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Options considered to keep GRCC open
Supporters of the Greater Rumford Community Center with sign and wearing t-shirts saying "Save the GRCC" marched up Congress Street Thursday evening from the center to the Rumford Falls Auditorium to the Board of Selectmen's meeting looking for options to keep the 102-year-old facility open. (Times photo by Bruce Farrin)
RUMFORD -- Facing the possibility of shutting down the Greater Rumford Community Center on Aug. 1, supporters clad in white "Save the GRCC" t-shirt gathered in mass at Thursday's Board of Selectmen's meeting looking for options. They got them.
Children, parents and grandparents gave stirring testimony about what the 102-year-old facility means to them and the community, and the fear about the future after voters rejected initiated articles on June 11 for requests $138,100 for the GRCC and $22,720 for the GRCC summer programs.
The town's Charter mandates that while defeated budget articles can come back for a revote, initiated articles cannot.
Gary Dolloff, chairman of the Greater Rumford Community Center board of directors, presented a petition seeking to change a section of the Charter that prevented the Center from petitioning for a revote after their initiated articles requests for funding donations from the town.
Town Manager Carlo Puiia noted that first they would have to verify the signatures and have five days to act upon it.
Selectman Brad Adley said he is not comfortable with the idea of the charter change.
However, even if the charter revision occurs, it would not be operational until the next municipal year 2014. It won't resolve the issue of recreation right now.
And while they can't put an initiated article before voters, Dolloff said he was looking for another way to put back recreation for the youth. Earlier, he acknowledged that they've already canceled the summer swim program, the daycamp at Black Mountain and summer soccer.
Dolloff said, "My passion is the children of this town, a place for them to go. So if you guys have ideas to keep that building open or keep recreation in this area, walk on down there...Watched two kids walking on the stairs the other day; 'You don't have a program anymore? Where are we going to go? What are we going to do?'"
"I am here, with a bunch of people in white shirts, in support of the GRCC. I think the people who said 'Vote No' on the Rumford budgets played a big impact on people's vote (regarding the GRCC), not knowing that the youth of this area would get zero dollars to have a building open for them to do their recreation, to get off the street," he said.
"On Aug. 1, if we don't get any money, we're closing our doors. That means Trendsetters will be closed. That means senior citizens will have to find another place to go. That means Treasures on the Island will have to find another place to go. That means the book store will have to find another place to go. That means the AA association that goes in there for meetings will have to find another place to go. Not to mention the school department uses it," said Dolloff.
"This is where everybody goes. This is the hub of the town," he noted.
"I beg you to help us here. Right now, I'm speaking for the children of this area. I plead with you to put money back somewhere so we keep that building open for the youth of this area," said Dolloff.
Buccina listed several suggestions, which would require action by the GRCC and its board.
Tops on the list is a low-interest loan through the revolving load fund that has existed in the town since the 1980's. Once an amount has been agreed on, the town sets the interest rate and term of the loan.
Realizing this is something that could be put into place rather quickly, Dolloff said later this is something he's most interested in and will be bringing this item to his board of directors.
Buccina noted, "I also received a call from River Valley Rec Director Wayne Sevigny in Mexico. He told me he was more than happy to sit down and work with the GRCC board in combining recreation for our kids. Now if it's all about the kids, I would expect that there would be some conversation in the very near future. We'd sit down and see how we could combine our efforts and we'd have one heck of a recreation department."
He said another option is to go through the board and the process and possibly take recreation out of the initiated articles. "I think historically, Black Mountain and the GRCC; maybe that should be a line item budget under recreation," noted Buccina.
A fourth suggestion is to look at some high end grants, Harold Alfond, the casino, etc., or a bond supported by citizens.
"If we got the place going for a year, we start regionalizing our services, we sit down, apply for some high-end grants, and we also possibly look for a bond from the town. We could look at that historic building down there, look at making it compliant, at the very least, look at what it would cost to extend the life of that building, if that is an option. But look at the steps to keep recreation going. That's really all we can do at this point," said Buccina.
Dolloff noted, "It sounds like we're trying to get through this year. A low-interest loan for the remainder of this fiscal year might be the answer. Everybody can then get a clear head and we can figure out what to do next year...We will work with Mexico; keep our kids together for now to have a place to go."
