PI, tri-town managers to draft ideas for community center access

8 years ago

PI, tri-town managers to draft ideas
for community center access

When Presque Isle’s new community center opens this fall, city councilors and staff are hoping that it remains accessible and affordable to people from other towns and communities.

Presque Isle City Manager Martin Puckett and Castle Hill, Chapman and Mapleton Town Manager Jon Frederick are tackling that dilemma and crafting potential options for covering user costs, at the request of their respective elected officials.
The issue of “non-resident” user fees being charged at Presque Isle’s soon-to-open community center recently came to the fore after a letter to city council from a group of residents from other towns concerned about being charged non-resident fees for aquatics programs in Presque Isle. A letter to the editor in the Star-Herald last week also raised criticism about the rise of such fees in rec programming in general.
It also prompted a joint meeting between city councillors and members of the select boards of Castle Hill, Chapman and Mapleton, three towns that share many services and a town manager.
Though Castle Hill, Chapman, Mapleton and Presque Isle are interconnected, sharing watersheds as well as a school district, they remain unique. Back when the $7.5 million Presque Isle community center was still an idea being discussed, residents of the three towns who came to public forums weren’t necessarily interested in using or paying for a new community center, said David Dunleavy, chair of the Castle Hill selectboard.
As Presque Isle starts paying $471,000 or about $50 per resident per year in debt for the community center, the dilemma is how to fairly assess some of the costs on people from outside the city who use the venue. Among the options would be an annual payment through a budgetary formula, sharing the costs collectively, or user fees that people or families pay on their own.
The idea of Castle Hill, Chapman and Mapleton taxpayers contributing to Presque Isle’s debt service for the community center, by way of budgetary allocations, would be “a nonstarter,” said Dunleavy, a retired lawyer.
The three select boards and their 2,500-plus constituents might be open to other proposals, Dunleavy said, suggesting that the town managers Puckett and Frederick draft a variety of options that can be considered before the center opens.
The discussion between the council and board members showed a range of opinions.
“Any fee charged by anybody is going to be complained about,” Dunleavy said. “If you want to use a facility or a program provided by another community that’s not provided by your community, I’m not really opposed to you having to pay a fee to do that.”
That approach would get complicated for the youth from the surrounding towns, including Westfield, who all go to middle and high school in Presque Isle, said Presque Isle City Councilor Mike Chasse. If there isn’t a financial barrier to using the space, Chasse said, “That’s just going to make it a more vibrant place.”
Pat Sutherland, a select board member and lifetime resident of Chapman, said that she remembers when a lot people from the east side of town went to Presque Isle’s recreation programs, and that the town would pay Presque Isle a stipend each year for recreation as well as fire protection.
With the new community center, she said she’s hoping that the towns and city can address the costs without having fees become unaffordable. For instance, she said, “I think retired couples who want to go take a painting class might have a hard time coming up with an extra $50 apiece to pay the non-resident fee.”