Melville Ponds Campground hasn't been generating profits for Portsmouth and the time has come to consider putting operations out to bid or shutting it down, Town Administrator John C. Klimm told the Town Council last week during a budget hearing.
The council did not make any changes to the budget, voting unanimously to approve the campgrounds $205,179 annual budget but not after a discussion about the fate of the site.
"The system is broken," Klimm said. "And it needs to be fixed."
There was a time that the property actually generated revenue for the town, providing it with money to fund recreational programs and activities for children.
Operations used to be put out to bid, but "it hasn't been put out to bid for years and years," Klimm said. "Best practices would suggest that not going out to bid is not a healthy situation."
Not only that, Klimm said the operations need to be restructured — something he's discussed with every council member.
"What we've entered is a place very different from where we started," Klimm said.
One option would be to just pull the plug. The second, Klimm said, is to draft a request for proposals and craft a set of best practices to go along with it.
If the council is on board, "we would pursue aggressively' the RFP work to have management of the facility out to bid before the summer is over.
Town Council President John A. Seveney said there is room for further exploration on how the town utilizes all the facilities on the Glen and said it's a concern that Sandy Point Beach is losing money, Mellville Park Campground is losing money.
"It can be a successful operation, we just have to figure out how to restructure the business," Seveney said.
He suggested something incentive based with "risk share" between the town and operator in terms of getting to "some sort of specified top line revenue goal we should be shooting for."
The campground managers told the council they haven't been equipped by the town to be profitable.
"We are overcharging our campers," said Bill Bryant, a manager.
Bryant said he's come to the table with requests that could have generated positive change but was constantly rebuffed.
"We get constantly turned down," he said.
Campers are charged $25 for sites, $35 on holidays. Water and power hookups run $60 and $70 for regular days and holidays respectively.
The town also offers seasonal passes for $3,200 to $3,700.
Klimm noted that the RFP would be open to the current managers, who could submit their own plan after the Bryants said they felt it was unfair for the town to put out an RFP last year without telling them and talking about it now "when you have two willing, capable people who know how to run a business and have been willing to do it."