Anything but taxes

September 27, 1995|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Most small towns would sell bonds to pay for a new town hall. Maybe boost fees for building permits or increase fines for parking tickets.

Union Bridge holds a picnic. A Tupperware party. And pancake breakfasts, bake sales, commemorative brick sales and a raffle for hunting rifles and a shotgun.

Next year, maybe a dance, too.

When the Carroll County village, population 932, took out a $200,000 loan in 1993 to build a town hall, community sentiment was overwhelmingly opposed to new taxes. So Union Bridge decided to raise funds for the 20-year mortgage much the way villagers would find the money to send a marching band to a state tournament -- with fund-raisers.

"I had been involved with the church, and I knew if you do different things you can make money," said Sara Black, the funding committee member who suggested the town raise enough through volunteer programs. "If you have a good group, you can do it."

The cynical who might scoff at pancake breakfasts should note that seven flapjack feasts a year bring in about $1,000 each. The annual town picnic yields $2,000 to $3,000; the gun raffle, $4,000 to $6,000. The Tupperware

party only brought in about $30, but the commemorative brick sales have yielded a few hundred dollars.

And there's the occasional windfall. A man came to the town office in July and said he would donate $1,000 if he could remain anonymous.

"I can do that," the mayor said.

So far, volunteer fund-raisers have not only met the $1,544.61 monthly mortgage, but have paid up through Jan. 1, 1998. They have reduced the debt to $176,639.

"We are the town," said John Gartrell, president of the Union Bridge Area Heritage Committee. "So we have to support paying the debt for the new town hall."

The volunteers are looking at about 16 years of mortgage payments. That's 16 years of climbing out of bed at 2 a.m. to fry bacon for pancake breakfasts. Sixteen years of peeling 150 pounds of potatoes for each breakfast gathering. Sixteen years of rising before dawn to bake buns for the baked goods table. And 16 years of setting up and taking down the portable stage for the annual picnic.

Nobody seems daunted.

"That's the way it should be. It should be everyone working together," said Town Clerk Kathleen D. Kreimer.

"I can do something for the town that you can see where it's going, the direct results of your work, and that's very satisfying," said Elaine Holmes, chairman of the funding committee. The Montgomery County native moved in search of small-town atmosphere.

On Sept. 10, the day of this year's picnic, the mayor and council members set up tables, directed traffic and unloaded items for a new event, an auction.

The 15 members of the Union Bridge Town Funding Committee and about 75 other people make up the core of the volunteer team, Mrs. Holmes said.

On picnic day, the bank officer who wrote the town hall loan turned up to help. The payment plan may be unusual, but the loan is no more risky than any other mortgage, said T. Hugh Engel, vice president of Farmers and Mechanics National Bank.

Four years into the effort -- the fund-raising began 18 months before the town executed the loan -- Mayor Jones is pleased with the volunteers, although he worries about burnout.

"I would say we have a very small percentage of Union Bridge that has not participated in supporting this town hall," he said.

For others, it's a family tradition.

Tom Hyde, who has been frying chicken "probably since I was 15 or so, and I'm 42 now," brings his homemade deep fat chicken frying barrels to the United Methodist Women's booth at the town picnic each year. Son J.T., 20, has been an apprentice fryer for a year.

Tom's sisters -- Bonnie Hyde, a Town Council member, and Nancy Shifler -- sold chicken and French fries in the booth, with help from Nancy's daughter, Heidi. Buzz Shifler, Heidi's father, cut potatoes.

Cousin Dolores Bloom rolled chicken pieces in the flour and spices that make up a secret family recipe. Mrs. Bloom said she could have "vegged out" beside her pool, but volunteered out of civic duty and because "we always have fun when we get together."

The annual picnics have featured a variety of attractions: a car smasher, helicopter rides, mule-drawn wagon rides, cake walks, even tours of Lehigh Portland Cement Co., the town's lone industry, which makes its grounds available for the picnic.

Townspeople figure they will reprise the auction, which brought in about $1,300 for such diverse items as cases of motor oil, Frederick Keys baseball tickets, 20 bags of Lehigh cement and a gift certificate from the local dentist for a cleaning and examination.

Former Town Councilman Scott W. Davis, who flipped enough pancakes to feed 1,418 people at the breakfast in May, acknowledged it's the dreaded "T" word that keeps him involved.

"I know if I wouldn't, we'd have to take it out of the money that comes in through taxation," Mr. Davis said. "So I'm trying to keep the taxes down."

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