Snow Bowl issues dominate Camden candidate debate

By Susan Mustapich | Jun 12, 2017
Photo by: Kim Lincoln Moderator Dan Dunkle, center, with candidates for Camden Select Board May 16. Candidates, from left, Christian Wincklhofer, Alison McKellar, Bob Falciani, Don White, and Steve Beveridge.

CAMDEN — Candidates running for several open seats on the Camden Select Board responded to audience questions May 16 on the Camden Snow Bowl, the proposal to build a new middle school, the transfer station, attracting young people and businesses to Camden and marijuana retail stores and social clubs.

The debate was sponsored by The Camden Herald and took place at Camden-Rockport Middle School. Daniel Dunkle, Courier Publications News Director served as moderator.

Candidates attending the debate were incumbent Donald White, Bob Falciani, Alison McKellar and Christian Winklhofer running for two three-year positions, and Steve Beveridge running for a one-year position, formerly held by the late Leonard Lookner. Jenna Lookner, who is also running for the one-year position, was unable to attend the debate, but a statement was read on her behalf.

About 20 people attended the debate. Audience members asked questions of the candidates, keeping the debate going for two hours.

Candidates were each given two minutes to respond to questions.

Snow Bowl

The first in a series of questions about the Snow Bowl was directed to White. White was asked what he personally did to protect the taxpayers regarding the Snow Bowl project.

White commented that a tragic mistake was made, but that "nothing was done but that the money was taken from a restricted account." He said the money wasn't lost and that two year-end audits didn't pick up on the management errors.

"Looking forward, we're going to make everything work the way it is supposed to," he said.

Dunkle then invited the remaining candidates to comment on the question.

Beveridge spoke about the trust that Select Boards place in management, saying he has seen many boards place "a great deal of trust in management. Sometimes that is well-founded, sometimes not."

Beveridge said the board has to keep track of a project so that inadequacies are caught before they become problems.

Falciani said the town did not use best management practices. "You have to be proactive," he said. He said the return of nearly $750,000 to the town of Camden from the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area Foundation "doesn't solve the shortage in the deficit of the stand-by funds. It's going to be a challenge for the Select Board over the next few years to manage this."

McKeller said the Select Board "got complacent and overly optimistic." She believes the board should have realized the redevelopment budget was outdated from the start, and should have hired a clerk of the works to manage the project. McKellar finds it hard to understand why the board did not receive monthly financial reports on the project and how the billing of Foundation funds got so far behind.

"With the expertise we have in this community, there was no excuse for this happening," she said.

Winklhofer said that issues with the Snow Bowl are one of the reasons he is running for the board. He said he was "at a loss why there were no checks and balances, and why there would be no consensus to put someone in charge of a $6 million budget." He commented on the amount of community support for the Snow Bowl, even though it does not always make money and in regard to the redevelopment project will choose "to be a part of the positive change."

In a follow up question, candidates were asked about their vision for the Snow Bowl.

Wincklhofer is excited about the prospects for a four-season recreation area, and for the growth of mountain biking there.

White sees a great future for the Snow Bowl. He spoke about a $90,000 profit from the ski season this year, and promoted the four season use of the area. He said the Four Season Snow Bowl Committee is pursuing grants to add to the funding for a new lodge, and the public landing at Hosmer Pond will be rebuilt as part of an agreement regarding Department of Environmental Protection fines.

Beveridge said he found the Snow Bowl is a "polarizing issue," while talking to people in the community. He loves the "old Snow Bowl" and believes it is a gem. At the same time, he believes if the redevelopment becomes a $9 million project, annual maintenance costs will be approximately 8 percent of that amount. He questioned who would pay for those costs. He would like to see "low impact, low cost improvements, until we can figure out how to maintain this down the road."

Falciani said while the Snow Bowl made money this year, the town should not rely on a successful winter every year.

"To make this sustainable and not a tax burden, it will have to be a four-season operation," he said, adding that maintenance and repairs will be expensive, and the town has to be creative, and not place all of the burden on Camden taxpayers.

McKellar supports the Snow Bowl, and believes it is a wonderful resource in the community, especially for kids, even if the ski area does not always make money. She suggested that the Snow Bowl needs a board and management structure that draws on the expertise in the community, similar to the Camden Public Library.

"I'd like to get out of the business of having the Select Board having to figure everything out," she said, commenting that board members do not have the expertise needed.

McKellar does not think improving the dock at Hosmer Pond is a good trade off for the environmental damage done during the ski area redevelopment.

New middle school

Candidates were asked about the new middle school project coming up for a vote on June 13.

Beveridge said he still has questions about why a new school is needed, and believes "the best value for any system is to get the most mileage from any resources you have." He cited, as an example, the old Rockport high school that was condemned as unsafe, but was purchased by a private citizen who renovated the building, and which is still producing income.

Falciani has concerns that the $26 million bond may be too low for the project and with the way that decisions are made on major projects that impact the community.

"One of my frustrations is we're forced to make decisions on little pockets of information. I don't like making decisions in pockets because I think it's dangerous," he said.

McKellar is going to vote "yes" on the new Camden-Rockport Middle School, due to the many repairs the current building requires, and the increased costs of waiting to build a new school in the future.

Wincklhofer is a proponent of the new school building. He believes the new building will be more efficient and less expensive from an environmental perspective. He supports looking into grants for renewable energy for the building, including geothermal.

White believes there is a need for a new middle school building, and is in favor of the community voting for the project.

Marijuana retail and clubs

Candidates were asked if they are comfortable with social clubs and marijuana retail in Camden.

White spoke about a non-binding vote going to voters June 13 to poll their opinions on these questions. "I'd like to see what the voters want to do," he said. Personally, White does not favor marijuana establishments in Camden, but could change his mind depending on voters' views.

Beveridge, who is a farmer, has been approached by a local businessman to see if he was interested in becoming a grower, something he said he has no interest in. He is also not in favor of marijuana social clubs. While these are his personal preferences, he recognizes the state has voted "and opened the door," and he is open to" any reasonable solution that the majority of people favor." He does not think marijuana retail and clubs will draw additional people to Camden because it will be all over the state.

Falciani said the moratorium Camden enacted on marijuana retail and clubs is a complicated and anti-business, and could have been done differently. He thinks a rider on any new business permits issued could have resolved concerns. He said voters have already decided the issue and he questions why Camden is spending time on it when "we have more proactive things to do to create jobs in this town, to improve our economy, and move forward."

McKellar agreed that Camden residents have already voted on marijuana at the polls, and that 55 percent approved legalization. While she doesn't want to smell marijuana being smoked on streets, she believes Camden "can come up with a reasonable solution for residents to sell marijuana in a way that doesn't negatively impact anybody." She sees the need for a town committee to look at how this has been implemented in other places.

Wincklhofer said he may not want to see a marijuana social club directly on Main Street, but to prohibit people from growing and selling marijuana seems preposterous. He believes marijuana retail and clubs would be good for business and additionally would draw young people. He also felt Camden's moratorium was unnecessary

"It's laughable that this is still a debate we have," he said.

Camden's candidates for the Select Board will also participate in a second candidate forum on Tuesday, May 23, at 6:30 p.m. at the Washington Street Conference Room. The vote will be held Tuesday, June 13, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the public safety building.

Courier Publications reporter Susan Mustapich can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at smustapich@villagesoup.com.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Jeff Sukeforth | May 17, 2017 08:38

Must have been a rough night because none of the candidates are smiling. 



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