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With Falling Revenue, Parks and Rec. Looks To Maintain Modest Budget

"Sometimes you have to offer services to the youth that don't make money."

The Ridgefield Parks and Recreation Department is approaching this year's budget cycle with lower expectations after -- operating at a loss, the department is focusing on the essentials and not much more this time around.

The Parks and Rec. Department's revenue decreased again this year by 1.29 percent, a loss of $35,653 while its operating expenses have increased by $9,725, mainly for salaries, utilities and fuel, said Phil Kearns, department chair.

"Everything we're asking for this year is essential and important," Kearns said. "All of our expenses are important to our long-term plan."

There were some major decreases in expenses, though, in the form of utilities at the Recreation Center, but despite no additions to regular staff, salaries almost offset the difference.

The department is asking for several capital items, including two trucks and a mower to replace old ones, as well as fitness equipment, fencing and improvements at Martin Park.

Coming in at about $223,500, the capital budget request is smaller than last year's, which included the Spray Bay ticket item later denied by the Board of Finance.

One of the major hindrances to the Parks and Rec. budget is the competition derived from private gyms that offer less expensive memberships than the Recreation Center, but the department is looking for ways to be more strategic about attracting members.

"We've lost some individual members, but right now we're really pushing the family element," said director Paul Roche.

By offering an $85 per month all-inclusive family membership fee, Roche said the Recreation Center provides services families can't get other places in town, such as a pool and a family atmosphere.

Roche also said the Recreation Center has started to advertise more aggressively in nearby communities that don't have similar facilities.

Also operating at a loss is the skate park run by the department -- with a loss of several thousand dollars each year, the park continues to lose money despite fundraising efforts, Roche said.

Kearns said this is part of what the Parks and Rec. Department is there to do:

"Sometimes you have to offer services to the youth that don't make money."

