Councilor calls for community center’s end

Posted Jan. 12, 2011, at 5:47 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 7:24 a.m.

LINCOLN, Maine — With the Ballard Hill Community Center having accumulated net operating losses of about $40,500 over the past two fiscal years, Town Councilor Curt Ring thinks it is time that the facility be retired, he said Wednesday.

“Most communities have some kind of community center, and you hope that their communities use them. Unfortunately, it [Ballard Hill] is not used to a very large extent,” Ring said Wednesday. “We have been paying for that building for the past two years out of a reserve fund. I think there’s a better way to use the reserve fund money.”

The Town Council agreed on Monday to hold a public hearing on Feb. 14 to discuss closing the center and taking it off town books, possibly by selling it or giving it away. Exactly what will be done with the building is uncertain, but its continued disuse makes it a liability, Ring said.

It’s not a new Council subject. Councilors chose during a meeting in August 2009 to keep the building open until June 30, 2010, the end of the fiscal year, but several expressed concerns that its lack of use made it too expensive to operate.

Citing the expense to heat and maintain the community center, the Council narrowly avoided voting to close it during budget deliberations in June 2008. Several votes occurred before councilors, who loathe raising town taxes, chose to fund its operation.

At the time, the programs using the town-owned building included Meals for Me, a Christian school, Head Start, a clothing bank and a few other civic groups that cater largely to low-income residents. The building also is available for private functions, such as weddings or parties, but is seldom rented for those purposes.

Today, the meals program remains at the building, and is charged no rent. A private business that teaches self-defense rents or leases space in the building; several Recreation Department programs use the building, which also is used for town records and recreation department storage, Town Manager Lisa Goodwin said.

The building registered a loss of $14,000 and $26,500 in the 2009-10 and 2008-09 fiscal years, respectively. The building is paid for out of a reserve account that has approximately $50,000 left in it, Goodwin said.

“We don’t bring in enough revenue from its rentals,” Goodwin said. “It is not used enough.

“The other programs within it would have to find other venues,” Goodwin said of the private business, Meals for Me and the Recreation Department. “The most difficult challenge we would face would be finding a space for town records. By law we have to maintain them in good condition. Every day, we create new records.”

Given the building’s lack of use and the constant pressure town leaders feel to limit expenses, emptying the reserve account to keep Ballard Hill operational doesn’t make sense, Ring said. Several attempts by Goodwin and her predecessor, former Town Manager Glenn Aho, to find more use for the building were unsuccessful.

“You just have to cut things loose after awhile and spend the money more wisely,” Ring said.

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