Town parks fees set to rise

Greenwich beach visitors and golfers will be facing slightly higher costs next year if the Board of Selectmen votes in favor of proposed increases as part of the overall consideration of the fee structure for town facilities and programs.

Town Director of Parks and Recreation Joseph Siciliano brought the proposal before the board at its Dec. 6 meeting, and a vote is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 20 in order for public comment to be heard first. Among the proposed increases for next year are raising the day pass beach fee from $5 to $6 per pass and a dollar increase in the town’s park pass. As part of purchasing a park pass, town residents receive a parking sticker, but for vehicles not registered in town, including those of residents, there is a fee for a parking sticker. That fee is scheduled to rise from $100 to $125.

Fees at the municipal Griffith E. Harris Golf Course would also go up for all greens usage by $2 for both residents and non-residents.

 

Mr. Siciliano noted that the price of the beach day pass had not been raised since 2002, and with close to 60,000 of those daily passes sold to non-beach card holder residents and out-of-town visitors, it could be an increased source of revenue for the town. The fees for the park pass have been raised three times since the town’s residents-only beach policy was ruled unconstitutional in 2001, but Mr. Siciliano said the current fee had been in place for three years before this proposed change.

The parking sticker fee had also not been changed in 10 years. Mr. Siciliano said 534 vehicles purchased the $100 pass. This would be the first time the price has ever changed. It’s been the goal of the Parks and Recreation Department to not raise fees every year but to do it in small amounts as opposed to major hikes. Mr. Siciliano said, for instance, that tennis court fees would go up this year, but they weren’t raised last year.

“Traditionally we’ve looked at alternating raising fees, so we’re not raising all of the fees at any one given time,” Mr. Siciliano said. “We look at some of the fees that have been in play for a number of years to see what the purpose of those fees was and determine what we want to update.”

There are also proposed increases for kids soccer, softball instruction, ice skating, and use of town buildings like the Eastern Greenwich Civic Center. That facility has had some improvements made to it, including a new roof and other amenities, and Mr. Siciliano said it was believed that it can provide more of a revenue stream than it has in the past. Because of that, he said, “modest” fee increases are proposed, like adding $10 per hour for a rental.

“It’s a better facility now,” Mr. Siciliano said. “We have a roof that doesn’t leak. We have better lighting and it’s been cleaned up a little bit. We’re trying to attract more people to it and get closer to what we think is a fairer fee for the use of it.”

The Parks and Recreation Department is also responsible for boat storage in town facilities, and Mr. Siciliano said there would be some increases there to help pay for maintenance and cleanup of those storage areas. He added it will also help the town deal with what he called “dead storage,” where boaters leave their vessels there and don’t pay for them.

“Our fees are lower than private facilities’, but at the end of the day we still want our facilities to be managed like that and we expect the boaters would be responsible for the services they get,” Mr. Siciliano said.

Mr. Siciliano said his department is in line for a revenue projection of $4,215,000 for the 2012-13 season. If these fees are approved, Mr. Siciliano said, the revenue projection for 2013-14 would be $4,431,000. This does not include revenue from the golf course, which is kept separate because the money from the course goes into the revolving fund that is used by the course for operations and capital improvements.

Mr. Siciliano noted that those were projections, and they can vary because of things like rain in the summer impacting ferry and beach usage. He said the projections are based on historical usage.

“We’re hopeful that all systems cooperate and we’re able to make our projections in the upcoming cycle,” Mr. Siciliano said.

While stressing that he was not saying he would vote against the increases or trying to single out the Parks and Recreation Department, Selectman Drew Marzullo expressed some reservations about the uncertainty for next year’s budget. The Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) recently passed budget guidelines after a contentious vote that went straight down party lines, calling for a smaller increase in the mill rate than has been traditionally levied, and there are concerns this could result in reduced services from the town.

“How can this board vote to increase fees when we don’t know what the consequences on the level of the services will be in light of this hard cap implemented by the majority of the BET?” Mr. Marzullo asked.

Mr. Siciliano said he didn’t want get involved in the “political bantering going on.”

“We take a lot of pride and put in a lot of effort to propose the best fee structure that we think will get through the Board of Selectmen,” Mr. Siciliano said. “In our operational budget, we do, I think, yeoman’s work trying to stay well within the guidelines, and you’ll find our proposal is slightly under the guidelines of what’s been discussed.”

Mr. Marzullo didn’t dispute that, but said it was hard for the selectmen to vote without a full understanding of the impact of what he called the “hard cap” was having on the proposed fees and any potential change in services it could force. He asked if that cap wasn’t in place, would the department be raising fees like this? Because of this, Mr. Marzullo said that if the vote had been held at the Dec. 6 meeting he would have voted against the fees. However, he did not indicate how he will vote on Dec. 20 when he has more information in hand.

Mr. Tesei said he wanted to avoid digressions on the issue and noted that the Parks and Recreation budget would be level services with a 2% increase, which Mr. Siciliano agreed with.

“I think that’s a testament to good management,” Mr. Tesei said. “You’re not spending more than you need to because you can deliver the same level of service at a rate lower than what people are bickering about, which is secondary, I think, to what we’re looking to achieve here.”

Mr. Tesei, who said he uses recreation programs for himself and his family, said it was important to remember this was not supposed to be a “free lunch” and that the programs had to be supported by fees, which had to go up to cover rising expenses. He added that fees were not meant to entirely cover expenses for town services, but to be an important part of it.

 

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