Caribou councilors agree to use city funds to assist with trail groomer purchase

CARIBOU, Maine — The Caribou Parks & Recreation Department has begun raising money for a new snowmobile trail groomer, and city councilors have agreed to give it a head start with $34,207 in reserve funds.

In spring 2022, Parks & Recreation Director Gary Marquis applied for a Northern Borders Regional Commission grant that would have allowed his department to replace its 2015 New Holland tractor groomer at no cost to the city. 

After failing to obtain that grant, Marquis is turning to the public to help raise funds for the groomer, the cost for which is expected to rise within the next year.

During Monday’s council meeting, Marquis told councilors that Mountain Grooming Equipment, LLC, based in Waitsfield, Vermont, has offered a $100,000 trade-in for the current tractor groomer, which has 4,400 hours of service. 

Marquis and staff have found a newly built New Holland T7-230 tractor groomer in Champlain, New York, that can be shipped to Beauregard Equipment in Presque Isle. The new groomer has a quoted price of $316,207, which brings about the need for grants and fundraising.

Parks & Rec recently received a $98,000 grant from the State of Maine Capital Equipment program that will go toward the groomer purchase. 

Marquis suggested that the city use $34,207 in funds from the RC2 Tax Increment Financing District to reduce the groomer’s overall price tag.

TIF Districts allow eligible business owners to receive a portion of the increased assessed tax value after development is completed. The city also receives a portion of the assessed value, as determined by councilors. The RC2 District includes the intersection of and areas surrounding U.S. Route 1 and Main Street.

The city often uses funds gained from TIF Districts for city-operated programs, including the Facade Improvement Grant, funded by the Downtown TIF District.

Councilors voted 5-1 to award the $34,207 to Parks & Rec, with John Morrill casting the lone vote against the measure. Mayor Jody Smith was absent from Monday’s meeting.

Morrill, who attended via Zoom, questioned whether replacing the groomer is necessary at this time and if Parks & Rec had asked the Caribou Snowmobile Club for financial assistance.

Marquis said that he has reached out to the club, who is a separate entity from the city, for potential funds. He also plans to apply for a USDA grant in November.

Parks & Rec will be kicking off sales of Caribou snowmobile calendars as a fundraiser for the groomer, Marquis said. He told councilors that they could expect a launch of that online fundraiser this week.

“Unfortunately, the price of a new tractor groomer is likely to go up 5 to 10 percent next year, and that includes the tracks,” Marquis said.

But fortunately, he said, Parks & Rec can install tracks for the new groomer in house, reducing the total price tag by $9,000 to $11,000.

Many councilors expressed support for the new groomer and encouraged people to buy calendars for the Parks & Rec fundraiser.

“I would hope that those who ride and benefit [from the trails] step up to help,” Doug Morrell said.

In other business, the council unanimously approved a new liquor license for the Caribou Inn & Convention Center to its new owners, Country Host Inn, LLC.

Scott LaFleur of Country Host Inn, LLC, said that the community should not expect to see changes in hours or general operations at this time. LaFleur officially became owner Sept. 26.

“We’re hoping that as we learn more about the business we can make changes that people see as improvements,” LaFleur told councilors. “We’re happy to be part of the community.”

Councilors also set a liquor license public hearing date for a new business: Evergreen Lanes featuring the Rendezvous Restaurant.

Located at 60 Access Highway, the bowling alley and restaurant plans to open on or around Oct. 17, according to City Manager Penny Thompson. Councilors set the public hearing for Oct. 11.

Evergreen Lanes is owned by Shawn Pelletier, of Pelletier Entreprises, LLC, and was one of three new businesses that councilors approved TIF agreements for in March. Pelletier’s previous business venture, Hilltop Heights Senior Living, also benefited when councilors designated roughly seven acres on Marshall Avenue as a TIF district.

The next Caribou City Council meeting will occur at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 11, at the Caribou Municipal Building, 25 High St.

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