Old Town residents argue to keep rec department out of proposed cuts

Posted July 01, 2013, at 10:25 p.m.

OLD TOWN, Maine — Residents filled all the seats, lined the walls and even stood in the hallway in order to attend Old Town’s City Council meeting on Monday night.

The city’s budget, with possible tax increases and program and position cuts, was on the agenda — including the possible elimination of the Old Town recreation department.

City Manager Bill Mayo ran down a list of possible cuts to help the city overcome a $614,512 budget shortfall, even after the possibility of a 5 percent rate increase.

Cuts considered included the city pool, recreation department, library and an economic development position. Mayo also mentioned eliminating a police department captain position and not filling a vacant patrol position, as well as changing the ambulance service and eliminating the finance clerk.

Cutting the recreation department — a $77,000 net gain — drew the largest reaction from the crowd, as 17 people stood and spoke to the council, most of whom said they wanted to keep the department.

Only Old Town residents were allowed to speak during the meeting. Nonresidents were encouraged to write to the city manager, who said he would give the letters to the council.

“I know these cuts won’t be easy cuts. I know over the years the council has done a very good job at cutting the fat out of the budget,” said Jeff Plourde, a former council member. “There really isn’t any fat left in the budget. Now you’re cutting muscle.”

Even with the YMCA in town, Plourde said the rec department is needed.

“We’re very fortunate to have the Y. They run some great programs. But let’s be honest, it’s not a viable option for a lot of people,” said Todd Rand. “I wouldn’t be able to afford to have my daughter attend their afterschool program or their summer program.”

The recreation department costs $257,000 to operate, but takes in $180,000 in revenue for a net loss of $77,000, according to budget figures.

“I’m quite confident given that there’s 100 children in the afterschool program and 150 in the summer program, just [a] $10-a-week raise in those fees, which most families are willing to absorb, that would make up for over $50,000 of that,” Plourde said.

“Can you name another department that practically pays for itself?” asked Scott Talcove.

Talcove warned that if the recreation department is cut, it may likely never come back.

“When you cut the rec department, it’s gone for good,” he said. “If you make that cut, [you should ask yourselves], is it something you want off the table for good?”

Others who spoke were opposed to cutting the library and the economic development position.

“The only long-term solution for revenue recovery is growth,” said Lloyd Hall. “To eliminate one position that is working day in and day out toward growth — bringing in businesses, bringing in community functions and making this a place people and businesses want to be — is scary.

“We’re getting initiatives off the ground. It’s not a quick process,” he continued. “It’s like farming. The seeds have to be planted and tended and watered and watched. There’s a crop at the end of that. But if we pull the plug on economic development, I’m afraid we’re cutting ourselves off early and the growth goes with it.”

Council President Alan Stormann said the council will work to put together the budget and discuss cuts. Two public hearings will be held before a final decision is made.

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