Selectmen take cautious funding approach on Ham Rec Complex
By Gail Geraghty
Bridgton Selectmen delayed action on pursuing a major state grant that would help complete work at the Kendal C. and Anna Ham Recreation Complex Tuesday.
The $377,000 grant comes with a required 50% match of $188,500, and even though volunteer labor and materials can be applied to the match, selectmen don’t want to commit town funds until they first meet with members of the sports complex’s fundraising arm, the Bridgton Recreation Advancement Group.
Board members Bernie King and Doug Taft were expected to meet Wednesday with BRAG officials on the matter. They want to know how much more money BRAG is planning to raise, beyond the $700,000 they’ve already raised on site preparation, design, field creation and fencing, and what they plan to spend it on.
The conservation department’s Land and Water Fund only pays for projects related directly to enjoyment of the outdoors. Anne Krieg, Bridgton’s Director of Planning, Economic and Community Development, said she and Recreation Director Tom Tash met last month with the Department of Conservation’s Mick Rogers, who told her the town’s best bet was to seek funding for the tennis courts, along with the playground and the walkway. A separate trail grant could be sought for the trail work, she said. The town also must take ownership of the complex before the work could begin.
BRAG President Bill Macdonald has said the nonprofit organization knows it will need to stay active well after the transfer of ownership to raise the estimated $500,000 still needed. Krieg said BRAG cannot apply for the DOC grant; only governmental entities are eligible.
Selectman Woody Woodward said that although volunteer labor and donated materials could be used to offset a good part of the cost of the gravel walkway and playground, only professional contractors can create two regulation-sized paved tennis courts, estimated to cost $225,000. As such, it seems clear that taxpayers would need to fund a good portion of the $188,500 match, he said.
Selectman Chairman Paul Hoyt agreed, saying it especially concerned him that the tennis court construction was part of what BRAG promised when the town agreed to use revenue from the Moose Pond Trust Fund for the project.
Just how ‘Business-Friendly’ is Bridgton?
Questions resurfaced over just how effective the town has been in marketing itself, as Krieg asked the board’s permission to apply to become an official “Business Friendly Community” as defined by Maine Gov. Paul Lepage’s office. She said the designation could be used to earn points on grant applications and merely required an application with questions on zoning and other issues showing how easy it is to start a business in Bridgton. Hoyt said he’d like to see a copy of the application.
The discussion came up as the board reviewed a list Krieg prepared at their request of current and future projects and initiatives. Among needs listed under economic development were the “Business Friendly” application; working with the high school on a work-ready program in collaboration with area businesses; and identifying growth areas in town (through completion of the Comprehensive Plan update) and what types of businesses should be recruited.
“There isn’t very much in here related to local businesses” that exist now, Woodward said. “I’m concerned there’s not a lot here to promote local businesses. Right now the vast majority of lodging businesses are failing in Bridgton,” he said, while not-too-distant towns like Bethel, Naples and Raymond are actively promoting themselves as destination towns.
Krieg said her office has some funds budgeted for marketing, which could be applied. Ken Murphy, who will be taking over as President of the Greater Bridgton Lake Region Chamber of Commerce in January, took issue with Woodward’s comment that Bridgton might require more than the marketing efforts of a regional chamber serving 13 towns.
“Don’t belittle Bridgton at the expense of other towns,” Murphy said. He said the chamber was actively involved in the recent appearance by former baseball pro-turned cigar maker Luis Tiant at the William Perry Cigar Lounge. Murphy said the wife of the cigar lounge owner had agreed to join the chamber’s board of directors.
Woodward apologized if his comment sounded disrespectful of the chamber, because that was not what he meant. He said the website www.visitbridgton.com he had a part in creating has not been as effective as he had hoped, and suggested that Krieg’s office could become involved.
Marketing matters were again debated when the board discussed promotion of the town-owned Salmon Point Campground on Long Lake. Six new sites have been created, as recommended in the Community Development Committee’s Salmon Point Report.
The board agreed that questions of how much effort and money should be directed toward marketing will be better addressed once they rate their priorities for the upcoming year among a long list prepared by Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz of potential projects that have been discussed, on and off, for some time. Once each board member has rated the projects, Berkowitz will collate the results and deliver a summary at the board’s next regular meeting on Oct. 23.
In other action:
• Bernie King wanted to correct information in last week’s News stating that he was not in favor of the Bridgton Police Department’s practice of both posting mug shots of arrested individuals on its Facebook page and allowing users to make comments underneath. King said, “I didn’t have a problem with the mug shots, but I do have a problem with the comments.” Selectmen will be discussing and taking action later this month on a draft policy for all forms of electronic communication used by persons appointed, elected and employed by the town.
• The board approved rules governing the operation of the thrift store of donated items at the transfer station. After four weekends of operation by a school group, the store appears to be a success, and other nonprofit groups will be allowed to raise money by staffing the store with volunteers. However, in order to be considered, the group either has to have official 501(c)(3) status as a nonprofit, or be sponsored by one.
• Agreed to new board rules for town committees outlining the minimum requirements for producing a town record of the meeting under the state’s Freedom of Access Law. Even though the letter of the law may be met solely by taping the meeting, the board’s new policy will require a written public record to be distributed to each selectman within four days following the meeting, even if only in draft form. The minutes must include a listing of members and others who attended, each motion made and seconded, and by whom, and the results of each motion. If no vote is taken, a brief account must be provided about the discussion.