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Skate Park Causes Stir in Budget Discussions

In a $125.2 million budget proposal, it's an $11,000 line item that's causing concern for local residents and officials.

This version calrifies the times of day that the skate park is open to the public, free of charge.

The proposed 2011-12 fiscal budget before the Southington Town Council sits at $125.2 million, but it was a handshake and an $11,000 reduction in funding fro the skate park at YMCA’s Camp Sloper that polarized town residents and caused a stir among officials during the council’s annual budget hearing Monday evening.

Several residents and YMCA officials came before the council to request that the $11,000 line item designed to assist with maintenance costs at the Camp Sloper skate park off East Street be restored to the budget to help provide a continued safe place and alternative activity for Southington children.

“All youth are not alike and there are some kids who find something in this they just don’t get out of traditional sports,” said Penny Socha, a resident of Pine Street in Plantsville. “The skate park offers a place for them to go with a secure environment that gets them out of the house and away from video games…where will these kids go if they aren’t allowed here?”

The $11,000 line item for the skate park, which is estimated at just under half of the annual maintenance according to YMCA Director John Myers, has been included in the budget for years now but was cut by the Board of Finance in March after long debate by finance members.

Finance Chairman John Leary said Monday that it wasn’t an easy decision for members of the finance board, but one that had to be made because the board simply could not obtain any figures to justify the cost. The board requested figures showing exactly how many non-YMCA residents are using the park but never received any information, Leary said.

“It isn’t the amount and we’ve had a great relationship between the YMCA and the town, but I just don’t think that taxpayer dollars should be used for ongoing daily operations for a private entity,” Leary said. “It’s one thing to spend finances on a joint venture but this is something that is largely a private operation and to reduce the budget, we need to look at every item.”

The town first began working alongside the YMCA for the development of the skate park in the late 1990s and a in the mid-2000s, the YMCA was able to build a new, contemporary park on the Camp Sloper property after receiving a community partnership grant for $125,000.

The money helped in building the park, Myers said, but does not assist in annual costs of $20,000 to $25,000 for general maintenance and operations.

“At end of day, we want to develop additional environmental assets for kids throughout the community,” Myers said. It is statistically proven that thee more they have, the better their chance for success and the less likely they are to make poor decisions regarding drugs and alcohol, poor decisions regarding violent activities and poor decisions regarding sexual activity.”

Myers and Parks and Recreation board member Joseph LaPorte each said removing the funding sends a message to students that the community doesn’t care – a message that would be detrimental at a time when studies have shown that only 11 percent of high school juniors believe the community actually cares.

The skate park is open to the public during later afternoons and evenings each summer, as well as certain hours on weekends, free of charge.

But the funding was the result of a handshake, other residents including Larry DePaolo, Sandy Feld and Art Cyr each said, and although the amount may be small, it’s the principal of having an unsigned agreement made away from public vote that should be stopped.

Feld further stated that despite efforts each of the past four years by Board of Finance members to obtain data regarding use of the skate park, the efforts have fallen on deaf ears.

“It’s absolutely the right decision,” Feld said. “I’ve sat as these guys have gone through every line item each of the past four years and they’ve asked for this every year and never gotten results. If there are no figures, there is no information to justify the costs.”

The council will be tasked with determining whether to restore the funding or not over the next two weeks as councilors prepare to vote on a final budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year on May 8.

Arthur Cyr April 26, 2011 at 11:28 AM
"annual maintenance"?? NO, it is for the SALARY of a person to supervise. And when it rains, that person goes elsewhere at Camp Sloper. And during the summer months? July and August summer vacation? No non-member is allowed up there because its being used as part of summer camp. This was a secret "handshake" deal that was kept from the Town Council and the Board of Finance for over 5 years while over $55,000 of taxpayer's money went to the YMCA. It's time for these secret deals to end.
Reality Police April 26, 2011 at 12:14 PM
$25,000 a year for maintenance? I thought the company who sold this park claimed a 20 year warranty and no maintenance? How can you possibly have that much cost in a park this new?
Arthur Cyr April 26, 2011 at 12:21 PM
LOL ... To RP - now you're starting to understand the doublespeak! Its to offset part of people's salaries at Camp Sloper and the YMCA. It is YOUR tax dollars at work. NOT!
mark hayden April 26, 2011 at 03:17 PM
i used to go there all the time when it was open. the park was under a lot of use and does require anual maintence just as a car requires. the ramps are rusted and some of them are warped. you dont buy a new car and drive it until it hits 100K and then get the oil changed... the park does keep a lot of kids outta trouble the only problem is its not open enough and not well enough talked about the kids.
Douglas D Schumann April 26, 2011 at 03:19 PM
Does not the benefit to the youth of the community exceed the cost?
Ruth Stanley April 26, 2011 at 03:58 PM
The problem with the skate park is that it is limited to YMCA members in the summer months, when all of Southington youth are more likely to want to use it! It has gotten expensive to join the YMCA. It does not make sense that the town subsidizes these costs, but park use is limited to YMCA members. Something needs to change!
John Leary April 26, 2011 at 04:13 PM
There are many good things, that benefit people and most of them cost money. Its a question of who should pay. Two questions came up in the discussions. 1) Should Tax payer money be used to fund the ongoing operations of a private organization? 2) Is there solid data, on non YMCA members who are Southington residents, usage of this facility, to justify that this expense is worthwhile? These are two separate and unrelated questions. I admit that many people would answer these questions differently. The YMCA is an excellent, high quality, professional organization. Most people, including me, pay for a YMCA membership or they pay a program fee and get a lot of personal satisfaction from the activities offered by the YMCA . The question is “Why should the skate board park be any different?” The YMCA can, if it chooses, charge a program fee for Skate Board Park usage. The fee can be used to cover maintenance and supervision. This would be consistent with all other YMCA programs. Also, there is financial help for those in need. The Town of Southington, through tax dollars and generous donations of time and money, has its role to maintain our town parks and our recreation programs.
Jason Vallee (Editor) April 28, 2011 at 02:29 AM
Ruth - the skate park is not limited to members, even during the summer months. There are opportunities every afternoon and evening, as well as time on weekends, for the town's residents to use the skate park regardless of whether they are members on weekends. There is no charge for use of the skate park and the morning, early afternoon restrictions exist ONLY because of security matters involving the camp during the day. I have added a line to the story to clarify this for everyone.
Arthur Cyr April 28, 2011 at 02:35 AM
"Secret Deals" should never be rewarded. Restricting non-member use for 5 years before they were found out should not be rewarded after they finally changed the signs. The Board of Finance has asked for documentation of how many non-members residents go there on a daily, weekly or monthly basis - BUT the YMCA never kept track or encouraged it or provided any transportation from High Street to the Skate Park. But they still want the $11,000 a year. Go figure. They must be "entitled".

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