Amherst’s Peabody Mill losing money

AMHERST – The Peabody Mill Environmental Center has been losing money in recent years, and Recreation Director Craig Fraley told selectmen that expanding its summer camp to a full day might put it back in the black.

Town recreation programs in general are self-funded, with fees paying for programs, but Peabody Mill has seen a significant loss over the past few years.

Summer camp was very popular, Fraley said, but each year it has lost campers, and he suspects that’s because there are fewer non-working parents and half-day camp doesn’t work for them.

“I’d like to make camp more affordable and more profitable,” he said.

Peabody Mill is an environmental and science education center at the end of Brook Road that abuts 600 acres of Joe English conservation land.

Fraley was at the board’s Sept. 22 meeting to explain his department’s revolving accounts, described as a way to encourage self-funding programs that would otherwise be tax supported.

Selectmen were concerned that the recreation department’s other revolving account, which covers the rest of the recreation programs, has the opposite problem, a large surplus: $221,000 as reported in last year’s town report, due partly to a staff member vacancy.

In response to a selectman’s question, he said the money can’t go into the general fund for taxpayer relief without a town vote and that might leave “a sour taste” because the money is supposed to be going for recreation programs.

“We have to look” to see if the town is charging too much for recreation programs, he said, and see if there’s a way to give people more for their money so his department is not building “this big cash cow.”