RUMFORD — By a margin of 35 votes, residents at Wednesday's polls approved donating $51,000 to Black Mountain ski resort.
An even greater majority OK'd the $35,000 recommendation by selectmen and the Finance Committee for the town's third attempt in three months to finalize a welfare budget.
That means Rumford assessors can finally set the tax commitment, Town Manager Carlo Puiia said Wednesday evening.
“Third time's a charm,” Selectman and Deputy Ballot Warden Jeremy Volkernick said before telling Puiia that voters OK'd the $35,000 welfare budget by a tally of 458-318.
The tally on the ski resort funding was 405-370, but that doesn't mean the resort automatically gets the money, Puiia said.
Because the lawsuit filed in August challenging the resort's use of the petition process to circumvent its initial funding request defeat is still open, he can't release the funds, he said.
A majority of voters at the annual town meeting in June did not raise money for welfare or Black Mountain. They rejected raising and appropriating $70,021 for the welfare budget and again in August after selectmen pared it to $60,000. That prompted the $35,000 recommendation.
“I understand why they rejected it in the beginning,” Puiia said of the welfare budget. “Tonight we learned that the public wanted to reduce that and we're going to do our best to administrate that with the 50 percent reduction.”
And although a majority of voters approved the ski resort's petition-initiated funding request, town officials must wait until Oxford County Superior Court Justice Robert Clifford makes a final decision due to a pending lawsuit, Puiia said.
“It's a close vote,” Puiia said of the 35-vote margin, but he doesn't expect a recount request due to the suit.
“There was certainly a lot of concerns on both sides that are valid. Of course, I anticipate the challenge that citizens have pledged if Black Mountain wins. Before we can release the money, we have to wait for the judge's decision, because he left it open.”
At the June 8 town meeting, 657 residents voted to not give Black Mountain any money; 420 voted to give it $56,700, and 637 voted to give it $51,000.
Black Mountain officials contend that people wanted to fund the resort, but were split on the amount, so they circulated a petition to bring it up for another vote.
The town charter states that if neither amount is approved by the majority of voters, the article is "defeated and the amount appropriated will be zero.”
On Aug. 11, Alan Gerace, Frank DiConzo, Paul Lowell, Selectman Mark Belanger and Ronald Theriault, all of Rumford, filed suit after Black Mountain officials successfully petitioned for another vote.
Claiming Rumford officials violated the town's charter by scheduling a vote, they sought an injunction to block the ski resort's request by challenging the petition process used.
They stated that while Article V, Section 6 of the charter states that citizens may petition for a special town meeting by gathering 500 signatures, critical circumstances that would affect the welfare of Rumford residents as required by that charter article did not exist.
A majority of selectmen twice ruled that funding the ski area after their initial request in June was denied did not constitute a critical circumstance that would affect the well-being of residents.
Ski resort officials then bypassed the board's decision using a petition and claiming that if Black Mountain didn't get the funding, it would close, thereby creating the critical circumstance.
On Aug. 19, Justice Clifford denied the preliminary injunction, but told the town to hold a formal town meeting and vote to decide the funding issue.
“Plaintiffs' complaint challenges the town's scheduling of a vote per Article V, Section 6 of the Town's Charter entitled 'Special Meetings' in accordance with the citizen's petition process provided for therein,” Clifford wrote in his decision.
“After review of Article V, Section 6, and arguments of the parties, the motion for preliminary injunction to enjoin the town from conducting a vote on the Black Mountain issue is hereby denied.”
“Even though not raised in plaintiffs' pleading, however, the court concludes that the vote on the Black Mountain issue should be preceded by a formal town meeting with notice to the public, a reading of the warrant, and debate on the Black Mountain issue consistent with the requirements of Article V, Section 3,” Clifford said.
“The judge let us know that we couldn't continue, so we're cautiously moving forward,” Puiia said. “No money will be released until we get his decision. Again, it will be what does the judge see and how does he interpret it?”