GREENVILLE, Maine — For many, it came down to what was best for the town.
Residents voted at the annual town meeting Monday to raise $28,700 from property taxes to help support the snowmobile trail maintenance program.
Selectmen felt it necessary to ask residents for the help because without good trails, snowmobilers might vacation elsewhere in the state, and that would affect the local economy.
Earlier this year, contractors Lauri and John Waikus advised town officials they could no longer continue to personally absorb the funding gap in the trail-grooming program for Interconnecting Trail System 86. The couple said they paid $64,403 out of pocket last season to augment the local business donations and the state grant.
Under the Waikuses’ tutelage since 2007, the trail grooming has garnered praise from snowmobile enthusiasts. Prior to their involvement, the handful of volunteers who groomed the trails faced numerous machine breakdowns, which resulted in inconsistent grooming and subsequent complaints.
Leigh Turner, owner of the Black Frog Restaurant, said if the town “sinks back to the pathetic conditions” of the trails three years ago, it would be in serious trouble. Snowmobiling is essentially the town’s only winter economic activity, and it has a multimillion-dollar impact on the community, he said Monday. Turner said he makes a significant four-figure donation annually to the local trail-grooming program, as do other businesses, but those funds stretch only so far.
While a few people said the sport should be funded through user fees and by those businesses that profit from snowmobiling, others recognized the ripple effect the sport has in the community. As the town’s major winter business, snowmobiling provides jobs, keeps businesses open year-round, and lessens the impact on the town’s welfare account, supporters said Monday.
“Snowmobiling is the lifeblood of the [winter] economy,” Selectman Eugene Murray said.
While this is the first time Greenville residents have funded the snowmobile program, other tourist communities have done so for some time, according to Town Manager John Simko. He said Rangeley donates about $40,000, and Millinocket and Carrabassett Valley each donate about $15,000 for trail grooming.
One resident wondered aloud where the town will draw the line. Will the next request be to subsidize the skiing industry and the fishing industry? the unidentified resident asked. “I would hope not,” he said.
Residents also voted Monday to raise $7,800 for curbside recycling but raised no funds for the winter maintenance of sidewalks and for the purchase of related equipment. With that latter vote, the town will continue with its present method of cleaning the sidewalks after the roads have been cleared of snow from snowstorms.
Since the budget adopted Monday exceeds the property tax levy limit by $73,187, residents voted 72-10 to increase the limit.