Parks and Recreation Director Stuart McCarthy is going to ask the Representative Town Meeting for $62,300, despite the RTM Finance Committee already saying no. McCarthy is asking for a restoration of funds cut by the Board of Finance from his department's budget request.
The Parks and Recreation Department has suffered $378,141 in cuts over the past two years. The department's programs generate millions of dollars in revenue each year and actually pay for 96 percent of its budget. McCarthy projects the Parks and Recreation Department will bring in net revenues of $4,00,753 in the next fiscal year. That leaves only $151,265 coming from the town's coffers to meet the department's budget without the $62,300 restoration.
McCarthy could raise fees to cover the rest of the budget, he said, but doing so would be unfair to program participants. The part of the budget the town subsidizes covers items beneficial to all of Westport such as park maintenance and clean-up. Who should be paying for these services? asked an empathic McCarthy. Who plays for cleaning up trash on Main Street? The guy on the golf course? The guy with a boat in the marina?
Restoring the $62,300 would allow McCarthy to hire one additional full-time employee to help manage the department's online registration system and other administrative tasks. Part of the reason given for the RTM Finance Committee's denial of the restoration request was a perception that the new system reduced staffing needs. McCarthy noted over two years his staff has been reduced 25 percent and while the automated system makes things easier on the resident's end that doesn't hold true on Parks and Recreation's end. Address verifications still require research by a staff member, as well as processing and mailing beach pass emblems.
Even with the restoration, a reduction in maintenance and services is already planned. Beaches will be cleaned only once a week, down from three times. There is some concern if the reduction is noticeable patrons will visit other beaches instead and Parks and Recreation will lose more revenue. Parks and Recreation charged non-residents of Westport $20 on weekdays and $40 on weekends for parking at Compo Beach. By comparison, Sherwood Island State Park costs $22 on weekends for out-of-state visitors.
McCarthy will make his plea directly to the full RTM on either Monday, May 3, or Wednesday, May 5. His department will be reviewed last. He won't have the recommendation of the RTM Finance Committee. He will need 70 percent of the 36 RTM members to support him. RTM Parks and Recreation Chairman William Meyer said a key to swaying the RTM would be a strong campaign of public support. Library patrons have been sending letters and drumming up support for their own restoration requests. While McCarthy's department offers services for all of Westport's citizens, he isn't seeing the same level of support. We work for the town, we're for everybody, said McCarthy.
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