WALLINGFORD — The Town Council is considering taking back the power to approve the town’s park facility permit fee structure.
Currently, the Recreation Commission is the municipal body that sets the parks fee structure. However, that power is given to the commission by the Town Council via an ordinance, which the council may amend.
At an ordinance committee meeting Tuesday night, the council voted 7 to 1 to send an amendment of the Town Code to a vote of the full council. The ordinance would require Town Council approval of parks facility fee structures, including any waiver provisions.
Council Chairman Vincent Cervoni voted no. Councilor Vincent Testa was absent.
Fee structure changes would take effect 30 days after action by the council, unless the council determines otherwise.
The move comes as the Parks and Recreation department and the Wallingford Family YMCA have reached a stalemate over a proposal by Parks Director Kenny Michaels to stop waiving the park rental fee for nonprofit organizations — notably the YMCA and Ulbrich Boys & Girls Club, which use town parks to run summer camps.
Sean Doherty, Wallingford Family YMCA executive director, and Carlos Collazo, Ulbrich Boys & Girls Club executive director, have raised objections to the change, citing the financial burden and examples of past partnerships with the town.
Michaels and Recreation Commission member Jason Michael have defended the proposal, since the YMCA occupies a section of Doolittle Park — located across the street from the YMCA’s eastside branch — for eight to nine weeks each summer and charges an admission fee for its programs.
Parks department representatives suggested a closed-door meeting last week to discuss the situation with YMCA officials, setting a time and place. Doherty didn’t feel prepared enough to meet, saying afterward — when neither he nor any YMCA board members attended — that Michaels wouldn’t provide him with a copy of the updated proposal.Some precedent
Councilor Joe Marrone proposed the change to the existing ordinance.
“We’ve seen a bit of a political firestorm over some of the decisions they’ve made,” Marrone said Tuesday during the meeting, referring to the Recreation Commission, “and I’m not saying whether those decisions were appropriate or inappropriate, but it’s certainly within their rights and ability, according to the authority they've been given by the council.”
He said that the council already approves town fees set by other municipal bodies, such as public utility rates and solid waste fees.
“A fee is a tax by another name, so we’ve sort of given away some of our taxing authority to a group of volunteers,” Marrone said, referring to the Recreation Commission.
The Recreation Commission would still establish the dollar amounts in the park fees and the council would just approve them.
Ordinance Committee Chairman Chris Shortell said there are examples of council approvals for use of town facilities by nonprofits, such as allowing the First Congregational Church to use the Parade Ground for an annual church event in September and Wallingford Community Theatre to use of the Robert F. Parisi Town Council Chambers in Town Hall for theatrical productions.
The council also changed the pool tag price and kept Community Pool open two weeks longer in 2019.
Marrone originally proposed that the parks facility fee structure require Town Council approval and that the changes would take effect a minimum of six months later. It did not mention fee waivers.Questions
Councilor Craig Fishbein questioned the six-month recommendation, and Cervoni noted that when the council passes an ordinance, there’s a 30-day period before it takes effect.
Town Corporation Counsel Janis M. Small weighed in as the council tweaked the language of the proposed ordinance amendment.
Councilor Christina Tatta asked why the Parks department chose to eliminate the fee waivers at this time.
Parks Director Kenny Michaels said that there was never an official waiver that needed to be filled out, but that language in the park use request packet states the fee may be waived for certain organizations.
He added that the Parks department budget was cut last year by $22,500 — the amount that the council cut for salaries and wages after the mayor cut the Parks’ initial request by $84,500.
“We're constantly trying to find ways to do more with user fees,” he said, “and rely less on the tax base come budget time.”