance Committee Chairwoman Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord, confirmed to the Monitor on Friday that money allocated to the whitewater park – $1.5 million – in Gov. Chris Sununu’s proposed budget had been cut, as well as funding for many other capital infrastructure projects.

“I am saddened to hear that the whitewater park funding has been voted out of the budget,” Executive Director of Mill City Park Marty Parichand wrote in a press release. “This is not just a park. It is our sustainable solution to grow and improve.”

Sununu allocated $168.4 million total in his proposed budget to projects like Franklin’s whitewater park project, the rebuilding of Laconia’s Weirs Beach boardwalk and funding for the rehabilitation of red-listed dams, released in February.

Democrats immediately criticized the allocations, saying that not enough funding was going to mental health resources, property tax relief and support for those fighting the opioid epidemic.

“If we care about children, we should first fund child protection and child safety, not water parks and skate parks,” Sen. Dan Feltes told the Monitor last week.

Ultimately, the Democrat-controlled house decided to cut all of the infrastructure projects besides those that had been “vetted” by state departments, Wallner said.

Democrats kept $10 million for the developmental disability waitlist, $1.7 million for conducting hazardous material assessments and environmental remediation of the buildings and facilities on the grounds Laconia State School, $5 million for the state’s affordable housing fund and $2.5 million for the construction of 40 new transitional housing beds for forensic patients and or patients with complex behavioral health conditions.

They offered $800,000 out of the $1.2 million requested by the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a study to determine the causes of high levels of pediatric cancer in New Hampshire and $1.5 million for the Department of Transportation to use on projects of its choice, Wallner said.

To support local municipalities, they are allocated $12.5 million to be distributed to towns and cities through a revenue-sharing formula, she said.

“Every community will get some money, rather than picking winners and losers,” Wallner said. “We felt the best way to do it would be to let everyone have shot at it.”

Those in Franklin, a city that has long struggled with funding its school district, argued that the money for the whitewater park would help boost its economy and help its school district. In the last three years, the district has lost one-eighth of its staff due to lay-offs.

“Our community has been reduced to a property-poor community, with 28 percent of our population living below the poverty line, and an assessed property value per capita of $80,805,” Parichand said. “We were created by the river, and look back to it for our revitalization.”

“This grant is a long-term investment that will help fund our community and schools, and it is greatly disappointing that Division I of the House Finance Committee moved to strip this critical funding out,” he added.

Blueprints of the whitewater park have been completed, but Mill City Park is still looking for sources of funding. In four years, Mill City Park has received a $250,000 donation from Franklin Savings Bank and grants from the state Department of Transportation and the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, totaling $712,000.

The money from Sununu’s budget would be a massive dent in the about $2 million to $2.5 million needed to complete the park’s water features: waves for surfers with boards, a novice to intermediate a freestyle kayaking hole, as well as the stadium seating near Trestle View Park and a river-level walking path.

Once completed, the park is estimated to bring in $6.8 million a year and see 160,000 visitors annually.

(Leah Willingham can be reached at 369-3322, or on Twitter @LeahMWillingham.)

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