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Snow Bowl budget approval delayed; managers propose buying new groomer

By Susan Mustapich | Aug 05, 2020
Photo by: Susan Mustapich Delaying a decision on the 2020-21 Snow Bowl budget until September is an option for the Select Board, while additional information on operations and projected revenue is prepared.

CAMDEN — Select Board members decided to delay a decision until their next meeting on a proposed $1.39 million budget for the town-owned ski area's upcoming winter season.

The budget is up 47% from last year's $945,892 budget, according to documents in the select board meeting packet.

Board members asked Snow Bowl General Manager Beth Ward, Town Manager Audra Caler and Finance Director Jodi Hanson to present an option with more conservative revenue and spending figures, as well as more detailed plans on safe operations at the ski area during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The proposed purchase of a new PistenBully groomer through bond or other financing, estimated to cost $422,000, is the most significant feature of the budget, according to Caler.

The town's accounting standards require that the entire cost of the capital expenditure for the groomer, plus the first-year bond repayment of about $57,000, be added to the capital/debt lines of the budget.

Without buying the new groomer, the Snow Bowl budget would either be flat or show a small decrease in expenses.

Ward said the new groomer is needed as the two existing groomers, purchased second-hand, are at the end of their life cycles.

Board members agreed that the Snow Bowl provides ideal outdoor winter recreation during the pandemic, but hesitated on approving the budget due to economic impacts of the pandemic on household budgets and season pass and ticket sales and a lack of information on safety guidelines for this winter's operations. Changing state rules create uncertainty about what COVID-19 guidelines will be issued for ski areas.

Some members brought up the uncertainty of how climate change impacts on winter temperatures might affect revenues, a concern now raised every year.

Board Chair Bob Falciani said economies are going to be hit hard in the coming months, and it is not the time to make large expenditures. He questioned revenue projections for ticket and season pass sales at a time people are going to be cutting expenses. He sees town and Snow Bowl spending this year as limited to what is "absolutely essential."

Board Vice Chair Alison McKellar asked about what is known and not known about requirements for operating the ski area, due to COVID-19, any preparations to create outdoor seating as the existing lodge is small and often crowded, and if state money the town already has access to for COVID-19-related safety measures can be used for the Snow Bowl.

Board member Marc Ratner asked what the impact of "less than optimal weather" would be on snowmaking and associated costs. He said last year's alpine budget was higher than what is proposed this year, and actual costs were higher than budget. He commented on the Snow Bowl's highly successful snowmaking in the past two seasons.

Ward responded that snowmaking costs were higher last season, due to the lower than average 25 inches of natural snow.

Ratner said the positives are the safety of outdoor recreation including skiing in relation to COVID-19 and benefits the Snow Bowl brings in attracting visitors to the town in winter.

Board member Taylor Benzi is concerned about revenue assumptions, which he described as "up in the air," and the need to stay on top of this, and make adjustments going forward. He said he would be more comfortable with conservative revenue estimates.

Falciani asked Caler how long the board can delay making a decision on the budget, while more information is prepared to guide the decision. The budget approval needs to be made by the Board's first meeting in September, she said.

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