The Park & Recreation Department would like to respond to a recent article in the Easton Courier presented by Andy Kachele from the Board of Finance, who believes that the field maintenance side of Park & Rec should be moved to DPW. Members of the Board of Finance are stating this change of responsibility will provide enhanced services at a lower cost but have yet to show these cost savings. While the Board of Finance would like you to believe that this is a simple change with no severe consequences, our dept does not believe this to be true.
Athletic field maintenance requires specialized skills, knowledge and equipment that the DPW department does not possess. It is much more than just mowing grass & landscaping as the Board of Finance would have you believe. Our two departments work together and share equipment whenever necessary and do not have difficulty coordinating schedules when there is an open line of communication.
While there may be some occasional overlap, the primary focus of expertise, equipment and priorities of each department are not the same. While DPW does have a much larger staff, P&R employees include a former Automotive Service Excellence certified mechanic, an automotive machinist and welder on site. We can do 99% of our repairs and equipment maintenance in-house, which is a large cost saving to the town.
The Park & Rec Dept and DPW are in two different unions and on two different pay scales. The average salary for a DPW employee is above that of the staff at P&R. This would not be a cost saving to the town. In addition, with respect to the union discussion, this would remove a portion of the workload from the P&R Director position, which in turn is likely to result in departmental changes and potential restructuring. Our department already has minimal staff; any further reduction could affect the affordable programming and childcare Easton Park & Recreation provides.
While the current discussion is about moving maintenance employees over to DPW, as of now the field scheduling portion would remain with Park & Recreation, adding unnecessary, additional lines of communication. Our department sees the direct line of communication between user groups and our Director as a huge asset. Additional channels will now have to be navigated for last minute field requests, town events, clean ups and un-scheduled circumstances which come up often.
How can this make things simpler when DPW already has a huge amount of responsibility and states that it is currently understaffed? In addition to last minute requests, the P&R maintenance staff are responsible for many small tasks that help the Programming side of P&R and other town departments. Whether it is inflating bounce houses, dragging the beach at Aspetuck Park, or assisting other departments in town, our staff is available to assist whenever it can.
Any residents who have been in Easton for some time may be aware that this subject was brought up 15 years ago, and then reevaluated again in 2017 by a subcommittee requested by the First Selectman at the time. It was decided in both circumstances to leave the departments as they were. This was before an additional school, athletic fields, playground, dog park and other facilities and grounds were established.
The Park & Rec Department has more assets on its plate than ever to maintain and has successfully sustained all these additions with the same amount of staff and without incurring large increases from Easton taxpayers. In fact, our operating budget has been reduced by 9% since 2018. This is a direct result of our departments Activity Account, Field Use account and streamlining from the department.
The Park & Rec Department has never been more visible and transparent. A commission meets monthly to review budgeting, expenses, programming and special projects. The department of Public Works has no direct board to oversee their department. Our Activity Account & Field Use Account are presented twice annually to the Board of Finance and all purchasing and projects are approved by the proper channels. With 80% of revenue from our Field Use Account coming from out of town athletic organizations, those renters and in town user groups expect a certain level of field maintenance.
Our department takes a great deal of pride in the maintenance of our athletic fields. The revenue generated from the Activity Account and Field Use Account go directly towards capital projects and field maintenance. This is a substantial savings to Easton taxpayers. The question that should be asked is whether our athletic fields will continue to be maintained at the very high level they currently are if the responsibility shifts to DPW? The majority of towns who have made this change, state no.
We ask all Easton residents to remember, this is not a request coming from user groups or residents, but rather a few members of the Board of Finance who are trying to fix something that is not broken. As mentioned earlier, please show us where this move saves the town money. Rather than focusing on this age-old discussion, our department would like to focus on moving forward and addressing the needs of the community (pickle ball courts, walking trails) while still providing recreational fields and facilities for the families in town (new playgrounds, splash pads). The restructuring of this department will only slow down, if not halt, these future accomplishments.
The Park & Rec Commission feels that if this should come to a town wide vote it should happen when proper town meetings and procedures can be in place, not during the current COVID pandemic.