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.