Mary shickell February 13, 2012 at 12:16 PM
I appreciate the efforts made by Parks & Rec to attract youth; particularly with regard to Martin Park. My kids can't wait for the beach to open this year. The water mat was a huge hit! You need to advertise this feature more to area youth groups. Would love to see you supply a water trampoline and music. Inexpensive improvements with big returns. Thanks.
Allie_Whitman February 13, 2012 at 03:29 PM
These features you enjoy, and want more of, cost the rest of us money out of our pockets. Does it seem fair to you that the rest of us are funding your leisure activities? Wouldn't it make more sense for you to pay for these things yourself?
Robert Lavelle February 13, 2012 at 03:51 PM
I like to play racquetball. Why can't I get a racquetball court built for my enjoyment? There's a facility in Bethel where I could sign up and play for $80/month, but why not have Ridgefield taxpayers provide it for me gratis instead??
Kathy Fassman February 13, 2012 at 04:43 PM
Thank you for your suggestions. Our goal is to provide fitness and and fun for your whole family. We're looking forward to another great summer at Martin Park Beach. ~ Ridgefield Parks & Recreation
Kathy Fassman February 13, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Every town needs a facility to provide healthy activities to the public. Ridgefield Parks & Recreation strives to offer a wide range of activities for people of all ages. Our commitment to getting the community physically active, improves everyone's well-being. ~ Ridgefield Parks & Recreation
Kathy Fassman February 13, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Thank you for your suggestion. ~ Ridgefield Parks & Recreation
FormerMember February 13, 2012 at 05:20 PM
Kathy, in the spirit of being constructive, if you want my membership back, you need to fix the pool. Your kiddie pool is directly connected to your adult pool. I can't express how foul that idea is to me. I've never seen another pool club scenario with that setup - for a good reason! Let's been real here, the kiddies pee in the pool. Okay, that happens. But that's exactly why the kiddie pool is always separate from the main pool. Except at the Rec Center. Put a hermetically sealed wall up in the little alley connecting the two pools and I will considering rejoining the Rec Center. Thank you for listening.
John McNicholas February 15, 2012 at 11:08 AM
I believe the Parks & Recreation is a true blessing to our town, however, as far as having programs that dont make money--drop them like a hot iron. We are not in the business of losing public money for the sake a a few. This is all a luxury and not a necessity. As far as competing with the other gyms in town--why dont we do that and lower our prices to the point where you'll put them out of business. We cant continually lose moeny. The Well is drying up.
paul d. February 15, 2012 at 02:44 PM
Why should the town be in the business at all? Why compete? Sounds like maybe we ought to sell the rec center off, use a portion of the proceeds to upgrade a few existing town fields with turf (or some other project which has been mired in our recession that adds to our maintenance budget... yes - we have to mow, fertilize and maintain our fields) and lower the ongoing town spending. Where do I sign?
sebastian dangerfield February 15, 2012 at 04:27 PM
paul--agree with you here as well. The town shouldnt be in real estate investment or the fitness biz. Anyone can join from any town--- so all it is , is a business. Pure and simple. Perhaps the YMCA -like in many fairfield county towns will be interested.
John McNicholas February 16, 2012 at 10:26 PM
On second thought, I take back my Idea. I have in government some time ago and you are all right. There is not way a municipality should be running any kind of business. Services yes. This is a business and frankly it should close as it only furnishes a service to a few people at the expense of the majority of taxpayers. It merely creates well paying jobs with benefits and retirements at a cost we should not have to bear for the service the business runs. Why not move the library there and we could save the P& R Budget and the 5 Million the selectmen with an agenda want us to throw "into the kiddie pool" if you know what I mean.
John Symon February 17, 2012 at 12:48 AM
"One of the major hindrances to the Parks and Rec. budget is the competition derived from private gyms that offer less expensive memberships than the Recreation Center, but the department is looking for ways to be more strategic about attracting members." Look at it the other way. Private, tax paying, risktakers who own these establishments have to compete with a taxpayer-funded operation that continually operates in the red. Typical big government response. My family were members. Until we went there once to often after a kid had pooped in the pool and couldn't swim. Finally, my son said it was gross, didn't want to go there anymore. That was that.
sebastian dangerfield February 17, 2012 at 02:20 AM
Is the rec center operating at a loss? Where I read the skate park is operating at a loss, and the response is "sometimes we have to operate at a loss in order to provide...--makes no sense. These government run entities make no effort to streamline or identify inefficiencies. You dont pay rent. And you lose money? You, then should either change the hours of operation; raise of lower prices accordingly; or shut it down. If the reality is, the park loses money, because there is no demand--then the comment "we need to provide' is a non sequitur. Youre providing to no one. If there is demand--then there is a window to better manage the facility. This complaceny and acceptance of loss is ridiculous.
JohnnyComeLately February 17, 2012 at 03:38 AM
Luca, sometimes you get it so right.
paul d. February 17, 2012 at 01:38 PM
I am not a fan of moving the library out of the downtown area.... as the businesses in town benefit from the traffic it drives to the downtown area that defines our town. It encourages multi errand behavior and walking through town. We all benefit from having a real town - and I think one of the key things that makes Ridgefield special. Wilton's downtown has always been problematic because of that. One could argue to move town hall too, just to save some money. But sometimes, having town government IN TOWN... also encourages people to visit their govt while doing other errands.
RTown February 17, 2012 at 02:02 PM
