Newport selectmen to fund rec center

Posted May 06, 2010, at 9:42 p.m.

NEWPORT, Maine — Selectmen have agreed to resume some funding for the Sebasticook Valley Community Center as long as the destination for every penny of taxpayer money is documented.

The agreement, which was approved Wednesday by selectmen, will be cemented during the next meeting on May 19, when the board will have the option of signing off on about $45,000 worth of invoices presented by the community center.

“The selectmen are not going to simply write blank checks anymore to the community center or anyone else,” said Town Manager James Ricker on Thursday. “The board wants to be careful and guarded how they expend future funds.”

In March, after the revelation that the community center was being investigated for missing funds, selectmen decided to withhold $100,000 approved for recreation by taxpayers, which represents about 40 percent of the center’s total budget. Wednesday night’s decision means the community center, which as a nonprofit organization runs dozens of programs for Newport-area residents of all ages, is again eligible for some of the $100,000. Under the new agreement the town will cover operating expenses such as heat, electricity and payroll, but only after seeing itemized invoices.

Gene Rouse, the center’s director, said he was pleased with the town’s decision.

“I think we’re moving forward,” he said. “We’ve gotten to a point where we can actually have a reasonable, rational dialogue and move forward in the best interests of the kids in town. We’ve broken down some barriers.”

Rouse said without the funding, the center might have been forced to curtail programs or reduce staff hours.

When selectmen cut funding for the center, they also decided to create a recreation department within town government. Ricker said that effort is progressing with the town having taken on the summer swimming program at Sebasticook Lake, which is advertising for lifeguards. Also, repairs are under way on the town’s aging tennis courts.

As part of the new agreement, according to Ricker, the town will focus its money in ways that will benefit young people.

“When the recreation program was set up, it was for the children and now it’s merged into many other things,” he said. “The town of Newport really wants to get back to the basics of providing recreation for our youth, and we want to do it at the least possible cost.”

Newport Police Chief Leonard Macdaid said Wednesday that the investigation into the center’s finances is continuing and that the list of suspects, which previously had one name on it, has grown. Macdaid would not say how many people are suspects, other than that it is more than one.

“We’ve had some new things that have arose and the investigation has turned a little more in-depth,” said Macdaid, who would not say how much money is missing.

“This involves a considerable amount of money is all I’ll say,” he said.

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