An early suggestion was also made.
About three hours into developing another budget, the Parks Department budget came under review. It was during this time that Selectman Jeff Sterling made a proposal that $128,000 be inserted into this department for recreation, "not to be administered by the Parks Department, the Parks and Recreation Department, but to be there to be bid on by any entity that would like to bid upon it in the next year."
"There's two schools of thought on this. First, the initiated article (for the GRCC) was voted down; it's over and done. However, since the vote, there's been a groundswell of regret in that people either didn't know what they were voting for or they thought that that number could somehow be revisited, which it can't."
"I think, by and large, putting our recreation into initiated articles was ridiculous to begin with. It's something that been a longtime overdue to fix, and this is an opportunity, in looking back at budgets, to fix that."
When Sterling asked that his request be made into a motion, it began a lengthy debate. Earlier, there was a motion, that was seconded, on a Parks Department budget amount, which Sterling asked be turned down so his motion could be made.
Buccina said, "First of all, we're not voting on a recreation budget. We're focusing on the Parks Commission budget. First of all, I think we would have to create a recreation budget. I'm not so sure that that's within our power tonight to do that."
Sterling, who used to serve on the Parks Commission, responded, "I would respectfully submit that this is a Parks and Recreation Department."
Buccina said, "It doesn't say that on the sheet. It says Parks Commission. It has nothing to do with recreation. I think we're getting off topic by discussing this and I'm concerned about that. I understand where you're coming from and I realize your compassion, and I respect it. I'm not so sure this is the right thing for it."
Parks Commission member Rick White noted that when he was originally on the board, this was the Parks and Recreation Department. "Past boards; that got taken from us. It went back to the Board of Selectmen and that's where the whole Parks and Recreation separation came...It's a name that's come and gone over the last 25 years I've been on this board. One day we're the Parks; the next day we're called Parks and Rec."
"If you're going to do it for one, why not do it for all?" said Buccina, referring to the other initiated article requests that were defeated.
He then reminded people that there was a motion on the floor and a second. "Now if you want to go off-topic, and obviously we do; we're looking for a way to create a rec department. Why not follow the process and do it next year? The only option we have is to do something that really isn't above table, but to do the right thing, and I understand that, but I do not agree within principle.
Buccina repeated, "If you're going to do for one, why wouldn't you do it for Black Mountain? Why wouldn't you do it for Safe Voices? Why wouldn't you do it for Big Brothers, Big Sisters and anyone else who didn't get funding? I'm not against our children, but I want to make it very clear that this board supported the request from the community center. It got voted down by the people. Now it's coming back to us in a form that I don't think is really above board."
Directing his comment to Sterling, he continued, "I respect what you're trying to do. You're trying to save our kids. Well, maybe we need to go through a year without it. Maybe we need to say 'this is what we did.' Well, Gary (Dolloff), grab the microphone and let's get into it."
Buccina said, "I really think we're going down a slippery slope to do this for a great cause, for probably for what's right. But c'mon, you know this. We're doing this for a reason; it's something we treasure that didn't quite make it this year."
Selectman Jolene Lovejoy said, "All we do is recommend budgets. We recommend a certain amount. Finance Committee recommends a certain amount. And we always say it's up to the voters to decide. We don't decide. The voters decide. I'm not going to circumvent the will of the voters."
She noted that once an initiated article is voted down, "you can't dress it up and stick it in another department. That's the will of the people."
A donation fund has been set up called "Save the GRCC." If you would like to help, send your check, payable to "Save the GRCC," c/o Bangor Savings Bank, P.O. Box 400, Rumford, ME.
The GRCC is also doing fundraising. They have a co-ed one-pitch softball tournament slated for 9 a.m. on Thursday, July 4 at the 3 fields across from Hosmer field in Rumford. A donation of $200 per team is required. For more information about participation, call Nancy Volkernick at 240-1754 or Steph Gallant at 357-5536.
In a similar predictament is Black Mountain where voters rejected initiated article requests of $51,000 for Black Mountain and $1,540 for the Chisholm Ski Club.
At Thursday's meeting, Roger Arsenault of the mountain's Board of Directors asked if he could provide an update of the impact of the cuts, but was instructed by Selectman Chairman Greg Buccina that that would have to wait until the next meeting as it was not on the agenda.