Paul: So you are willing to spend an extra $5 million of taxpayer money, while at the same time getter a lesser library, all to "help" the stores in town? I'm not. Under the current plan for building the library on Main Street, the operating expense will remain flat. To me, this means there can be no new programs. Why would we be building a new library if we don't get any new programs? I'd much rather see the library at Parks and Rec or Schlumberger if it means we save millions in construction expenses, and can then create a much more useful library. I think you need to take a step back. What's the goal, to create a great library, or to help the stores on Main Street. I say let's make a great library, and the stores will sort themselves out. What are you suggesting, that people won't go to CVS to get their prescription if the library is moved? They will do without their medicine? I don't think that's going to happen. The stores will be fine. People will simply adjust.
paul d. February 17, 2012 at 03:41 PM
Ok- took a step back- nothing wrong with an honest disagreement of opinion. I do think having the library in town as it is has intrinsic value, benefits businesses in a tangential way, enriches the historical presence, ... not exactly cost savers. But on this one, I just think that is better model. I admittedly and openly support the library staying in its current location, expanded. I think for 5m of town money (ironically close to the $4.3 CLP refund) it is a worthwhile investment. Doesn't change my mind about selling off the rec center. Doesn't change my mind that as soon as the money from Shlum. can be recouped from responsibly selling off chunks - it should be.
RTown February 17, 2012 at 03:59 PM
I understand what you are saying Paul. I guess I'm just not so willing to assign a $5 million value to keeping the library in the current location. Does it really help the stores to that degree? What if we turned the Morris section into a charming restaurant? The back end of the building could become office space. Those office workers would buy lunch on Main Street. The offices would generate property tax. The restaurant could attract out-of-town money. All positive trade-offs. I think at times we don't like to change things for no other reason than we are afraid of change. Imagine extending the sidewalks to Schlumberger. What a great new walk. Then go even further. Bring the sidewalks all the way to Starbucks and Ross's. Suddenly the Schlumberger library is helping all the stores in the Copps Hill section, while giving us more walking space. All this at zero cost. Sometimes change is good.
John Symon February 17, 2012 at 04:01 PM
"while at the same time getter a lesser library" What do you base this on?
paul d. February 17, 2012 at 06:06 PM
All reasonable suggestions, but so many unknowns and TBD for me. Library has $15m private commitment based on current model being put to vote with mostly defined plans. I tend to think it could take years to do all the feasibility and wrangling to get any one of your suggestions to that level. Then an elementary school MIGHT close and then there is another delay... more wrangling. Not to mention all the costs associated with designing and retrofitting the spaces you suggest... which maybe aren't huge, but in my mind would need to be deducted from the 5m in a cost/benefit analysis. In the meantime, we could have sold the rec center or made it profitable (like the golf course is most years), had the new library, recouped money from Schlum and ended this whole saga. Sometimes change is good. Now if you had mentioned closing VP in a couple of years and turning that into the library... maybe. But again, so many ifs.
RTown February 17, 2012 at 07:24 PM
Hi John, a few reasons I think we will be getting more of a library at Schlum. The cost of the new construction is $16.5 million of the $20 million. Huge. But imagine if you didn't have to pay it though. Imagine using a mere fraction of that money to revamp Schlum. You'd have literally millions left over. Sure, use some of the $16.5 million to put in a new HVAC, and knock down some internal walls, and a few other updates. But the library would still walk away with a windfall. With all that extra cash they could implement so many new things, things that are currently NOT part of the Main Street plan. More computers, more lectures, more books, more programs. Did you know there's a section of the new lib that will not be finished? It will be left raw. Looks like we are not going to do it once, do it now. We are going to do some later. Why not instead have a completed library now at Schlum. Twice the space available and all can be revamped today well within the constraint of $15 million. Consider too that Schlum has a already-built auditorium. A very cool looking space. Free. But no auditorium with the Main Street plan. Another thought, take some of the extra cash for the endowment. Use the interest to pay ongoing operating expenses. Reduce the town's commitment of $1.6 million. Use our savings for new services elsewhere in the town. Or to pay down our debt. So many advantages in turning Schlumberger into Liberger.
paul d. February 17, 2012 at 07:42 PM
You make good points. I wish I saw more of the S. property than I did on the short part of the tour I was on. I don't presume to have the vision of what it would take, but if the people who do thought switching locales could be done efficiently and not waste years.... I would be open to it. How realistic is it to switch? Here's what I wouldn't want - we have to have another town vote about it all. And then be back where we were having wasted time and money.
jeff February 17, 2012 at 09:03 PM
Park & Req recently had an entry level field maintainer job posting paying $27+ per hour. Factoring in benefits, pension, overtime and the general nature of the job I'm rather shocked in the current economic climate that the taxpayers of Ridgefield are forced to dish out this kind of compensation. It also leads me to believe every position on the town payroll is similarly inflated. Nobody is saying we need to pay minimum wage, but for cutting the grass of the ball fields is starting at $27+ per hour appropriate?
Tom Falconieri February 17, 2012 at 11:35 PM
Jeff welcome to bit#$field the money is flowing and no one gives a DAM. Talk about over paying. This is just the tip of the ice burg. Do some digging you will be shocked beyond you wildest dreams
John Symon February 18, 2012 at 02:15 AM
Wow. If true, that's crazy. I bet they'd have lines of people at $15/hour. I bet it's a union rule regulating base pay.
Tom Falconieri February 19, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Kathy!!!! Why is it that you have not made a profit since you been in operation. I am not being a wise guy but don't you think that you should. Or do you think US TAX payers should just hire people and pay their salaries at a loss and this is been going on for years. It seems to me that this is a form of welfare and if a profit is not made the facility should be shut down. What say YOU!!!
Understand May 10, 2013 at 12:06 PM
Just bumping this article back into voters' consciousness as Parks & Rec requests a 4.55% increase to include the spray bay which was wisely declined 2 years ago. Vote No to Question 7 on the ballot.

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