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Taxpayer funding for skating rink debated at town meeting

By Erik Eisele
CONWAY — The library budget was the big issue at the town deliberative meeting, but the prospect of a taxpayer-funded skating rink in Schouler Park briefly enlivened Loynd Auditorium as 11 p.m. approached Monday night.
"I think it's fine that North Conway has a skating rink," budget committee member and former selectman Mark Hounsell said, but the entire town shouldn't pay for something that is an amenity for North Conway Village. "We never use it. We never intend to use it," he said.
The warrant article in question was placed on the ballot by petition. It asks voters to raise $5,000 to pay a little under half of the expense of the skating rink in Schouler Park, which up until this winter was a joint venture of the precinct and the North Conway Outing Club, not the town.
Liability concerns, however, following the accidental death of a woman last winter, put the continued operation of the rink at risk. The town agreed to staff and manage the facility using money raised by a local community group, the Community Celebrations Committee, which was formed to assist with local events, and $6,000 from the North Conway Water Precinct.
The Community Celebrations Committee, however, only ever intended to fill the gap for one year, according to members of the group. Committee members raised enough money to make a number of improvements, but going forward they would like to see the town foot the bill. The petitioned warrant article is how that handoff would happen, but first it needs to get past the voters.
Melody Nestor, a member of the celebrations committee, said she was supporting the article so the rink would have consistent funding. "It's a program for the locals," she said, but it also supports the economy. "It's good for tourism."
Selectman Mary Seavey countered Hounsell's critique. "We are not a town of Conway and North Conway," she said. This is all the same town. "It's time we broke down these barriers."
"The skating rink is used by all," she said.
"The skating rink is just such a critical part of the village," Dot Seybold, who is running for police commission, said. Other communities, like Bethel, Maine, and Twin Mountain, are trying to duplicate North Conway's aesthetic, she said. The town should maintain what it has.
Ultimately the petitioned article moved ahead without any changes, meaning voters will decide in April whether or not the town should take the cost of the rink on.
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