Thursday, December 5, 2013
By Doug Harlow firstname.lastname@example.org
SKOWHEGAN — The annual Halloween haunted house is moving to a new location Saturday, and the Christmas parade will be organized by another group this year after selectmen decided not to replace staff members who usually helped with the events.
Selectmen voted this month against filling a vacant Parks and Recreation Department position and will fill a vacated Highway Department post with a seasonal employee, according to Town Manager John Doucette Jr.
The Halloween haunted house is moving this year from the Skowhegan Opera House to the Skowhegan Community Center, off West Front Street, said Denise LeBlanc, parks and recreation director.
“It was moved due to lack of manpower. I can’t afford to have my staff leave the Community Center when we are open to go down to the Opera House,” LeBlanc said.
She said without an assistant director, her staff is down to three people including herself and one person who works outside the office building. The center is open from about 5 a.m., with morning programs for older people, to about 9 p.m. six days a week with groups, tournaments and teams coming and going the entire time.
“One of my full-time employees got a new job, and selectmen decided not to refill it to save the town money,” she said. “Now I’m short-staffed.”
LeBlanc said she has managed to find volunteers for the haunted house, which runs 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday. Volunteers include the middle school field hockey team and a Boy Scout group.
The haunted house is not recommended for young children. Admission costs $3 per person.
Parks and Recreation will hold its annual children’s Halloween parade downtown; and trick-or-treating and “Casper’s House,” a live performance at the Opera House, on Saturday beginning at 3:30 p.m. Admission to “Casper’s House” costs $1.
Main Street Skowhegan, a downtown revitalization group, will coordinate the entire Christmas Holiday Stroll on Dec. 6 and 7.
Dugan Murphy, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan, said his group traditionally organized the Holiday Stroll on Saturday. At that event, each downtown business offers treats and merchandise promotions with wagon rides, photos with Santa Claus and a Chamber of Commerce bonfire.
Parks and Recreation handled the parade on Friday each year, but now Main Street also will organize it.
“Denise is missing at least one full-time position that she used to have and felt she couldn’t maintain the parade this year. We’d rather add it to our workload than not have it this year, so we took it on,” Murphy said.
LeBlanc said she still will volunteer to help, though.
“I am going to personally assist them with that to make sure everything still runs smoothly,” she said.
Doucette said the moves were made because the coming fiscal year promises to be tight with changes in personal property tax laws for businesses, another anticipated drop in state revenue sharing, the first $849,000 payment on the town’s $11 million sewer bond and the regular annual budget.
“It’s a reality, and it’s the selectmen’s way of dealing with it,” he said.
He said the days of the current tax rate of $16.40 are gone. The tax rate for the coming years could reach $18 or $19 for every $1,000 in property value.
Newell Graf, vice chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said he was among the four selectmen to vote not to fill the two positions. Board Chairwoman Betty Austin was the lone dissenter.
“In a nutshell, it is to do with money,” Graf said. “We’re getting ready to go into budget and everybody’s going to be scrambling to make cuts, especially this year.”
With the changes in personal property taxes for businesses, Skowhegan stands to lose $64 million worth of valuation on which business equipment taxes are based, he said. Graf said the town took $1 million out of surplus at the annual Town Meeting in June to offset taxes and may not have enough money to do that again.
Graf said it makes more sense to leave the positions vacant now than it would to cut positions later and hurt someone who gets a job and then has to lose it.
The Highway Department position pays $12.01 per hour, and the Parks and Recreation position pays $13.55 per hour.
Doug Harlow — 612-2367