By Peter Manning
The Finance Committee met on December 13 to discuss Springs Brook Park’s recent audit. The roughly 35-page document was recently reviewed by the Selectmen, whose general observations were noted in a previous Bedford Citizen article. As a brief summary, they were impressed with the report, calling it thorough and a good standard for future projects.
The Finance Committee was also largely impressed, though several sharp criticisms were raised. Before any criticisms were raised, the committee thanked Town Manager Sarah Stanton for the work she’s done with this initiative.
She positioned this hearing as nothing more than an opportunity for feedback, stressing multiple times that “this is not an ask.” Following that statement came a few general remarks on profitability. Revenue projections are flat. Springs Brook Park experienced a net loss of $149,183 last season. In the future, Springs Brook will need a $90,000 subsidy to curb expenses for the 2019 season. Stanton repeated that this will not be requested formally for the time being.
Selectman Chair William Moonan attended the meeting. The Finance Committee addressed several questions to him directly, not to be answered immediately, rather for the Selectmen to consider in the coming months. Most notably, do the Selectmen want to keep Springs Brook open? The Finance Committee suggested setting a baseline for success, either monetarily or anecdotally. The following example was proposed. Maybe Springs Brook doesn’t try and break even. What net loss should be targeted? Would the town be comfortable considering calling an annual loss $75,000 a success? Regardless of the number, the Finance Committee warned that proceeding with operations without some similar goal would be dangerous.
Several questions were asked on profitability. How can concessions turn a profit? One member suggested adjusting product price to incorporate overhead. A similar issue was raised on swim lessons. Ideally — another committee member suggested — swim lessons should help cover the lifeguard salaries. The audit apparently does not distinguish departmental cash flow in that way, making this one-to-one comparison hard to judge. The number of swim lessons, Stanton noted, has been trending downwards in recent years.
Bedford’s ‘Summer Adventures’ program was brought up when observing discrepancies in pool usage and membership costs. The program accounts for a third of all pool usage, but 15% of revenue. In a sense, costs are often discounted in large-scale use-cases like this. However, this places the burden of financial compensation on family memberships. The committee suggested reevaluating this revenue model, potentially raising “walk-in” fees: nonmembers looking for a spontaneous dip.
Other non-financial questions were posed as well. The question of “pool” clarity was raised. For lifeguards to adequately ensure swimmer safety, they must be able to see to the bottom of the pool. This lets them better observe distressed swimmers and keep all accounted for. As the day progresses, Springs Brook’s dirt base-layer clouds the water, obscuring visibility. These issues are common in recreational lakes. But are we comfortable with Springs Brook’s strategy of, “we just don’t swim in those parts.” While Stanton stressed it isn’t a “hazard” (as used in an industry sense), one committee member stressed — semantics aside — this protocol nevertheless puts children at risk.
Two final points were raised, though not elaborated much further. Springs Brook spent $50,000 on a sprinkler park. This was acknowledged, though is currently understood as a strong, value-added investment. Lastly, a refrigerator and freezer for the concession stand broke at the end of the season. This repair cost will be absorbed in 2019’s expenses.
The hearing on Springs Brook closed on an anticlimactic note. More follow-ups on this report will occur in the near future, for this and several other town boards.