Ossipee—November 23, 2017—In online posts and letters to the editor of the Carroll County Independent, supporters and opponents of Ossipee’s purchase of Camp Sokokis made their opinions clear in the final week before the November 28 vote at a special town meeting.
At issue is whether the town should spend $1.2 million for the 52-acre site to provide a beach in the summer and ice fishing and snowmobile access to the lake in the winter, among other potential uses. Select Board chairman Rick Morgan, who initiated the property search after voters authorized seed money for that purpose in March, announced the purchase agreement in August.
Supporters of the plan say Camp Sokokis is a once in a lifetime opportunity and likely the last chance for Ossipee to acquire recreation property on Ossipee Lake. Previous efforts were stymied by the scarcity of suitable land and environmental concerns.
Opponents of the plan have focused on financial issues. Campers, who will be displaced by the purchase, were among the first to claim that an offer was made to give the town a beach at the site without the burden of managing a commercial business and without losing the property tax revenue.
In response, board chair Morgan conceded that an offer had been made, but said the town had already agreed to purchase the entire property and the offer did not include adequate parking. Addressing objections about the town managing the campground, he said the board would shut down the business.
Opponents also claim the tax impact of the purchase is unclear, and the Select Board’s financial projections, including comparing the cost of bonding the purchase to the price of a cheese pizza, have not quieted skeptics. “Do the Math” lawn signs opposing the purchase have been a feature of the Ossipee landscape for weeks.
The Select Board has been openly vocal about the plan’s detractors, at one time calling them “un-American.” In letters to the Carroll County Independent this week, board members used the terms “cowardly” and “arrogant” to describe opponents, whom they characterized as a small group of campers and non-resident taxpayers determined to keep residents from enjoying the lake.
In a recent board meeting, Morgan said he would oppose non-resident taxpayers being permitted to speak at the town meeting discussion prior to the vote. At town meetings, non-resident taxpayers are typically allowed to speak with the approval of a majority of those present.
Unlike the effort to create a town beach in Ossipee Lake Natural Area a decade ago, there are no obvious environmental issues with the Sokokis plan. In a public letter, the Ossipee Lake Alliance board said it saw merit in the town’s goal of increasing recreation opportunities, and speculated that use of the property for that purpose could have less impact than its continued use as a campground.
The letter added, however, that only Ossipee voters could assess whether creating additional recreational opportunities for town residents was worth the expense and tax impact.
The Executive Committee Chairman of the Broad-Leavitt Bay Association, a lake property owners group, last week publicly recommended that voters approve the land purchase. But members of the Association, which represents resident-taxpayers and non-resident taxpayers alike, took issue with the endorsement, saying they had not been consulted.
This week, the Carroll County Independent reported that members of the Executive Committee itself contacted the paper to say the chairman was not authorized to speak on behalf of the organization.
The special town meeting will be on Tuesday in Ossipee Town Hall, starting at 6:30 p.m. The warrant article will be read, questions and comments will be heard for approximately 20 minutes, and the town will vote.