WINCHESTER — Adventure-seeking teens would normally be gearing up for the start of the Ellen Lambert Murphy Memorial Community Center’s summer adventure program, but this year they will have to look elsewhere.
The ELMM center canceled its six-week Adventure Crew program for 6th- to 8th-grade children, as well as the weekly field trips for its day camp, because of a potential $50,000 funding shortfall stemming from the town’s budget troubles.
A disagreement between the budget committee and selectmen over how to fund Winchester’s water and sewer departments led the committee to recommend not funding the departments as a form of protest. This threw off state calculations for the town’s permitted spending limit, and almost led the N.H. Department of Revenue Administration to require $419,000 in cuts, including the center’s funding.
Although it appears the problems are fixed and the community center will receive its funding, the program is still gone for the year.
Frank E. Linnenbringer, president of the center’s board of trustees, said the money from the town represents anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of the center’s annual budget. Other funding comes from room rentals, grants, registration fees and the center’s trust fund.
Linnenbringer said the board held a special meeting on June 4 after members learned about the potential shortfall. Unsure if the nonprofit community center would receive the money, the board planned on having only the programs’ $65 registration fees available as funding.
The center runs two summer programs, the Adventure Crew and Kids Club, a day camp for children in kindergarten through 5th grade.
Linnenbringer said the board was confident it could run the day camp, which starts Monday, if it removed the weekly field trips, but the adventure program, which does activities such as whitewater rafting and rock climbing, could not be done without off-site trips.
Cheryl A. Laraba, the center’s vacation activity coordinator, said the center had to plan for the worst.
“We can’t plan a summer camp and not have the funds to back it up,” Laraba said. “Because then if we didn’t get the funds that would be a disaster.”
Office Manager Danielle M. Borges said the adventure program, which had 28 participants last year, offered local children opportunities they wouldn’t normally have available.
“Our parents don’t typically have the budget to take their kids to things like rock-climbing clinics,” Borges said.
Linnenbringer said the board notified parents who had already registered their children about the changes and cancellation so they could find alternate plans if necessary. Most of the parents were understanding, but the children, especially the older ones, were disappointed, he said.
Now it looks as if the center will get its funds after all. A Cheshire County Superior Court judge ordered the town’s spending plan be permitted, including the center’s funding. Although the official approval from the Department of Revenue Administration has not arrived, the town expects the agency will comply with the order.
The check for the center is cut and will be mailed Thursday after the town’s contract with the center is signed at the July 11 selectmen’s meeting, said Winchester Town Administrator Joan C. Morel.
Though Linnenbringer said the timing of the payment is similar to other years, it is too late for the center to start the summer camp.
“We’re not going to try to throw together a summer camp in two days,” he said.
The center will be looking to reintegrate some field trips into its day camp program, but Linnenbringer said now the center will have to contend with a transportation problem. The day camp has two 15-passenger vans, but needs to rent extra vans or buses for field trips, he said.
However, the finite supply of rental transportation will have been mostly claimed by other camp programs in the area by now, Linnenbringer said.
“If you haven’t already reserved a vehicle you kind of have to do without,” he said.
Both Linnenbringer and Borges said they were not blaming anyone for the center’s situation.
“I’m not angry,” Borges said. “I understand it was a mistake. We’re just making the best of it.”
Garrett Brnger can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1436, or firstname.lastname@example.org.