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Snow Bowl reduces budget, revenue projections

By Susan Mustapich | Jan 08, 2021
Talk about Snow Bowl finances and waiting for colder weather to resume snowmaking were topics taken up by the Select Board Jan. 5.

CAMDEN — Snow Bowl management presented a reduced 2021 ski season budget to the Select Board Jan 5, and responded to a complaint about season pass distribution.

Projected revenues were reduced by $70,000 due to the cancellation of the annual Toboggan Nationals event in February. Expenses were reduced by $27,400. This means the Snow Bowl begins the season with a projected loss of just over $55,000.

Board members had no objections to the budget adjustment. They are not required to vote on approving the change, but need to be aware of it, according to Town Manager Audra Caler. She said season pass sales exceed projected revenue by $60,000, but the bottom line will be dependent on weather as the season proceeds.

Historically, the Snow Bowl has been expected to be self-supporting. In the five years since lifts and snowmaking were redeveloped, questions have been raised about whether the ski operation has to break even or produce revenue every year. Costs have been compared with the benefits it offers residents, visitors and local businesses. The Snow Bowl is also compared with other town facilities, including the Camden Public Library, which is partially funded by the town, and the opera house, which is primarily town-funded.

"It's not just about hard numbers, it's what it does for the town," Board member Marc Ratner said. He asked Snow Bowl General Manager Beth Ward for a report on how the season is going.

Ward said they were busy on the days they were open, but there were some rainy days. The triple lift is not yet open, due to weather limiting snowmaking to the top of the mountain. It could be another week before the weather is cold enough to continue snowmaking, she said.

New procedures to increase safety during the pandemic are working well, Ward said. Day-tickets purchased online can be picked up at a 'bump out' window. There is now an online form for rental equipment, and arrangements to picked up equipment outside on the deck.

Ward also addressed comments from Chrisso Rheault, who spoke earlier in the meeting about problems obtaining season passes. She described the process of getting passes as contact-less, with multiple steps, and required signing of a waiver. Staff has sent hundreds of emails requesting people sign the waivers, and some didn't sign them until last week, she said.

Most passes are ready, and many are waiting to be picked up in the trailer in front of the basement doors, she said. Many passes have been mailed, and some people still haven't received them. There have been issues with mail, and some passes have been returned due to address problems.

People can email Assistant Manager Holly Anderson or call the Snow Bowl to find out if their passes are waiting there, she said in response to a question from Ratner.

Rheault raised concerns about management decisions, poor communication and season pass distribution. Saying there were numerous problems, he cited recent examples. Season passes were sold earlier than in prior years, but were not mailed until five days before opening day, he said. While the Snow Bowl's projected opening date was set for Dec. 26, the actual date and opening time was not was confirmed until 11 p.m. on Dec. 25.

He called for establishing a Board of Directors to assist and advise Snow Bowl operations, bring financial expertise to help with long-range planning, and provide input from people who ski there. It can no longer be part of the Parks and Recreation Department, he said. He noted his support of the Snow Bowl, and the support of many others in seeing the ski area succeed.

Tannery property report

The Community Economic Development Advisory Committee presented its evaluation of four proposals to develop the former tannery property on Washington Street. Each proposal was assessed using a large set of criteria suggested by board members, Caler and Development Director Jeremy Martin.

The committee's work would help prepare board members for workshops, with the entities offering proposals, Board Chairman Bob Falciani said. Board members universally praised the committee's work.

The committee looked at the proposals using the criteria, to make sure they addressed all the things the town is interested in, Committee Chairman Leamon Scott said.

He gave the board an overview of what he called an extensive package of information. "Our goal was to give you a systemic review of each of these proposals so you could be informed and prepared for those workshop interviews you talk about,"

A summary discussion includes general themes that came up throughout the review: jobs, workforce housing and recreation, and open space. Also considered was the impact accepting any one of the proposals would have on the town, balanced with the long-term cost and benefits to the community. Potential questions to ask entities submitting proposals are included in the package. An important consideration discussed was the extent to which developers are capable of successfully completing and sustaining their project.

The committee did not rate, rank or recommend, he said.

Town committee work

Caler said she and staff are overwhelmed with work devised by the board and committees.

The board has been holding discussions about town committee work on and off for several years. They have worked on on organizing the structure and tasks of the town's more than 20 committees.

Board member Jenna Lookner and other members were not ready to review what committee work is needed and what is not. Lookner asked for a memo from Caler about how she sees staff priorities fitting in with committee assignments. She, Ratner and Benzie agree committees should not assign work to staff, and all members said they do not want to discourage committee involvement.

Board members also agreed that the Community Economic Development committee's work on the tannery proposals is a project-based model to be used in future committee work.

Falciani said committee work should relate to board priorities. He sees the board's past actions to update committee policy and review workplans as semi-effective. The board had not done the work of honing committee priorities, he said. He asked Caler for recommendations for the board on tasking committees with work.

Emergency medical services

Caler told board members they would soon receive a report analyzing current ambulance services. The assessment was done in collaboration with Pen Bay Medical Center and emergency medical services career professionals, Kevin McGinnis and Tom Judge. Judge founded LifeFlight of Maine and is a former executive director. Caler said Camden's current services are tied to the local hospital system, as its 911 ambulance providers, North East Health Mobil Services, also transports the hospital's non-emergency patients within medical facilities.

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