CAMDEN — Voting 5 to 0, the Select Board in Camden has elected to make Wednesdays a free-day for all Camden residents who want to ski at the Camden Snow Bowl. Whether that happens this year or next lies in the details that are currently getting ironed out; however, in voting for that measure, the Select Board reaffirmed its recognition that Camden residents shoulder much of the costs associated with the town-owned winter ski operation.
In the same motion, made by member Marc Ratner, the Select Board also approved an 25 percent discount on daily tickets purchased by Camden residents, a 3 percent increase to the price of 2019-2020 season passes, and reinstated the two-hour weekday ticket, which had been in place for many years prior to the Ragged Mountain redevelopment of the last four years.
The two-hour ticket, popular with working people who slip away from the office for a lunchtime ski, will be sold for $16.
The Snow Bowl, said Select Board Chairman Bob Falciani, is “a wonderful toy for the entire town.” But, he added, “the Camden residents are carrying the whole weight, tax-wise.”
The reductions in ticket fees and Camden free-on-Wedesdays — informally dubbed by the board — goes toward reducing some of the load on that Camden taxpayer who skis or wants to learn to ski, and encourages residents to visit the mountain more. The free tickets will not extend to free equipment rentals.
“The free Wednesdays for Camden residents may start this season,” said Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell, on Wednesday, Jan. 23, the day following the regularly scheduled Select Board meeting at which discussion continued regarding Snow Bowl fees, ticket prices, summer camps at the Snow Bowl and Camden Harbor annual rates and fees. (See the Jan. 8 Select Board packet for the entire list of proposed rate increases for town cost centers.)
Caler-Bell added that Snow Bowl Director Beth Ward will be assessing whether it is practical to institute the Camden free-on-Wednesday this season or wait until next season. All other Snow Bowl price changes and adjustments will be effected next winter, 2019-2020.
While initial changes to the rate structure were discussed by the Camden Parks and Recreation Committee, the proposal to establish even more cost reductions for the Camden taxpayer emerged in the Jan. 22 meeting.
The discussion followed a brief conversation about the town raising rates for the summer recreation camp at the Snow Bowl. But because that proposal had emerged just prior to the meeting, the Select Board elected to table the matter until another meeting.
Select Board members noted that the summer recreation camp, which takes place at the Snow Bowl but is operated in conjunction with the Penobscot Bay YMCA, is one of the most economically accessible day camps for area children.
“It’s the only affordable place there is,” said Ratner. “Even though it doesn’t seem that much of a raise it really could hurt people.”
He asked for the justification of a price increase from $50 a week to $160 a week, which lead to more conversation about camp details, and the idea of providing scholarships for children using some of the town trust funds.
Falciani said more time was necessary to define the program, while board member Alison McKellar noted that the new information had not been included in the board’s meeting packet.
The board then agreed to table the discussion.
As the board turned its attention to the Snow Bowl rate structure, they also acknowledged that the Snow Bowl was operating $30,000 “in the blue,” meaning that most recent numbers reflecting season ticket sales were above what had been budgeted, and that skiers still purchase season passes well into January.
Snowmaking is a week away from being finished, report Snow Bowl Manager Beth Ward, which much of the mountain now covered. Ticket sales from the autumn chairlift rides had buoyed the $926,000 budget and the Snow Bowl is also looking forward to a financially successful Toboggan National Championship weekend in early February.
While the Select Board was encouraged by the current fiscal state of the Snow Bowl, its members agreed to raise rental rates for the weekend lodge use from $500 to $600.
As the board initiated talk about lift ticket prices, Camden resident, and former board member, Anita Brosius-Scott questioned why the former two-hour ticket had been eliminated from the Snow Bowl practice.
She described how in years past she and friends, who did not purchase season passes, would go to the mountain for two hours or less during the work week to enjoy a lunchtime window of skiing. She recalled that two-hour ticket rates then were approximately $12, she said.
But that changed from a two- to three-hour ticket, which is now sold for $23.
The result was a ticket not so worthwhile, she said.
“I would like the Select Board to reconsider that,” she said. “We’re on the hook for this very expensive facility. Unless we buy season tickets, there’s no benefit to Camden resident, which sticks in my craw, frankly.”
She also noted that the Snow Bowl accounts for 51 percent of the total annual municipal electricity use.
‘The Energy Committee is tearing its hair out by what to do,” she said. (Brosius-Scott is chairwoman of that committee.) “Anytime we are in the red the taxpayers are on the hook.”
She continued: “I consider it a benefit as a resident, to go the Snow Bowl at lunchtime, meet a friend, and ski. We only want an hour and a half.”
Board member Falciani then asked why the mountain had no senior weekday rates.
Mountain manager Ward, who was at the board meeting, responded that the issue was a matter of monitoring skiers with appropriately marked tickets.
“We have a bazillion ticket options,” she said. “There’s a tracking issue here.”
If a skier comes for two hours and then ends up staying four hours, it is hard to distinguish them from the skier who purchased an afternoon ticket for $39.
“They could stay all day for a two-hour ticket,” she said.
That’s when board member Ratner asked why no reduced price daily lift ticket existed for Camden residents.
“Those are the people who pay for the Snow Bowl,” he said.
Ward responded that the current pricing, “has been since redevelopment and the last three years.”
Ratner replied, “That doesn’t mean it is fair.”
Board member Jenna Looker then suggested resurrecting the two-hour ticket.
“It makes more sense, especially when we are talking about a ticket that is exciting for a local working community,” she said.
The logistics of instituting the free-on-Wednesdays for Camden residents were briefly discussed, and partially resolved when two board members pulled out their drivers’ licenses and determined that their town residence was stamped on it.
Make it simple, the board agreed, for taxpayers and renters. Look to “how Katrina [Oakes, the town clerk] does it” for processing voters at elections.
Ward mentioned that the Snow Bowl had just printed 10,000 brochures which included the current Snow Bowl prices, she added that they intended to use the brochures into next season.
“Put stickers on them,” said Brosius-Scott.
“The right thing is to change the prices,” Ratner reiterated.
Recreation Committee member Mark Haskell then stood up and encouraged the board to keep rates the same for this next year, and to review the data before changing the ticket prices.
He did, however, agreed with the free-on-Wednesday proposal.
“It is a fabulous idea to make it free, and promote to give the whole town a day,” he said.
McKellar countered to his position that rates did not need to be reduced, saying that the town did not want to miss “out on revenue because we are pricing people out.”
While the board discussed a proposed 5 percent season pass increase, they considered it too steep and held it at a 3 percent increase. They noted the already built-in 2.5 percent charge that automatically appears when the public purchases season passes online.
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