“It’s not where we want to go, but it wasn’t our decision.”
ST. ALBANS TOWN — In an effort to correct what selectmen considered public misperceptions of their actions, the St. Albans Town Selectboard again took up the issue of recreation funding at its regular meeting last week.
“We were very clear that this wasn’t going to fly,” said selectboard chair Bernie Boudreau, who explained that the city had asked for a 37 percent increase in the town’s requested contribution to city recreation programs.
“I don’t think anybody would agree to a 37 percent increase from any department head,” said Boudreau.
The selectman, however, neglected to mention a reduced offer later made by the city that amounted to an increase in recreation spending of slightly more than a dollar per town resident.
The originally city had asked the town to pay $58,000, or 49 percent, of the cost of the program after projected revenues were deducted from projected costs. In exchange, town residents would pay the same fees for programs and camps as city residents, roughly 20 percent lower than that paid by other non-residents.
The previous year the town had paid the city $42,000.
The town has no control over the recreation program expenses, Boudreau pointed out, adding, “and they were expecting us to pay 49 percent of it for a 20 percent discount (in the non-resident fees).”
The selectboard instead decided to reimburse residents for the difference between the residential and non-residential rate.
More recently, the selectmen examined each program individually, deciding which they would reimburse and which they would not. A babysitting course offered by the Red Cross did not make the cut. Also, on the not reimbursable list were an engineering camp for fourth through eighth graders called Collision Cars, and Pickleball, a game popular with seniors.
The decision has drawn criticism from town residents.
Boudreau claimed that when he has spoken to town residents they changed their views after he explained the reasons for the selectboard’s decision.
For several years, the town has joined with the city in subsidizing the St. Albans City recreation program. In return, town residents paid the same fees for recreation activities and camps as city residents, about 20 percent lower than the fees charged to residents of other communities.
The city and town each comprise 49 to 50 percent of participants in the city’s recreation programs, with 1 to 2 percent of participants coming from other communities, according to Kelly Viens, the city’s recreation director.
The city’s recreation funding request of the town included four percent of the city’s liability insurance, three percent of the costs of the financial department and five percent of the city manager’s salary. Also included was a share of public works expenses for maintaining recreation facilities.
The city also included, for the first time, a portion of the capital costs for the department. Those costs had always been born entirely by the city.
The town rejected the request, opting instead to reimburse town residents for the difference in costs.
Concerned that town residents might have difficulty paying the full cost of the program upfront and then waiting for reimbursement, selectman Steve Coon met with city manager Dominic Cloud about the city billing the town for the difference.
The city said it would, provided the town paid a $1,200 per month administration fee, according to Coon.
“That’s how we got where we are,” said Boudreau.
“It’s not where we want to go, but it wasn’t our decision,” said Coon, arguing that faced with a 37 percent increase in costs, the selectboard had no choice but to say no.
Boudreau also noted that all of the town’s budget meetings were warned, public meetings.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there, especially in the Messenger,” said Coon. While the Messenger did cover the issue in detail as it unfolded, recent reporting focused on the selectboard’s discussion of what programs it would reimburse and did not focus on the entire history.
However, at last week’s Monday night meeting the board did not mention that it had received a second offer from the city. On Jan. 10, 2013, Cloud sent a letter to the town reducing the request from $58,000 to $49,840, an increase of $7,340 over the previous year.
The reduction was the result of eliminating a shade structure for the pool and some seasonal staff and an increase in fees paid by residents of communities other than the city and town. At the time, Cloud described the changes as a normal part of the city’s budget process.
The selectboard declined to pay the reduced amount as well.