For camps, bus trips, etc.: Park & Rec.’s proposed budget reflects a drop in attendance

The projected revenue in the Park and Recreation Department’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year is in part a reflection of the declining enrollment in the schools and in participation in some programs.

The department is looking at a slight decline in revenue, and an accompanying decrease in operating expenses. The proposed $968,395 budget is expected to be offset by revenue projected at $694,500. Revenue is down by nearly $5,500 from the current budget and expenses are up some $3,500, for a net cost to the town of $1,893, a 0.7% net increase. The Park & Rec. Department aims to run as self-sustaining a program as possible.

Rob Blick, Park & Rec. director, told the selectmen at the Jan. 4 budget workshop that a decrease in summer camp attendance over the last few years has a direct correlation to the decrease in school enrollment. Because of a net decrease in revenue generated by summer camp programs this fiscal year, Mr. Blick has lowered his camp attendance projections for 2013-14.

Bus trips are not doing well attendance-wise across the board over the last few years, he told the selectmen. For example, Mr. Blick had tickets this past year to the Radio City Christmas Show in New York City but only sold 22 of 55 tickets. Even attendance at Yankees-Red Sox baseball games was down, he said.

As a result, Mr. Blick is not planning for the annual trip to Radio City Music Hall in his budget and is cutting back to offering only one baseball game. He also plans to reduce from two to one the trip to see a Broadway play.

If the reduction in the offerings is publicized, maybe the demand will come back, said Paul Degener, Park and Recreation Commission chairman.

“Price is a driving factor,” said Mr. Blick.

He plans to get rid of non-resident fees for summer camps and for regular programs with the intent of attracting more people to these programs. The department now charges an $8 non-resident fee for regular programs like aerobics and $15 for summer camps.

“It’s better to attract more people than to charge a fee,” he said.

Mr. Degener said maybe closer-to-home trips would be more appealing. “The larger trips are just not in demand,” he said.

In the Topstone Park portion of his budget, Mr. Blick said, there is no increase in operating costs. He attributed this to expanding the swimming season last summer and to increased season pass sales.

First Selectman Natalie Ketcham praised Mr. Blick for making the public more aware of the park, and for bringing its costs “more in line.”

These are the things town budget officials asked him to do at last year’s budget workshop.

Participation in tennis programs is up, as is the number taking lessons, Mr. Blick reported.

A net decline in revenue generated by the department’s Extended Day program will be offset by a new program for middle schoolers.

“We lost significant revenue last year because a full-day kindergarten was instituted,” said Mr. Blick.

The middle school program is helping to offset the revenue loss. There is also a change in the Extended Day program setup, which would allow parents to use it on an as-needed basis, as well as on a set number of days per week.

The main driver for Extended Day expenses this year, said Mr. Blick, is the need to increase the staff because of the new program.

“Rob’s department is good at staying ahead of family needs,” said Mr. Degener of the revamped Extended Day program.

Field maintenance cost have been reduced in the budget, said Mr. Blick, because of healthy turf conditions.

Mr. Degener said his commission is strongly against fee increases because of reductions in program enrollments.

Mr. Blick elaborated on Monday, saying the solution is to increase enrollment, “and that’s what we are trying to do.” The department is “price-dependent” on a lot of programs, he said, explaining that a lot of the programs are less expensive than elsewhere, “and we don’t want to lose that edge.”

“We don’t want to knowingly have a negative impact on programs and enrollment,” said Ms. Ketcham at the budget workshop. She said Park and Rec. programs enhance the quality of life for residents.

As a way to save money in the budget, town Finance Director Steve Gniadek suggested looking into the use of PayPal when people sign up and pay for Park & Rec. programs online. “Maybe this could be offered as an option,” he said.

Mr. Degener said since the use of credit cards is still new, he would not want to get away from letting people use them.

“We’ll investigate this,” said Mr. Blick about PayPal.

In addition to its operating budget, the Park & Rec. Department is requesting a building for its field maintenance equipment and a building for permanent gym storage.

Mr. Blick said the initial estimate for permanent gym storage was $100,000 but he has one quote back for $150,000. The department would need to establish the scope of work for the buildings before it could go out to bid, he said.

The field maintenance building, now projected to cost $30,000, is needed, said Mr. Degener, explaining the department has equipment coming online and needs someplace to put it.

The capital items are separate from the operating budget. They will go to a town meeting for approval at a later date. The Board of Selectmen must be finished with its budget proposal for town department operating budgets by the end of February, in time to be presented to a budget public hearing on March 7.

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