The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday proposed a spending plan for next fiscal year that restores funding to operate Kiwanis Park, though the future of the Old Norwalk Road facility remains uncertain.
The selectmen voted 3-0 to pass along to the Board of Finance an overall operating budget of about $153.6 million, representing a year-over-year spending increase of 1.1%. The figure includes Board of Education spending.
In a budget season that has seen the finance board call for an operating reduction of 2% in municipal departments, an initial draft proposed spending plan before the selectmen had essentially de-commissioned Kiwanis Park by removing funding for it.
Yet Selectmen Kit Devereaux and Nick Williams during the Board’s regular meeting at Town Hall pushed to have $47,000 restored to Kiwanis so that recreation officials have a chance to reinvigorate the park under a reduced-hours schedule next summer.
“I would rather not go the route of simply shutting down—not as a park, but as a recreation facility,” Williams said at the meeting, held in Town Hall. “Kiwanis has been around a long time, my kids went there. There is some usage—I think we need to determine what that is. I would require the Rec Department two keep scrupulous notes on who is using it.”
He added, “I think the Rec Department should go to the Board of Finance and make the point as to why it should continue at all. And if the Board of Finance decides to cut it, they cut it. But at least we are giving them a second, and perhaps, last chance.”
Saying difficult decisions must be made in a tight budget year, First Selectman Kevin Moynihan had been pushing for a spending plan that would cut funding for Kiwanis to just $10,000 for fiscal year 2021. The first selectman said talks are underway with the New Canaan YMCA, which already operates a popular summer camp at Kiwanis, to take over a recently vacated town-owned house on the property for their own office use.
Moynihan said during Tuesday’s meeting that he had met again with the Y’s executive director and “they very much want to take over the house as part of their program.”
“They would be interested in taking over the pavilion and the whole operation,” he said. “So until we conclude that discussion with them, I don’t think we can make a decision. The Board of Finance by the end of February, should have more information and they can decide.”
He referred to the next phase of the budget process, when the finance board reviews New Canaan’s proposed spending plan (final decisions are made by the Town Council, though the legislative body cannot add money back into the budget).
Devereaux argued in favor of restoring funding for Kiwanis, saying, “It’s a lot easier to remove something from the budget after things get going than it is to add.”
“The Board of Finance is good at cutting—god bless them, they’re not elected, they’re appointed,” he said. “And I trust them as a terrific body. I would prefer to have Kiwanis protected, at least at the starting point by us so that there would be some continuing usage of the facility.”
Williams added, “I am supportive of efforts of the Rec Department, with the understanding that if it doesn’t work, it’s going to be the end.”
It’s unclear just what parks officials will propose for Kiwanis. The Recreation Department during a budget hearing last week proposed using part of the fresh water pool at Kiwanis for an “aqua park” that includes a main flotation device with slides. The Parks & Recreation Commission has formed a committee to work on a proposal that the full appointed body is expected to discuss next month. Recreation Director Steve Benko asked for $57,000 in order to staff the park with lifeguards and attendants for its summer season—a 36% reduction from past spending.
“They really want to give it a try and I think they deserve a chance to try, particularly at their reduced figure,” Devereaux said.
Moynihan called for more accurate accounting of the costs and revenues associated with Kiwanis Park.
Regarding the restoration of operating funds for this summer, he said, “I would only support this to the extent that the money really is in suspense as to how it’s going to be used. We are not deciding something today. The Board of Finance will decide the question.”
“I will explain to the Board of Finance liaisons, as well as the chairman of the Board of Finance, that this is really their issue to take up,” he said. “If we adjust the budget to accommodate more money, they will decide how it’s going to be applied.”
To offset the $47,000 in additional funding for Kiwanis in the draft budget, town CFO Lunda Asmani said that same amount would be added to anticipated savings in an “Additional Personnel Savings” line item. Pegged now at about $180,000, it refers to anticipated cost-savings in municipal wages, such as through retirements, open positions and newly hired workers coming in at lower salaries than their predecessors.
“It means we have to work harder,” Moynihan said.
A seasonal swimming facility open early-June to late-August, Kiwanis Park features the fresh water pond, sand beach, picnic pavilion, snack bar and large playground. It’s used by multiple daycare facilities and summer camps, including the Recreation Department’s and the New Canaan YMCA’s, and officials are discussing the introduction of an open-air ice skating rink in winter.