Reported remotely by Meredith McCulloch
When Town Manager Richard Reed presented the Selectmen’s budget at their February 17 meeting, he reported that the recommended budget is $53,463 over the Finance Committee guideline of a 2.5% increase. At their meeting on February 12, the Finance Committee did not approve the additional funds, but suggested that the Recreation Commission look to their revolving fund for the balance.
The revolving fund is a special account that allows the Recreation Commission to collect fees from programs and to pay costs of programs from the same account. In recent years the Finance Committee has questioned the level of the fund balance, which presently is around $600,000.
Caroline Fedele, the liaison from the Selectmen to the Recreation Commission and a former Commission member, defended the balance, saying that the Commission recognizes that the balance is high but is holding off on spending to see what would be needed for Springs Brook Park. The Commission has recently concluded that the short-term fix for water clarity will not work, and is moving toward longer-term solutions. She questioned the timing of pulling funds (from the revolving fund account) just as a change in direction is occurring.
Fedele listed improvements that have been delayed awaiting clarity on the needs for Springs Brook Park, including Kids Club security, office improvements, The Corner (a drop in center for middle school children) and a storage unit. A miniature golf unit costing $25,000 is on order.
The plan is for one year only, to make it a weekday park and build up other aspects of the park to make it worthwhile. The Recreation Commission is trying to provide more activities since the full swimming area will not be available. The uncertainty around solutions for Springs Brook Park has meant that funds have not been spent.
Selectman Mark Siegenthaler commented, “I get the sense that you believe the funding for design is all on the Recreation Commission. If there is a significant facility [under consideration] it is a discussion for the whole community.”
Selectman Bill Moonan added, “This is not the first year this issue has come up with the Finance Committee… With other funds excess money is swept up into the general fund. The Recreation Commission should come up with a policy on how to use the funds going forward.”
Chair Margot Fleischman added, “You do have a growing balance,” indicating that the Selectmen should see a spreadsheet of what has been used. “Fleischman went on, “You need a policy so these issues don’t come up. If we are turning a corner, if you are going in a new direction, then maybe you don’t have to hold to that big pot of money because the town would have to pay for the plans.”
Selectman Michael Rosenberg explained the issue from each side, “So what has happened is that the Finance Committee has boxed in the Recreation Commission. You need to explain the use of the funds to Finance Committee’s satisfaction so they cannot box you in like this. At the same time you need to make it a priority to take that revolving fund apart, working with the Finance Department, so that it is a team effort…I don’t think a standoff is a good idea here,”
Ronald Richter, Chair of the Recreation Commission responded, “We have no intention of having a standoff. The message has been received. We will work with the Finance office to understand where the excess is…this is a one year issue [and] that is a reasonable approach.”
Rosenberg commented, “It is a collegial solution which happens so often here.
[Note: Thanks to the Selectmen’s Office for supplying documents and to Cable TV for recording this meeting, enabling this reporter to cover the meeting remotely.]