Sell Salmon Point Campground or continue to run it?

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Should Bridgton continue to operate Salmon Point Campground or should the town sell the campsite property to a developer?

With the town facing many infrastructure projects and declining revenues, Community Development Committee (CDC) member Chuck Renneker sees the sale of the campground as a way to inject a new source of cash into Bridgton’s coffers without giving up access to Long Lake.

If the town were to sell the campground portion of the Salmon Point property for $2.3 million, a developer could construct up to 30 homes within the 27-acre parcel, which would net the town additional real estate tax money — far above what it currently takes in from campsite rentals.

Renneker and CDC chairman Mike Tarantino stressed several times Tuesday night that the sale would not include the public beach areas. Bridgton would retain the existing beaches for public use, and some additional property would also be excluded to be used for recreational purposes.

The Community Development Committee developed a 20-page report (which is available for public review on the town’s website) closely examining two scenarios — Bridgton keeping the campground and “running it as a business” versus selling the property for residential development..

CDC members fielded questions from selectmen during a workshop meeting held at the Municipal Complex. Other CDC members in attendance were Dee Miller, Mark Lopez, Ken Murphy and Jim Mains Jr. Bill Macdonald and Adam Grant joined CDC members as part of a subcommittee, which explored options regarding Salmon Point. Macdonald was the chairman.

Bridgton purchased the property in 1987 for $650,000. Previously operated as a commercial campground with about 150 seasonal and transit sites, the town reduced that number to 51 and established a beach recreation area.

Salmon Point consists of three lots — .3 acre, which is the “point” protruding into Long Lake (usage frontage of about 450 feet); 13.2 acres contains the “lagoon” and 850 feet of waterfront on the lake, including 200 feet of town beach, a parking lot and campground; 26.42 acres which includes the well and septic system for the campground. The property is currently assessed at $1.69 million.

Presently, the campground has 54 sites — 51 rentals, 1 site used by the campground manager, and two “transit” sites, which must be retained by state law. According to the CDC report, 67% of the campground sites are on water. Bridgton could add six more sites, thus reaching “maximum” earning potential.

Tarantino told selectmen the group’s goal was to “put all the facts on the table” and not attempt to sway selectmen toward one option over the other. Regardless of how selectmen decide, the ultimate decision will rest with taxpayers.

Selectmen wrestled with the idea of whether to place the question as a non-binding vote during the November election. Selectman Woody Woodward feared that if townspeople remained “confused” about what pieces would be sold, they would simply vote “No.” Woodward wondered if a longer education period would be needed to insure voters fully understand the proposal.

Greg Jones suggested the question contain three choices — Yes, No or I Don’t Know, giving those voters unsure what the question actually means an “out.”

Selectmen will decide whether to target the November election as a “litmus” test at their next meeting.

Selectman Bob McHatton noted that townspeople could shoot down the idea because they want to retain the entire property to pass along to future generations.

CDC members pointed out a “great deal of homework” remains to be completed before any serious talk about a sale can be had. Renneker added, “regardless of what direction we head in” some issues pertaining to the campground must be addressed in the near future.

If we keep it…

Presently, the town earns about $50,000 by operating the property as a campground. However, that figure could be increased up to about $130,000 if additional sites are developed and fees for use are increased.

Presently, the seasonal fees charged are: $2,385 for waterfront, $1,961 lagoon area and $1,670 for back sites. Fees are also charged for guests, docks, winter storage, trailers, boats and personal watercraft and “pump.”

Campers (presently, just five are local residents) currently pay no real estate or personal property taxes on structures built or placed upon sites with the possible exception of trailers. This, however, could change. Selectmen will consider implementing a tax for such structures including decks.

Some “structures” could also be eliminated in the future. Code Enforcement Officer Robbie Baker noted that some structures are “illegal” (within 100-foot mark of water, which violates shoreland zoning regulations) and were wrongfully permitted.

“It’s been recommended that we do not go back on these,” Baker said, “but we will go forward to correct it.” Meaning, if one camper gives up the site, the structure leaves as well.

One concern is that the town presently does not have a reserve account to pay for infrastructure improvements. At the moment, if the septic or water system failed, cost to repair would fall directly onto taxpayers. The CDC recommends that a $250,000 reserve fund be created. Seventy-five percent of increased fees generated by the campground would be earmarked for the fund with the remaining 25% channeled to the town’s General Fund.

Other issues to be addressed include widening the bridge, installing electric meters, dredging the lagoon and better marketing efforts.

The bridge is “structurally” sound based on current use — walking traffic and occasional travel of golf cart or light tractor, Bridgton Public Works Director Jim Kidder said.

The CDC also recommended the creation of a Salmon Point oversight committee.

If we sell it…

To “maximize” the return on this property, officials would target a developer to purchase the site and either construct residential housing or possibly some type of resort.

A “request for proposals” (RFP) would be sent out to gauge interest. The RFP would specify that the land could not be developed for use as a campground.

A sale at $2.3 million would generate yearly maximum income of about $257,000 — a difference of $126,000 if the town continued to operate the campground.

If sold, the money would be placed in an interest-bearing trust fund.

“No one is making any more lakefront, which makes this (Salmon Point) a very valuable property,” CDC member Dee Miller said. “The town is sitting on a golden goose egg.”

According to the town’s code enforcement officer, a developer could create 30 to 34 house lots.

Another issue will be providing septic and water alternatives to five “neighbors” to the campground, which are presently tied into the town’s systems.

More to come

Selectmen and CDC members will continue to sift over existing information, as well as get the word out to the public regarding the two options.

While there is “no immediate” rush to act — “I don’t see a sale happening any time soon,” one official said — some work, both structurally and administratively (fees), needs to be done at the campground in the near future.s



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