Portsmouth mulls ways to ‘fix’ campground

The current managers of the Melville Ponds Campground say the town is overcharging its users, many of whom have left to camp elsewhere. The current managers of the Melville Ponds Campground say the town is overcharging its users, many of whom have left to camp elsewhere.

PORTSMOUTH — Dissatisfied by the lack of profits being turned at the Melville Ponds Campground, the Town Council may put the management of the operation out to bid — or possibly shut down the operation for 2015.

The current managers of the Melville Ponds Campground say the town is overcharging its users, many of whom have left to camp elsewhere.

The current managers of the Melville Ponds Campground say the town is overcharging its users, many of whom have left to camp elsewhere.

“It’s just not a healthy situation,” Town Administrator John Klimm told the Town Council during at budget workshop Monday night. “We ended up in a place that’s very different from where we started.”

The campground, part of the 153-acre Melville Recreation Area, is running at a loss of $5,745 for this fiscal year — $226,000 in revenues, with $231,745 in expenditures. In 2012, the campground’s losses were over $12,000.

“The system is broken,” said Mr. Klimm, adding that the town could “pull the plug” on the entire operation or advertise for a request for proposals (RFP) from interested parties, which was his recommendation.

Council Vice President John Blaess agreed with putting out an RFP. “It’s a beautiful site and if run right, one of the jewels in town,” he said.

The current managers of the campground, however, said the town has never provided them with the necessary tools to make a profit at Melville.

“I’ve been down there for 24 years,” said Bill Bryant, the campground’s resident manager along with his wife, Lisa. He said that over the years, he’s approached the council for “this that and the other thing, and we get constantly turned down.”

The biggest problem, he said, is with the campground’s rates, which went up dramatically after the Town of Middletown raised its own by 24 percent one year.

“We are overcharging our campers,” Mr. Bryant said. “We’ve lost some good seasonal people because of our prices.”

The campground charges $25 for tent sites on most days, but $35 on a holiday weekend. For a full setup (water, electricity and sewer), the cost is $60 and $70. Monthly ($625 to $782) and seasonal ($3,219 and $3,782) rates are also offered.

Council member David Gleason said the seasonal rates seemed liked a good deal to him, but Mr. Bryant pointed out that Melville doesn’t have a nearby beach like in Middletown, nor the amenities campers find in Cape Cod.

Mr. Bryant also took issue with the fact that the town put out an RFP for the campground back last fall, without telling the managers first.

“I don’t think it’s fair to me or my wife … to be treated like that,” he said.

Added Lisa Bryant, “Why would you put an RFP out when you have two willing, capable people who know how to run a business and have been willing to do it?”

‘This is about revenue’

Mr. Klimm, however, said his proposal for an RFP is nothing personal against the Bryants. He added that the RFP wold allow the Bryants and others to put together a plan.

“This is no way excludes Bill and Lisa. It will allow them to finally be heard,” he said, adding that not putting the management out to bid for decades is poor financial management. “We can’t forget at the end of the day that this is about revenue.”

The council unanimously approved a provisional budget for the campground of $205,179 — about $26,000 less than what’s allotted now — which Mr. Klimm said is merely a “placeholder” for the next fiscal year. It’s possible the campground may not operate in 2015, he said.

Mr. Bryant, who’s been told not to take reservations for 2015, said that’s not good business. “Your revenue has stopped for 2015,” he said.

“And I would say, ‘What revenue?’” responded Mr. Kilmm.

The council took no action on an RFP for the campground operation, but will likely take it up at its next regular meeting.

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