RUMFORD — Black Mountain of Maine ski resort got an early Christmas present Thursday from Oxford County Superior Court Justice Robert W. Clifford: $51,000 that had been held up since mid-October by a lawsuit against the town.
Clifford ruled against plaintiffs Alan Gerace, Frank DiConzo, Paul Lowell, Selectman Mark Belanger and Ronald Theriault, saying Black Mountain didn't violate Rumford's charter as the five Rumford residents contended when resort officials used the petition process to circumvent their funding-request defeat at town meeting in June.
“Contrary to the contentions of the plaintiffs, the court concludes that the provisions of the Town Charter have been complied with, and that Article V, Section 6 allows the previous votes of the town to be reconsidered if there is a valid petition with the requisite number of signatures,” Clifford said in his ruling.
At the June 8 town meeting, 657 residents voted to give Black Mountain no money; 420 voted to give the resort $56,700; and 637 voted to give it $51,000.
“Even though more people voted for donating money to Black Mountain than against, because the third option — donating nothing — received the most votes, the request for funding was denied,” Clifford said.
Pursuant to Article V, Section 6 of the charter, Black Mountain supporters asked selectmen to call a special meeting, arguing that the lack of funding created a critical circumstance.
Selectmen decided otherwise and voted to deny the request.
Resort officials, following the charter, then submitted a petition signed by the required 500 voters, asserting the critical circumstance: Without the donation, they'd be forced to close Black Mountain.
They requested a special town meeting, which selectmen scheduled for Aug. 27. But the plaintiffs prevented that when they asked the court to intervene.
However, the court denied the request for a preliminary injunction against the town vote on the funding issue. In its Aug. 19 order, the court concluded that the vote should be preceded by a formal town meeting with notice to the public, a reading of the warrant and debate consistent with the charter.
That was done on Sept. 27. By a secret ballot vote on Oct. 13, a tally of 405-370 approved donating $51,000 to Black Mountain.
The town, however, couldn't give the resort the money until Justice Clifford ruled on the pending lawsuit.
In the second part of the court's decision, Clifford said the charter doesn't require a vote on whether there is a critical circumstance to be conducted separate and distinct from the vote on the funding itself.
“The one vote on the funding is all the charter requires,” he said. “Because that vote authorized the town to provide funding for Black Mountain, the complaint of the plaintiffs must be dismissed, and their request for relief denied.”
After learning this on Thursday, Rumford Town Manager Carlo Puiia was as elated as Black Mountain Board of Directors President Roger Arsenault.
“We've got a Christmas present for Black Mountain," Puiia said. "The judge ruled in favor of the town. The good thing is that the town is exonerated for following procedure.”
On Thursday morning while working to get the resort ready for its season opening the day after Christmas, Arsenault was dejected.
He'd called the Paris court to see whether a decision had been rendered and had learned court was closed for the holiday until next week.
“It broke my heart when I learned that this morning,” he said.
And then Puiia called with the news at about 3 p.m.
“It's behind us now,” Arsenault said. “The most important thing is the staff up here. It's taken the pressure off them. And financially, we're going to be getting a pretty hefty snow-making bill, so this is pretty timely."
“We basically held off spending any of the season pass money or any of the pre-sale money in the feeling that we weren't going to be open," he said.
Because the Town Office is closed for Christmas, Puiia said the money won't be released until Tuesday, Dec. 28. That didn't worry Arsenault.
“We got the green light now, so we're off and running,” he said.