RUMFORD — At Monday night's special business meeting on proposed funding for the welfare budget and Black Mountain ski resort, high taxes and the need to reduce them were among the reasons given to reject donating $51,000 to the ski hill at the polls next month.
Others argued that the resort has long given Rumford its identity and brought people to the area to live and recreate, making worthy the continued investments.
The meeting, which was attended by 80 people, took less than 45 minutes.
Voters approved changing the tax collection due date for the first half-payment from Oct. 1 to Nov. 15, without discussion. There was no discussion on the proposed $35,000 welfare budget, either.
The vote on welfare and the ski resort funding — polls are open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 13 — will mark the Board of Selectmen's third attempt to get approval since the town meeting in June.
The resort's initiated article request for funding was also defeated at the same meeting, but ski hill officials successfully petitioned for a revote.
At Monday night's meeting, former Finance Committee member Ron Theriault argued against spending money on Black Mountain, saying the town can no longer afford to pay 10 percent of the nonprofit resort's operating budget.
He said Rumford taxpayers saw a 23 percent hike in taxes last year and will see an additional increase this year.
“If your household or your business sees a decrease in income, the first two traditional things that go are recreation and donations,” Theriault said. “This is a donation to recreation.”
“This is not about whether Black Mountain is a good place, or whether it does good things for the community,” he said. “It's what can this town — these taxpayers — afford to pay.”
Resident Candice Casey agreed with Theriault.
“Since 1989, the taxpayers of the town of Rumford have given to Black Mountain of Maine $3,344,781 and two cents,” she said. “That's an awful lot of money for skiing. It has to stop. This town's once strong population has been cut in half. Our mill has dwindled, their tax contribution has dwindled. We can't afford these luxuries.”
She said Maine Winter Sports and the Libra Foundation, which bought the resort, should be paying to run it instead of relying on a board of directors to do so.
“They have declared that they will not cover any more losses,” Casey said of Libra and MWS. “They will not fund this organization any more money. To me, that says a lot. This organization cannot take out loans because they have no assets and their parent company will not back them. I don't know why we would.”
Selectman Greg Buccina, speaking as a resident, urged people to OK the $51,000.
“Not having Black Mountain could be just as devastating,” he said. “Recreation is why people look at coming to a community. . . . To shut it off today is not going to do Rumford any good.”
Speaking about the $3.34 million Casey mentioned and decades worth of volunteerism by many residents to help run the resort, Buccina called it “a pretty good investment” that has paid off.
“A lot of our identity comes from Black Mountain,” he said. “To shut the door on those volunteers who worked there for decades would be an injustice.”
Parks and Recreation Director Dan Richard countered Buccina, saying that to pare taxes, the town voted to cut $5,000 from the budget to turn off several street lights.
“But we're willing to give away $51,000 to Black Mountain because you don't want to cut $51,000 out of a $6 million budget, but you would shut off streetlights to save $5,000? I just can't wrap my head around that,” Richard said.
Black Mountain Board of Directors Chairman Roger Arsenault said the board has worked to reduce its dependency on the town by 50 percent.
“There is a lot of misinformation out there, but it's true, we struggle to meet our bills,” he said. “We continue to make changes to try to achieve a balanced budget.”
He welcomed the resort's critics to attend board meetings, challenging that he can prove to them “that we do our very best.”
Speaking about the effect Black Mountain has on Rumford's taxes, Arsenault then said, “A household in Rumford valued at $60,000 after the Homestead Exemption, represents about $5.94 from each family contributing to the survival of Black Mountain, and I don't think that's an awful lot for what we get for the mountain.”