RUMFORD — After giving local economic development group Envision Rumford! $850 to apply for nonprofit status, selectmen Thursday night spoke against donating $10,000 to the Greater Rumford Community Center.
Envision Rumford! member Jennifer Kreckel sought funding to cover the filing fee for the group of volunteers to apply as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Kreckel is also a local lawyer and Rumford’s attorney.
She said Envision Rumford! members have been funding the group’s needs with their own money to help grow the local economy. To compete with other organizations for grants, the group needs to attain nonprofit status, she said.
Selectman Jolene Lovejoy motioned to give the group $850 from the Economic Development account. It was approved 4-0. Selectman Jeff Sterling was absent.
Gary Dolloff asked the board for a donation of $10,000 from cable franchise fees to offset some unforeseen program costs and to help bring the Greater Rumford Community Center building up to fire code.
Dolloff is chairman of the center’s board of directors.
“So, I’m hoping for the $10,000 or whatever you guys can give to help us,” Dolloff said.
Selectman Brad Adley asked fellow members and Town Manager John Madigan if using cable franchise fees had to meet certain criteria.
“It isn’t a slush fund,” Adley said.
Selectmen Chairman Greg Buccina said that a few years ago, selectmen committed themselves to donate 66.67 percent of the fees to the Western Valley Access Channel. The balance was to be used at the board’s discretion.
“However, we’ve used it in the past for Fourth of July events that might enhance the town,” Buccina said.
Madigan said there is $53,000 in cable franchise fees that aren’t being given to the local access channel. He said it was carried forward for two years to save toward replacing the sound system in Rumford Falls Auditorium where board meetings are held.
However, the board has been negotiating with Time Warner to cover that cost. Madigan said normally that money would be returned to the general fund to offset taxes.
Lovejoy apologized to Dolloff for telling him that selectmen can’t buck the will of the June 2013 town meeting when residents voted against funding the community center to cover its operational and program costs.
Dolloff said the community center enhances the town and the fees are to be used at the board’s discretion.
Buccina agreed. He said town meeting voters didn’t approve funding for the center via the initiated articles process. Additionally, he said the board couldn’t set precedent to fund struggling businesses.
“My concern is that we’re going against the will of the voters,” he said. “Like it or not, they voted not to fund the center.”
Buccina invited Dolloff to meet with the board in executive session to discuss the matter further, but Dolloff wanted it kept in open session. Buccina suggested that the town could refinance the center’s loan to delay payments.
“We went from getting $138,000 to zero,” Dolloff said of the June vote. “I’m in this because I believe in what I’m doing. We’re trying to do everything right and stay open.”
Selectman Frank DiConzo said he wouldn’t support giving the center money, either via cable fees or the board’s contingency fund.
“If we did something now with the cable fees and contingency funds, we will have a firestorm,” he said. “The people voted and we have to respect that. To do this now, I just can’t do it.”
After more discussion, Buccina asked Dolloff if the town should be allowing young children to enter the center building when it’s not up to fire code.
Dolloff said the Fire Department is OK with allowing children in the building. He said it’s not to the point where it’s unsafe.
Dolloff then rescinded his request.