Town-outside-the-village residents will pay the same fees as their village counterparts when signing up for many Essex Jct. Recreation and Parks programs this fiscal year after elected officials authorized the town to pick up the $3,000 tab.
Previously, non-village residents had to pay a non-resident fee, typically $10 and $20 more. But thanks to a transfer from the town, now all Essex residents will now see a single user fee when signing up for many EJRP programs – excluding the pool and child care.
“We shouldn’t let politics get in the way of families and kids having access to whatever rec programs they need and want,” said village vice president George Tyler at the July 23 joint meeting.
The staff request came a week before the two local rec departments were scheduled to publish their first-ever joint brochure – one of the many benefits highlighted by rec directors last year when asking to co-locate their departments into the Maple Street Park offices.
The brochures lists the price of every rec program. But with four different possible fees – resident and non-resident for both departments – the rec directors were struggling to make the brochure easy to understand, finance director and assistant village manager Sarah Macy told the boards.
Both elected boards supported co-location last year. And nine of the 10 officials at last week’s joint meeting doubled down on the fee changes. But village president Andrew Brown dissented over an unwillingness to ask villagers to subsidize their own programs.
“I think we can agree the money’s peanuts,” Brown said of the $3,000 payment.
“The elephant is that administrative fee for EJRP programming – the staff who coordinated everything that somebody would attend that the village would solely bare,” Brown continued. “To have the village pay the town taxes, then go back to the village to subsidize a non-resident fee – policy-wise, [that] doesn’t feel good.”
Brown’s pushback echoed a stance he voiced when the rec departments first asked to co-locate. Their initial plan would have aligned all program fees, essentially treating residents in both municipalities the same while still allowing village residents first dibs on childcare programs.
The trustees supported the idea at first. But with villagers already funding EJRP’s $650,000 administrative budget in addition to a little over 40 percent of the town rec budget, officials recognized the optics requiring their constituents to further subsidize the programs. And after hearing pushback to the plan, they changed course, voting last December against the change.
With this in mind, some officials shared Brown’s wariness. Trustee Raj Chawla called the brochure hiccup a “manufactured” problem and said he felt like the departments were moving ahead with a merger piece by piece. He also questioned the logic of aligning fee structures before first hashing out the question of merger.
“Co-location was a great idea, but it didn’t need to happen. The joint brochure is a great idea, but it didn’t need to happen,” Chawla said. “It’s convenient for people … but it just feels like the timing’s off.”
But others saw the change as an easy fix to a small problem, saying it would be a show of good faith between the two communities.
“This is trying to iron out a small little wrinkle to enable them to do what we asked them to do, so I would be shocked and disappointed to see us not support this fix,” said selectboard vice chairman Max Levy. And Chairwoman Elaine Haney asked her colleagues to “philosophically make the leap that we have bigger fish to fry.”
“This is the groundwork that we need to start laying for compromise on rec,” she said.
The town will now transfer the $3,000 sum from its own recreation budget into the EJRP budget. The boards’ authorization only applies to fiscal year 2020, so officials could reverse the measure come the next fiscal year.