Newport cancels town ball programs

Posted April 07, 2010, at 11:39 p.m.

NEWPORT, Maine — Residents here will not be forced to choose which baseball, T-ball or softball teams their children play on this summer after a decision by the Board of Selectmen to dissolve a town-run program started last month.

The ball programs instead will be run by Sebasticook Valley Community Center, a Newport-based nonprofit organization that has been running the programs for many years. Selectmen cited confusion among town residents about which program to join, along with meager sign-ups for the new town programs, as reasons for their unanimous vote.

Selectmen decided last month to have the town build its own recreation programs after they pulled $100,000 in funding from the community center because of an investigation into the center’s finances. The results of that investigation have been turned over to the Penobscot County District Attorney’s Office, according to Police Chief Leonard Macdaid. Sign-ups have been held at both the town office and community center over the past few weeks, with some registered in both places.

Community center officials have been adamant that despite losing the $100,000 in revenue, they will do everything possible to avoid cutting even one of their dozens of programs.

Town Manager James Ricker said after the board’s decision that he would contact the affected families as soon as possible to tell them to join the community center’s baseball, T-ball and softball programs.

“If [the community center] is going forward, let’s let them do it,” said Selectman Randy Davis. “We certainly don’t need two.”

In related business, the board discussed other recreation priorities in town, including renovating the town-owned tennis courts, creating an outdoor basketball court, improving the town beach and building a seasonal ice-skating rink. They also discussed how to work with the community center despite the financial impasse. For example, selectmen said tax dollars would be used for maintenance and other projects at the beach so the community center can continue to offer swimming lessons and lifeguards this summer.

Community center officials, including board of directors President Pam Newcomb and Director Gene Rouse, who were present at the meeting, said they were receptive to any arrangements that might help programs survive.

“We don’t want to let the community or the kids down,” said Newcomb. Several selectmen said that is the town’s goal, too.

“We’re going to overcome this situation at some point, but we just haven’t reached that point yet,” said board Chairman Thomas Breitweg. “Both sides want to arrive at a spot we can all live with.”

Newcomb responded by urging “better lines of communication” between the town and the community center. Selectman Christopher Dow agreed.

“When it comes to the children, we don’t want to have sides,” he said.

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