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.
I have tried for many years (my suggestion went to the Park and Rec Department one year after the Waveny Pool umbrellas went up) to have the umbrellas come to Kiwanis because there is no shade. Little children like to play in the sand but parents need shade.
My son went to Kiwanis Park almost every morning because there was shade. As the sun rose, there was no shade by lunch time. Many parents with young children went home for lunch or to put there children down for naps.We would return again in late afternoon to meet with more friends.
Next, I raised this suggestion of umbrellas on the beach at an annual League of Women Voters meeting with the prior First Selectman in attendance. Not one member opposed the umbrellas; on the other hand, many League members thought the umbrellas were a great idea. Nothing happened.
Over the next 2 years I met with the former chair of Parks and Rec who listened and, I presume, discussed it with the Commission. Finally, at last ‘s May’s Park + Rec Meeting the posts were installed and the umbrellas were “on their way”. The cost of the umbrellas was approved at the August 2019 BOS meeting so, hence, no umbrellas were installed. They’ll be installed this summer.
Over the years the beach concession stand has not been open during the posted hours. I witnessed children asking for ice cream or a drink only to exit the beach because it was closed. This has also made the beach less attractive than Waveny Pool where the concession stand is open whenever the pool is open.
Tall grass in the playground makes the beach area look care-worn. Several years ago a gate attendant asked for my opinion for his Eagle Scout project. I suggested clearing brush and painting the Kiwanis Park sign since no one could even see it as they entered the beach. He received Town approval and did it. But why should a scout along with helpers clear brush and paint a sign?
Now, the Kiwanis beach has come from the back burner to the front burner.
I oppose just having the Y use the beach and pavilion. Rather, we should allow New Canaan residents the use of this beach 7 days a week. When I purchase a beach pass, I purchase it for the whole season not just for weekends. This is very unfair to New Canaan residents who do not have children in Y camps.
I agree with Betty’s opinion. We loved Kiwanis (our children did the Y camp for a couple of years and we used to try to go to Kiwanis on as many overcast days, as possible).
The key reason we stopped was due to the lack of umbrellas – we all needed shade and I was very surprised that they didn’t go up when they did at Waveny.
Thank you for giving Kiwanis another go.
I’ve lived in New Canaan for over 22 years and every year that I’ve gone for my annual pass the staff assumed I wanted a pool pass There’s was never a sign or picture of the Kiwanis park or listing of it as an option. Clearly the staff was pushing pool passes.
Maybe, just maybe, it the staff selling park passes would equally explain the benefits of each pass, more families unaware of the Kiwanis amenities, would use this beautiful facility. Families with little children who we all know love to play and dig in the sand and splash in shallow water instead of the completely different pool experience.
Yes, I know the pool pass includes Kiwanis Park but if folk where adequately informed that they had an option, perhaps they would choose the $15 family pass instead of the hundreds of dollar pool pass, or better yet, maybe those who can’t justify the expense of the pool pass will opt for Kiwanis adding to attendance.
Perhaps the Parks and Rec folks, or whomever is marketing this great asset, should coordinate with the schools, day cares, churches, Realtors, and new comers club to get out the word on the facility – benefits and cost of attendance. Should be pretty easy to include on any weekly email sent out. As for umbrellas – this an easy fix – odd something so simple should take that much time to get installed.
I hope New Canaan continues to fund Kiwanis Park. My kids and I spent many wonderful days playing in the sand, the pond and the playground areas there. Kiwanis needs to be supported and promoted , not abandoned.
The hill next to the grass lot would make a great safe sledding hill in the winter unlike Waveny that you sled into hay barrels at the end.
This park could be a gem with small amounts of money and if it was kept up.
I agree with Betty’s opinion. We loved Kiwanis (our children did the Y camp for a couple of years and we used to try to go to Kiwanis beach on as many overcast days, as possible).
The key reason we stopped was due to the lack of umbrellas – we all needed shade and I was very surprised that umbrellas didn’t go up at Kiwanis at the same time they did at Waveny.
Thank you for giving Kiwanis another go.
It’s good to see that the park will be given a chance – instead of practically giving public buildings to private enterprise or giving a voice to a highly dubious and expensive/noisy ice-rink idea, surely the focus should be on trying to help local residents make the most of the facilities that exist.
I couldn’t agree more with Betty on umbrellas, concessions etc.
Also – letting people know when they buy their pool pass that they have access to this facility. More publicity and events please.
I applaud the decision to restore a placeholder for funding to Kiwanis. We pay for this facility through our property taxes.
It is inappropriate for the Selectmen to make “swinging” cuts to the Kiwanis budget or to give exclusive access to the pond and other buildings to the YMCA camp for five days a week without first putting that idea for public consultation and input. As Kiwanis pond is funded by property taxes and pool passes, it should be made available to the public seven days a week.
As a long time resident I agree with Betty. The park should be open throughout the summer. It is a beautiful pond in a natural setting that I used to swim in. I also agree shade is an issue. Adding umbrellas could increase usage. Jack Trifero