RICHMOND — The largest town meeting vote in nearly 15 years rejected borrowing $1.5 million to buy and convert a dormant Girl Scout camp into a municipal park.
By a count of 163-130, Wednesday's gathering at Richmond Consolidated School turned down town officials' proposal to purchase Camp Marion White for $1.375 million from the Girls Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts. The remaining $125,000 would have paid to upgrade key buildings, do trail work and raze unwanted structures, creating a multi-purpose outdoor recreational facility open to all — not just Richmond residents.
Since a loan was involved, a two-thirds majority approval was needed as well as a yes vote during Saturday's special town-wide election to exempt the bond from the tax levy limits of Proposition 2½. Only a simple majority is needed for the second approval.
The election will go as planned from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Town Hall. If the exemption passes, town officials can try again to get town meeting voter approval.
Opponents felt the town couldn't afford to buy the three parcels totaling 50 acres along Swamp Road, the actual camp along Richmond Pond. Several naysayers cited more pressing needs in town.
"We have so many other things to do in Richmond," said Harry Vincent. "When are we going to come up with a decent library for the children."
Others cited the need to upgrade the town hall and the five years of debt left to pay on the 20-year bond that funded the school renovation.
Supporters of buying the camp saw it as an investment for the those children benefiting from the school project.
"I think this is a gift for future generations," said Lonny Jarrett. "It's a small price to pay."
A single-family homeowner with property assessed at $405,000 as of June 30 would pay an extra $195 for the first year of the 10-year loan, according to town officials.
Camp Marion White itself consists of two parcels totaling 29 acres off Swamp Road near the Pittsfield city line. The remaining 21 acres across the road, known as the Beaver Dam parcel, would have remained as hiking only, according to town officials.
Camp Marion White became available about a year ago, when the Girl Scouts decided to divest itself of several properties no longer used or in declining usage in recent years.
Suzanne Smiley, chief operating officer for the regional council, told The Eagle last month few local Girl Scout troops have used the camp within the past decade and the council stopped hosting programs and outings there about five years ago. There are some 200 scouts in the Berkshires among the 8,000 served by the council with efforts underway to boost the local numbers, she said.
The Girl Scouts bought the camp in 1952 from the Pittsfield Women's Club after having used the facility since 1939 when it was a girls day camp run by Marion White.