Commission: We need large investment, better plans for Cumberland parks

Commission: We need large investment, better plans for Cumberland parks

CUMBERLAND – This town’s parks and recreation services are understaffed and underfunded, say members of the Parks and Recreation Commission, and a general lack of information on how money is spent makes it difficult to analyze how to improve the situation.

Commission Chairman Alan Neville, pictured, and member Dan Stevenson updated the Town Council last week on a number of items that they and Town Solicitor Kelley Morris Salvatore were asked to look into starting in December.

Communities such as Smithfield and South Kingstown provide a “much more granular view” of parks and recreation functions, said Neville, creating detailed narratives and setting benchmark expectations for what’s going to be accomplished in a given year, including the number of personnel needed to carry tasks out and other useful information.

The first step in making sure the town is getting good value is to know how much is being spent and what it’s being spent on, said Neville. The department currently has a budget of $225,000, to essentially cover Mike Crawley’s function, with resources to support park maintenance coming from the Highway Department, where the only line item is a $54,000 maintenance fund for hiring an outside company to care for fields. Outside of that specific line item started recently, said Neville at the May 5 council meeting, it’s impossible to say how much of the $2.5 million budget for highway is allocated to parks.

While his goal in coming before the council was to advocate for investing more in a parks system that’s long been neglected, said Neville, it’s also important to know how much is being spent currently before taking that plunge.

Additionally, many towns have much more robust websites than Cumberland’s to highlight the services that parks and recreation provides in town, including greater transparency on pricing and scheduling, said Neville. That would be a good direction for this town to go in, he said.

A one-size-fits-all approach to special events pricing in parks is impractical, said Neville, as an event such as the nonprofit CumberlandFest is really a town-supported event and receives some financial support from the town, making it much different from an event run by a for-profit outside organization.

The commission, after a year of work reviewing park pricing schedules and practices, is recommending a new nine-tier pricing schedule for the town’s athletic field network.

• Group 1 would be town department programs and town-sponsored or town-funded programs or events.

• Group 2 would be nonprofit youth recreational organizations with at least 90 percent Cumberland residents.

• Group 3 would be nonprofit adult recreational organizations with at least 90 percent Cumberland residents.

• Group 4 would be other nonprofit community organizations with at least 90 percent Cumberland residents.

• Group 5 would be other nonprofit youth organizations with less than 90 percent town residents.

• Group 6 would be other nonprofit adult organizations with less than 90 percent Cumberland residents.

• Group 7 would be other nonprofit community organizations with less than 90 percent Cumberland residents.

• Group 8 would be for-profit commercial agencies located within town, with parks and recreation director approval.

• And group 9 would be for-profit commercial agencies located outside of town limits, again with director approval.

Field priority would be assigned by group starting with group 1, with lower numbers given priority if two entities are trying to book a field for the same time. In-season sports would also be given preference during their in-season.

Total revenue gained from fees in 2019 was $32,400, with $15,000 of that coming from a rental agreement with 13th World for its Halloween event. Under the new proposed pricing schedule, total revenue would increase by $14,300, to $46,700.

Neville said local groups have told commission members that they’re fine with the new pricing as long as they know that the money will be reinvested back into the town’s athletic facilities. Current ordinances already call for fees to go back into parks.

Enforcement of contractual arrangements and rental/usage agreements is difficult with current staffing levels, but commission members have produced two documents articulating the town’s expectations for groups that hold special events in parks.

The commission is not recommending any changes to park usage fees by groups, which are $500 per day for special event usage and $125 for a small group permit.

In a separate finding, the Parks and Recreation Commission evaluated the town’s relationship with 13th World and determined that the company is fulfilling its obligations and should have the relationship renewed for 2021 with the same fee structure of $15,000 for the fall season.

Further explaining the commission’s recommendations on budgets and transparency, Stevenson spoke about how departments in other towns, including Smithfield, pay part-time non-union laborers to maintain the park system during warmer months.


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Other communities with much higher budgets maintain constant lists of things that need to be done and expectations for how they should be done, said Stevenson. One rapidly growing community in Georgia even outsources all of its parks and recreation functions, spelling out a “really amazing” level of detail in a clearly articulated and elaborate contract, said Stevenson, including processes for identifying problems and expectations on turnaround times for having them addressed, he said.

Neville noted that another $250,000 invested in Cumberland parks would be one-quarter of 1 percent of the town’s budget.

“If we can’t come up with that, shame on us,” he said.

Asked whether summer staffing help in other towns is mostly high school and college students, he said Smithfield actually has its easiest time recruiting early retirees who are looking for something to do.

Though the fees for field use wouldn’t change all that much under the proposal, said Stevenson, the idea with the new tiered system was to give a bit more detail to be posted for those outside the community to see what’s available and know where they rank on the priority scale, taking many questions off the table.

The extra $14,000 in base revenue isn’t a huge windfall for the town, said Stevenson, but it does help solidify resources to properly maintain a budget for parks and recreation maintenance.

Town officials expect to have a draft ordinance on the proposals from the commission within a month.

Comments

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