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Skate park draws public debate at Camden meeting

By Susan Mustapich | Apr 22, 2021
Photo by: Susan Mustapich A $4,000 expense item for the skate park on Knowlton St. opened up discussion about neighbors' concerns and community support, during an April 20 public hearing on the 2021-22 municipal budget.

CAMDEN — A $4,000 expense for the skate park on Knowlton Street was the only issue that drew public comment during an April 20 public hearing on the June town meeting ballot.

The new expense of $4,000 for the skate park would be used for some staffing and repairs, according to Town Manager Audra Caler. The Select Board approved this item, along with the remainder of the budget, for the June ballot.

The board also approved additional expenses to the Parks Department budget, to make a part-time position full-time. Caler said the current Parks budget only covers the costs of mowing and trash pickup at all the town's parks. The increased position would also allow for basic repairs to be made.

Expenses in the proposed budget total $9.8 million. The amount of $3,869,121 in non-property tax revenues will be used to offset the tax burden to residents. Board members increased the amount taken from the surplus fund by $100,000 and added it to revenues. The total amount taken from surplus to lower taxes is $949,000.

Subtracting revenues from expenses leaves $5,972,630 to be raised from property taxes, which is a 0.86% increase over the current fiscal year.

Skate park debate

It became clear early in the discussion about adding money for the skate park, that the operation of the park was the concern. The proposed $4,000 in spending was the wedge that opened up debate.

Resident Janice Gates asked what the additional staffing was for.

Board Chairman Bob Falciani said the town has established a park and has responsibilities for it. He asked Caler for more information on the funds.

"If you have a new park, we need new resources to manage it. These are the resources I need to manage it," Caler said.

Gates said neighbors thought the current skate park location was temporary. They had a right to enjoy quiet evenings outdoors for socializing and thought the kids would "follow the rules the town set out."

She objected to adding any funding to the skate park because kids using the park are not following the rules. She described the problems as not leaving the park at the posted 5 p.m. closing time and trash, including wine bottles and beer cans, "all over the place."

She described confrontations with young people using the skate park and calling the police to close the park after 5 p.m. Incidents include "being taunted and yelled at," kids walking to the front of her home and staring at her house before walking away, and a threat that something would be done to her house.

Alden Street resident Larry Crissman said he has heard there have been threats from the older teenagers that there may be problems with people’s homes if they keep calling the police.

People think 5 p.m. is early, but the amount of noise is quite heavy, let alone intimidation and bullying, he said. The posted sign is not enough, because it gets knocked down.

At one point Gates suggested Vice Chairwoman Alison McKellar recuse herself from the discussion saying, "her kids were out there, too," circling around her house.

McKellar said her 8-year-old and 11-year-old are not interested in the skate park, and do not go there.

Resident Joshua Moore asked if the $4,000 is for staff to replace what police are doing, closing the park down every night.

Resident Bob Lawson also asked about the role of the park staffing at the skate park.

Park staff would build some rapport with the users, make sure rules are being followed and that the park is cleaned up, Caler said.

Falciani asked what happened to individuals who said they wanted to do something for the park and raise funds.

Wyatt McConnell was mentioned, though not by name, as having put money in and done a lot of repair work on the skate park.

The town put out a call on its Facebook page and website, and has not received many volunteers. More volunteers and parents who can organize themselves are needed, Caler said.

McKellar disagreed that the town had effectively informed the community of the need for volunteers. Later in the discussion she repeated this.

"The idea this has been widely communicated is false," she said. "It needs to be broadly communicated that this is an issue. It also needs to be a Select Board discussion."

She mentioned Parks and Recreation Assistant Director Holly Anderson as a great organizer and the hope that the skate park could be taken over by a friends group.

Katie Urey spoke as a parent with kids ages 10, 13 and 16, who is concerned about and involved with the skate park.

"We have teenage boys down there doing trash patrol." She asked her kids about wine bottles left there, and they haven't seen this.

Kim and Jack Nicolette, and their son Charlie spoke in support of the park.

"I know a lot of people enjoy using the skate park, and riding there and doing what they love," Charlie said. He and his friends agree the 5 p.m. timeframe is quite early during the summertime, especially for "the older guys" who work during the day and want to skate for an hour or two after work. He also understands people who live on Alden do not enjoy the noise the skatepark makes.

Marti Baeza mentioned supporting a Gofundme page for the park if the town makes a commitment to work things out with the neighbors. "The park has to coexist with the neighbors, so everyone feels this is OK." She also hopes a friends group will form.

"With the teen center closed, there are not a lot of places to go," Baeza said. "There are now a lot of middle school kids going to the skate park that never went before."  She suggested parents maybe take shifts to clean up and make kids abide by the rules.

Rafi Baeza applauded the Select Board for accepting the equipment and giving the kids a place for activities during the pandemic.

McKellar and other board members recognized the problems cited by neighbors. McKellar called out the inappropriate behavior and pushback against the closing time.

Board member Marc Ratner said he is very distressed about what has happened to the neighbors and is not opposed to spending $10,000 for a video camera for the park. This item did not get approved by the board.

Falciani wants to see community members step up to help make the skate park better, and to hear an update at the board's next meeting.

Caler said the town's police officers have been closing the park, and they talk to to the kids about what it would take to keep it open later. The 13 to 15 age group has been responsible, she said. They have been doing everything they’ve been asked to do and have been very respectful.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Apr 22, 2021 10:26

Good luck with this one.

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