GREENVILLE, Maine — Without the revenue from snowmobiling, Greenville could end up like Bar Harbor, where the majority of the businesses are closed in the winter, Greenville officials were told Wednesday during a public hearing.
To ensure that doesn’t happen and that local jobs are preserved, town officials are taking the lead of other tourist communities and are asking property tax payers at the June town meeting to appropriate $28,700 for trail grooming next year.
Although Rangeley, Millinocket, Caribou and Carrabassett Valley all donate a range of $10,000 to $40,000 a year for snowmobile trail grooming, Greenville has never appropriated funds before, according to Greenville Town Manager John Simko.
A favorable vote would add about $13 onto the tax bill of a homeowner whose property is valued at $150,000, Simko said.
Several residents spoke in favor of the appropriation Wednesday while two residents stated their opposition.
“You just can’t keep taking from the taxpayers,” resident George Lavigne said.
Leigh Turner, owner of the Black Frog Restaurant, said it was time the town helped the industry. “If we don’t have the trails, we’re looking at a monster economic impact,” he said Wednesday. “You think the impact on taxes are going to be big by this [appropriation], wait until you see the impact if we lose the millions of dollars … by not having decent grooming.”
Snowmobile grooming is not a taxpayer issue, resident Graylon Smith said. Any costs associated with it should be borne by those businesses that benefit and the users, he suggested.
Giving a glimpse of the history of the snowmobile program, Simko said that in 1996 volunteers manned the machines the town purchased mostly through state grants. Later, volunteers from the Moosehead Riders Snowmobile Club took over the grooming. As more people handled the machines, there were more breakdowns and the grooming became less consistent, leading to many complaints.
In 2007, Lauri and John Waitkus stepped up to the plate and contracted for the trail grooming. They hired local people to groom the trails and make trail improvements and the results were lauded by both visitors and residents, according to Simko.
That good service, however, came at a huge cost because the Waitkuses ended up paying $64,402 last year from their own pockets to augment the local donations and the state grant. The grooming cost $96,369 while the revenues amounted to $31,967. Those revenues included a state grant of $25,215 from snowmobile registrations and donations from businesses and the public.
“We simply cannot put the amount of personal money into the program that we have in the last two years,” Lauri Waitkus told Simko in a May 11 e-mail.
Resident Jim Castonguay questioned the future of trail grooming. “If we don’t appropriate this and the Waitkuses leave town, are we going to become the laughingstock of the state again in terms of trails and grooming?”
If the couple were to withdraw from the program, Simko said the town would attempt to groom part of the interconnecting trail using one machine and a handful of volunteers.
Turner said if the town goes back to grooming the trails the way it did three years ago, the community would be in serious trouble.
Snowmobiling is the sole industry in the winter and the dollars spent trickle down to help businesses remain open and pay the wages of local people, businessman Paul Breton said. The town has only two industries: building construction and tourism, both of which have taken a hit from the poor economy, he said.
Dave Hall, who volunteers his help grooming the trails and owns a local business, agreed. “If we were going to have MBNA come into town and employ 30 people, the town would come up with $20 grand to get them to come here; well, if we spend $28 [grand] we’re going to keep everybody that’s here employed in the wintertime.”
“There is no other winter market, that’s it,” Turner said. “It’s not going to happen by way of the ski slope, it’s not going to happen by way of ice fishing, it’s not going to happen by way of cross-country skiers. Anybody that thinks there’s going to be something else develop in this community to bring the tourists in is crazy.”