Ossipee—September 28, 2017—At one time, there were four generations of the same one family spending summers at Camp Sokokis. Then there are others who have returned to their seasonal sites for a few years or for decades, and all, related by blood or not, have become part of the campground family.
They pay lot rent and property taxes. They, like so many others along the lake who call Ossipee their second home, contribute to community causes and help bolster the local economy. The one thing they do not have is a vote, and oftentimes barely a voice.
The half-century-old Camp Sokokis was built and has been continuously run by Dianne Sheehan’s family, but now is the time for her and husband Bill to retire from the year-round work of running a campground. Enter Town of Ossipee and $1.2 million.
Ossipee Select Board Chairman Richard Morgan said on Sept. 25 that he was appointed by his fellow board members to negotiate the purchase of the campground and its 200-foot beach. He and Town Administrator Ellen White met with the Sheehans to do just that.
According to Bill, the campground was never officially put on the real estate market. But after the sale of other campgrounds in the area, including Westward Shores and Ossipee Lake Camping Area in Effingham, town officials approached them asking that they consider a sale to the town should they decide to sell as well.
Once negotiations were underway between the town and the Sheehans, a gentleman whose identity was not revealed by Bill came forward, offering to buy the campground and donate 90-feet of beach to the town. That information was presented to Morgan, who countered that negotiations with the town had already reached agreement, encouraging the Sheehans to keep their promise of selling to the town.
Camp Sokokis tenants and others have brought forward many concerns since the news broke that the town plans to buy the campground, operate a public beach and take over as landlord. Several people have taken to the Ossipee Lake Alliance Web site (www.ossipeelake. org) to discuss their concerns. The misgivings expressed include the future costs such as maintenance and staffing that Ossipee taxpayers will have to bear to operate a town beach. Others questioned why the town would give up the $25,000 in annual property taxes paid by the campground and take it off the tax rolls.
The campground is accessible by the now-private Gretchen Road off Route 16B and the town-owned Hodsdon Shore Road off Route 25, leaving some to question if the traffic impact and potential impact to surrounding property owners has been studied.
Morgan reiterated on Sept. 25 that it is likely 15 of the 45 seasonal campsites will be eliminated if the town purchases the campground to make way for a public parking lot.
“I understand whole-heartedly why the folks in Camp Sokokis don’t want this. What I am trying to weigh is your feelings, quite frankly, versus 4,500 other residents who don’t have a place to put a foot in Ossipee Lake,” Morgan told longtime Sokokis camper Carole Lyons, who had a list of questions for selectmen during their meeting Sept. 25.
He suggested Lyons and others move to another campground.
Lyons continued voicing her concerns, asking whether or not Ward’s Boat Shop (where Morgan is employed) will gain something from the town buying the campground. Morgan laughed off the insinuation that he stood to profit from the arrangement, and expressed resentment at what he called a “preposterous” attack on his character.
Selectman Robert Freeman suggested that any such accusations were groundless, and concocted by individuals who are upset that they stand to lose their seasonal campsites at Camp Sokokis if voters approve the purchase of the land.
Morgan said the town is in “phenomenal” financial shape with a $1.47 million surplus rainy-day fund for emergencies. There are towns around Ossipee that are “swimming in debt,” he said, while Ossipee has “zero.” The cost of bonding the purchase of the campground, Morgan said, will be minimal—about the cost of a cheese pizza.
Lyons commented that even the cost of a pizza may be a lot to some taxpayers.
On Sept. 26, paperwork was filed in Carroll County Superior Court asking a judge to grant the selectmen permission to hold a special town meeting in November to authorize selectmen to purchase the campground. If approved, there will be at least one public hearing prior to the special town meeting.
When asked to consider holding at least one of the hearings on a weekend so non-residents can attend and hear the plan or voice their concerns, Morgan dismissed that idea, stating that those who are interested but unable to attend in person can watch the hearing after-the-fact on www. governmentoversite. com. He also voiced his hope that an organization like Ossipee Lake Alliance would throw their support behind the development of a public beach on Ossipee Lake.