Salmon Point Campground fees to be raised by 6%

By Lisa Williams Ackley

Staff Writer

Four of the five members of the Bridgton Board of Selectmen voted unanimously Tuesday night to increase fees at the town-owned Salmon Point Campground on Long Lake by six percent.

Selectman Paul Hoyt, who has a seasonal campsite at Salmon Point, abstained from voting on the matter.

The new six percent increase means that a lakefront campsite at Salmon Point Campground currently renting for $2,407 will increase to $2,551; a campsite on the lagoon renting for $1,980 would now cost $2,099 per season; and a back lot campsite now renting for $1,685 would be rented in the amount of $1,786 in 2012.

Board members concurred that the philosophical discussion as to how the campground will be operated in the future will take place over upcoming months rather than be decided now.

Members of the Community Development Committee, in particular member Chuck Renneker, have been challenging the selectmen to run the campground as a business and earn as much revenue from it as they can, on behalf of taxpayers, they said.

Salmon Point Campground is a self-sustaining enterprise fund, similar to the town’s Sewer District, which gets its revenues from ratepayers — or the people who use it — rather than the taxpayers.

However, Selectman Woody Woodward said matters of policy could be discussed during upcoming months, but that seasonal campers at Salmon Point deserved to know what they would be paying next summer, before they leave the campground at the end of this season.

“This time of year, we usually establish the rate amounts,” said Selectman Woodward. “Instead, we’ve brought up a lot of issues that might be important for us to look at. We’ve heard from both sides…I think we should make a decision on the rates and lock in the fees, and then over six months’ time, we can have a public discussion and get input from people. I don’t think we should put it all together today. It’s too big (an issue).”

Woodward next made a motion to “across the board increase fees by six percent and keep everything else the same.” Selectman Doug Taft seconded Woodward’s motion.

“There’s a lot of things that I don’t like going on,” Woodward said, “but that’s for further discussion. We can talk about this in the future, and people can have their say.” He then announced that public discussion would “go through next year.”

“I don’t want to have workshops that don’t allow camper input — they (the workshops) would be (held) next summer,” Woodward stated.

The matter was then opened up to public discussion.

At the very outset of the Sept. 13 meeting, Selectman Bernie King read a statement outlining the duties of the Bridgton Community Development Committee, to which they appointed Renneker, Mark Lopez and others.

“I’d like to read what the Community Development Committee’s duties and responsibilities are,” said Selectman King.

He then read the following mission statement for the CDC, without any follow-up comment: “The Bridgton Community Development Committee acts as a recommending body which advises the Board of Selectmen, the Planning Board, the Office of the Town Manager, and the Office of Economic Development on planning for the community’s ‘quality of life’ consistent with the goals established in the Bridgton Comprehensive Plan. The Committee will continually address issues related to community development (i.e., comprehensive planning, growth strategies and management, community services, sustainable neighborhood development, and affordable housing development) and will be responsible for identifying and overseeing regular opportunities for direct public review, comment and input on various community planning and development policies, practices and implementation procedures.”

Last month, the Community Development Committee made a recommendation to selectmen based on a comparative analysis of campsite fees at nearby privately-owned campground, that showed the average campsite fee at those campgrounds is $2,983.33 per season. They stated the average fee at Salmon Point “is $1,832.50 per season or just 62% of the cost of a comparable site” at those privately-owned campgrounds. Based on their analysis, the CDC said it was recommending raising the waterfront campsite fees at Salmon Point to $2,950 per year and $2,500 for “interior” campsites.

“This would result in an average price of $2,800 per year which would still be lower than comparable sites in the (privately-owned) campgrounds,” they said. “This would result in an increase in revenue to the town of more than $40,000 per year.”

Additionally, the CDC recommended the town “utilize the funds derived from the increase in campsite fees to reverse funding cuts to recreational, educational and civic programs made in the budget last year.”

The CDC also thinks the town would benefit financially by “adding up to 20 sites” that would “increase revenue by an additional $50,000 per year.”

Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz explained that there are a total of 51 campsites at Salmon Point now and that, under the current sewer system approval from the state, the town can only add nine more campsites.

“The Committee Development Committee feels that the selectmen have an obligation to the taxpayers to minimize the economic potential of all of the town’s income producing assets, inclusive of Salmon Point Campground,” they wrote in their formal recommendation. “To that end, we urge the Board of Selectmen to run Salmon Point like a business and accept our recommendations.”

Tuesday night, during public participation, local businessman Bill Macdonald told the selectmen, “It appears the town is taking advantage of its tax exempt status to cut rates (at Salmon Point Campground)…You owe it to the taxpayers of this town as best you can. It’s not an enterprise fund, it’s a business.”

CDC member Lopez directly addressed the selectmen on Tuesday, telling them, “The taxpayers put you in those seats, and you’re doing it on the backs of the taxpayers who put you in those seats.”

Berkowitz explained that as a self-sustaining enterprise fund, the Salmon Point Campground takes in approximately $103,000 in revenue, annually, and “about $42,000 to $43,000 goes back to cover the full operating costs.”

“The balance goes to the General Fund,” the town manager said.

Several longtime campers at Salmon Point spoke, including Randy Sargent, who said, “No one in the Town of Bridgton is paying for us to be there — we’re paying our own way.”

“I’d like to see a committee of you and us,” Sargent told the selectmen.

Bridgton resident Missy Douglass, whose family has camped at Salmon Point for years, said she agrees with the six percent increase, but not with the recommendation made by the CDC.

“I’d like to see the six percent increase,” said Douglass. “…Actually, I disagree with the CDC. I think a committee should be formed with taxpayers and campers. I think (this discussion) could go on for hours.”

Renneker suggested the town consider what property like Salmon Point would be assessed in property taxes, if it were a private property. Macdonald said he agreed with Renneker’s suggestion, telling the selectmen, “I would recommend you do not vote (in favor) for the six percent and instead take the (property) tax dollars and divide by 51 (campsites).” Selectman Woodward noted that the property tax assessment of Salmon Point, based on $1.678 million in valuation, and divided by 51, would equal $417.85 per campsite per season.

“So, we’re getting the (property) tax amount and then some,” Selectman Woodward said.

Longtime camper Charlie Record said he and his family and all of the other campers at Salmon Point continually pour their money into the local economy.

“We spend money here, every day,” said Record. “We go to the movies. We go to restaurants. We pour money into this town. I think six percent is fair.”

“If you keep pushing this,” Record said further, “you’re going to push people out. You don’t want to kill the golden goose.”

Record then suggested the selectmen form a committee with the involved parties and move forward.

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