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PUBLIC-FUNDED CAMPGROUND TO BE AUCTIONED

Looking for a summer home? How about a large resort with 100 campsites, 10 bungalow-style chalets, an in-ground swimming pool, miniature golf course and a general store?

It can all be yours for as little as $200,000.

Rolling Pines Campground, formerly Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park, is going up for sale this month as part of a long-awaited public auction.

The sale is expected to end a six-year controversy that started when a nonprofit housing group in Buffalo used public funds to buy, improve and subsidize the private campground in rural Wyoming County.

"We're very optimistic," said Dennis Penman, the new chairman of HELP (Home Equity Living Plans). "We're getting a lot of interest."

HELP, at the urging of Lovejoy Council Member Richard Fontana, will try to auction the property off at 10 a.m. Sept. 18 at the campground.

The minimum bid is expected to be about $200,000.

Fontana thinks that's low and wants to increase the minimum bid to reflect the $321,600 assessment on the property.

He and Penman also are at odds over where the proceeds of the auction should go. Fontana wants the money returned to City Hall and then used to finance housing rehabilitation loans in the Lovejoy District.

"I want more money for the city," he said. "That money should come back to the district."

Fontana, a vocal critic of the campground deal, wants to recoup as much of the city's initial investment as possible. The city stands to lose up to $1 million in public funds.

Richard Gottone, Fontana's opponent for the Lovejoy Council seat in next week's primary, agrees that the minimum bid is far too low, given the city's investment in the property.

"We're talking about $1 million in grant money that's going to be trafficked out of here and lost forever," he said. "This has got to stop."

Penman said state law requires the money be kept by HELP until its original mission is complete and the group is disbanded. He said the group eventually will return money to the city.

HELP bought the campground under the direction of then-Lovejoy Council Member Norman M. Bakos, who served as its chairman. Bakos resigned from the group last year.

When word of the deal became public in 1993, Bakos came under criticism for what many saw as a misuse of taxpayers' money. He was voted out of office later that year.

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