Richmond voters reject Camp Marion White purchase at ballot box
RICHMOND — Opponents over the weekend delivered the knockout punch to the town taking over Camp Marion White and converting into a municipal park.
By a count of 255-168, voters during Saturday's special election rejected exempting the cost of the proposed purchase from the Proposition 2 1/2 tax levy limit. On Wednesday, a special town meeting turned down Richmond officials request for a $1.5 million loan toward buying the dormant Girl Scout camp for $1.375 million from the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts. The remaining $125,000 would have paid to upgrade the lodge, picnic pavilion and other key buildings, do trail work and raze unwanted structures creating a multi-purpose outdoor recreational facility open to all — not just Richmond residents.
However, the town meeting vote of 163-130 against the project — a two-thirds majority approval was needed since borrowing was involved — didn't negate the validity of the election. If the exemption had passed, town officials could have represented the project to another special town meeting within 90 days of the election.
An ad hoc town planning committee that spent more than a year crafting the proposal will meet on Wednesday to determine whether local officials should heed the mandate from the voters.
"I don't think we have too many options — unless someone buys [the camp] and donates it to the town," said Richmond Selectman Roger Manzolini. "We did our job and gave people an opportunity to vote and they spoke."
Critics felt the town couldn't afford to buy the three parcels totaling 50 acres along Swamp Road, the actual camp fronting Richmond Pond.
"We're dominated by a school budget that keeps going up, up and up and is now more than have our [overall town] budget," said Fred Schubert. As the town's tax collector, Schubert felt about a third of the homeowners would have really struggled with the tax impact of borrowing $1.5 million, plus interest.
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.
Opposition during the special town meeting cited more pressing future fiscal concerns such as the need to upgrade the town hall and the five years of debt left to pay on the 20-year bond that funded the Richmond Consolidated School renovation.
Supporters of buying the camp saw it as an investment for future generations and help draw younger people, especially families with children, to this bedroom community.
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.
The 50 acres 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.