Ossipee—October 8, 2017—How will the Town of Ossipee manage a 52-acre, 45-site commercial campground? What impact will additional car traffic have on the area? What will happen to the town beach on Duncan Lake? Is it credible that the cost to purchase and operate the campground will have no impact on taxes?
These are among the questions being raised in letters to a local newspaper and online posts about the Select Board’s proposal to pay $1.2 million for Ossipee Lake’s Camp Sokokis in order to secure a town beach on the lake. There is even a website on the topic at www.nobeachisfree.com.
The push to purchase the campground is being led by First Selectman Richard Morgan, who is a long-time champion of increasing public access to the lake for Ossipee residents.
While the town already owns Ossipee Lake shorefront, its Nichols Road beach lacks parking, and town officials say the beach at Constitution Park is not safe for swimming. The “official” town beach on Duncan Lake has a large shorefront and plenty of parking, but for Morgan, having a place to swim and recreate is different from having a place to swim and recreate on Ossipee Lake.
“I think this beach is about so much more than the beach or the ability to be able to stick your feet in the water,” he told the Carroll County Independent. “It’s about the identity of our town.”
Morgan is not alone in his belief. Since the 1950s, individuals elected and otherwise have publicly floated ideas about purchasing property on Ossipee Lake to provide access to local residents.
As each idea foundered and shorefront prices continued to rise, the ideas became more complicated, culminating in a proposal to lease a portion of Ossipee Lake Natural Area from the state and operate it as a town beach that would also have been open to the general public. DRED killed the idea as a threat to the environment.
Lack of Information Cited
Morgan has positioned the purchase of Camp Sokokis as Ossipee’s best, and likely last, chance to obtain a usable beach on Ossipee Lake. Whether that’s correct or not, the plan has raised questions that have Ossipee taxpayers scratching their heads in confusion.
Chief among the issues being discussed online and in the paper is the town’s explanation for why it continued to pursue paying $1.2 million for the property after it was offered 90 feet of the campground’s shoreline and a parking area at no cost.
Asked about the donation offer at a Select Board meeting, Morgan said simply that the board had tasked him with negotiating a purchase, and he had already worked out the terms with the sellers, Bill and Dianne Sheehan. Bill Sheehan told the Independent that after the donation offer was conveyed, Morgan asked him and his wife to “keep their promise” to sell the entire property to the town.
Other concerns have focused on the lack of information about how the town will manage the property and campground business. In a letter to the Carroll County Independent, Ossipee’s former Recreation Director, Peter Waugh, said he is on the fence about the purchase because officials have not said which town agency will oversee the property, or how liability issues, maintenance, and improvements will be handled and paid for.
Referring to the town’s long-time goal of having a beach on the lake, Waugh offered an analogy in his letter:
“Now that the town has an opportunity to obtain such a parcel what do we/they do with it? I liken it to the dog who constantly chases a car. The thrill is in the chase, but what does the dog do with the car once he catches it? So, if we complete the chase for the beach, what is the long-range plan for it?”
In an online post, Ossipee resident Ted Hoyt, whose family owns a campground on the lake in Freedom, posed a list of basic questions the town has not yet answered:
“Who will be the campground manager? Pay the bills? Collect the rent? Do the maintenance? Clean toilets? Haul the trash? Arrange for insurance? When the water system or septic system fails does the town pay for new systems? Who answers a late night call to respond to a late night complaint of a loud out of control party?”
“Running a campground is not an easy job,” he wrote. “Yes, there are 24 hour a day responsibilities.”
Financial Impact Sought
In addition to questions about the operating plan, Hoyt and others have expressed financial concerns about the purchase, including the possibility that a switch from a private family-run campground to a public facility managed by a municipality might send long-time campers packing, taking the property’s revenue source with them.
“Towns do not need to nor should they ever consider purchasing property with rentals along with typical issues surrounding such properties,” posted Ossipee’s Steve Foley online. “A better plan would be to have a private sale of this property and public access a contingency for 100 years.”
Tax impact is also on the public’s mind, but Selectman Morgan has dismissed such concerns, telling the Independent that there is a lot of misinformation circulating.
“It is simply untrue,” he said, “that the purchase will send taxes through the roof.”
Yet the Select Board has not released financials for the venture other than to say that Ossipee is in “phenomenal” financial shape and has a $1.47 million surplus fund for emergencies. Morgan also fueled skepticism with his comment that the cost of bonding the purchase of the campground would be “minimal—about the cost of a cheese pizza.”
“Let’s see the numbers so we can start making an educated decision,” replied an online poster using the pen name “Ossipee.”
The Select Board says it will hold at least one public hearing to present its plans and answer questions, although it turned down a request to schedule a hearing on a weekend to accommodate non-resident Ossipee taxpayers.
While a vote on the matter could take place as soon as November, the state must first approve the town’s request to hold a special town meeting for that purpose. The state will consider that request on October 13.