TOWNSEND -- The Recreation Commission will be asking voters to restore $22,000 in town funding at Town Meeting on May 5, despite a lack of support from selectmen.
The money, which the commission received until becoming self-funded in 2009, would go primarily toward funding the salary of Recreation Director Emy Hoff. Without the funding, the Recreation Commission could be out of money in 18 months.
"I have no problem bringing this to the town and letting you speak to the town, however, I have to tell you I will speak against it because I honestly beieve you can be self-funded," Selectman Sue Lisio said.
Recreation Commission Chairwoman Sharon Whittier said the Finance Committee asked the department to start paying for itself in 2009, but there was disagreement over whether that fix was intended to be permanent.
Whittier said the commission had agreed to having the town review the funding situation in two years.
Town Administrator Andrew Sheehan said that by looking through meeting minutes and talking to then-Town Administrator Greg Barnes, he believed the move toward self-funding to be permanent.
Lisio said the commission simply wasn't charging enough for its services. The six-week Summer Recreation program the department ran last summer cost $400, amounting to less than $2 an hour, leading Lisio to quip that she had been paid more than that to babysit in the 1960s.
But Hoff said raising rates more than $50 or so a year for Summer Recreation could drive away customers to neighboring towns.
"The board was very concerned with the economic demographic that we have in Townsend that we actually would overraise to the point where we end up canceling out our program as a whole," Hoff said.
Whittier was concerned about the effect raising rates substantially could have on families who depend on the service.
"Every year we raise our Summer Recreation fees, which is our main program, but we are all opposed to raising those fees so astronomically that no child will be able to attend them," Whittier said.
The biggest financial drains on the program, Whittier said, are wages and physicals for Summer Recreation counselors.
The counselors' inclusion on the town wage matrix requires raises for returning employees each year, while the mandated physicals cost $170 for each new counselor.
While most of the programs offered do pay for themselves, Hoff said they simply do not also cover the salary for her part-time position.
"All of our programs can fund themselves, they just can't fund a director," Hoff said.
Lisio said that due to increasing costs for the town, including rising school assessments, the $22,000 could not be funded without a Proposition 2 1/2 override, which she said she would not support.
Lisio said that she supports the program as a whole and is willing to work with the commission to help them figure out how pricing increases could make the program more sustainable.
"It's great. The kids love it, the parents love it, but you have to find a way to watch the costs, watch what you're charging and try to bring in what you're spending," Lisio said.
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