Wallingford officials want to ‘turn down heat’ over proposed park fee changes 

Wallingford officials want to ‘turn down heat’ over proposed park fee changes 

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WALLINGFORD — Parks and Recreation officials said this week that they never intended to charge nonprofits the full park rental fee when they proposed changing the fee structure.

“There’s simply no way we would entertain that,” Jason Michael, Recreation Commission member, said Wednesday, “because it would trigger a closure of the park, and that would be for the entire summer. That would be nonsensical.”

Ever since a screenshot of an email from the Wallingford Family YMCA to Camp Ulbrich families was posted on Facebook earlier this month, the town’s park facility permit fee structure has been a topic of conversation online.  

Michael said that two separate actions by the commission have been conflated.

The first was a change, made in 2016, to the fee structure that raised the fee for renting an entire park for a full, 8-hour day for a special event/tournament from $750 to $800.

The second was the proposal on the table to change the fee structure and start charging the YMCA and Ulbrich Boys & Girls Club to use the parks to run their summer camps.

“I think a lot of people confuse nonprofit with public and private,” Michael said. “A lot of people in general think, ‘oh, it’s nonprofit, it’s equatable to a public entity.’ But it’s not. It’s a private entity that takes in millions of dollars a year.”

Parks and Recreation Director Kenny Michaels said Wednesday that there was never an exemption from the fee structure for nonprofits as such, but nonprofits were “subject to a fee waiver.”

Michaels created a six-year fee implementation plan for the YMCA and Boys & Girls Club based on the $800 per day park rental for special events fee schedule.

For the first three years, the groups would only be charged 25 percent of the full facility fee, or $200 per day. Each day covers eight hours.

This summer, the YMCA would be charged $8,000 to reserve Doolittle Park for Camp Ulbrich, including day camp activities, Race 4 Chase and Upward Bound. The Boys & Girls Club would be charged $8,000 to reserve Grand Street Park for its Summer Fun Club. That covers 40 days, or eight weeks.

For the next three years, the rate would be raised to 50 percent of the fee, or $400 per day. Michaels and the groups would reassess the arrangement after the fifth year.

Michaels, Michael and Recreation Commission Chairman Dave Gelo extended an invitation to Sean Doherty, Wallingford Family YMCA executive director, to meet today with them and other YMCA representatives to “turn down the heat,” as Michael put it, and  come to a resolution on the situation.

“We’ve extended and olive branch for discussion,” Michaels said.

Doherty was not immediately available for comment.

Town Council may step in

As the debate drags on, the Town Council may step in to take back the power to set parks fees.

Currently, the Recreation Commission is the municipal body that regulates the facility permit fee structure.

However, Town Corporation Counsel Janis M. Small said in a memo Tuesday that the Town Charter states the power to set the fee structure is given to the Recreation Commission by the Town Council via an ordinance, which the council may amend “as it deems appropriate.”

Town Councilor Joe Marrone proposed a discussion on the ordinance covering town fees for use of parks for Tuesday’s ordinance committee meeting.

Michaels said that during his time employed by the Parks department, the Town Council has never set parks fees. He declined to comment further.

Michael said that he didn’t think the Town Council should be involved in direct oversight of the Parks department. The council oversees Recreation Commission decisions, he said, not departmental ones.

“It just seems awfully strange to me,” Michael said, “that now that everyone in town, and these councils and the mayor himself and Kenny (Michaels), are all aware that this vote is out of their hands… It’s funny that even the thought of our commission making that change, or imposing that fee, and all of a sudden it’s going to be on an agenda to take that power away from the commission that is charged with overseeing that department. It’s really odd timing.”

LTakores@record-journal.com203-317-2212Twitter: @LCTakores

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