OLD SAYBROOK — After a debate and vote before a packed room, the Town of Old Saybrook approved $49,000 from the capital non-recurring fund to hire a consultant to develop a strategic plan for the Parks and Recreation Commission focusing on four town parks.
“We feel strongly that we need to improve our beaches, fields, parks and facilities that were mostly designed in the 50s. There are other towns that are better,” said Kevin Lane, a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission. “We need to put some tax dollars into planning what to do.”
The hope, according to Lane and First Selectman Carl Fortuna, is that by investing in a strategic plan for park development and maintenance, the town will be able to continue to grow Parks and Recreation as a source of revenue. During the 2019 season, the town grossed $331,966 from mini-golf, Harvey’s Beach, concessions, and beach passes.
Last year, the commission identified the firm Fitzgerald & Halliday through a request for proposal as the best choice as a consultant for the project. The firm, which has completed similar projects for other Connecticut towns, originally requested $100,000 to develop a plan that would involve all 17 parks in Old Saybrook, however with the focus reduced to just four parks – Clark Community Park, Old Saybrook Point Park, Harvey’s Beach and Main Street Park – the price would be cut to $49,000.
“We need their third-party expertise. We are not experts in parks and rec as a commission. I work at Verizon. We are volunteers,” Lane said. “We don’t know what to do next. We need the expertise of Fitzgerald & Halliday to figure out what to do with our parks.”
Three members of the Board of Finance who previously voted no against this allocation of funds, attending the public meeting, disagreed.
“We spend $500,000 per year on salaries for employees of the town that are planners. They could get together and put a plan together. You’re only going to do 4 parks for $49,000, that’s $12,000 a park just to plan,” said Tom Stevenson, a member of the Board of Finance. “I just feel that it is the wrong amount of money for the parks to be spending. We could take that amount and put it into the parks and make them better.
To Board of Finance member Rick Swan, the consultant isn’t necessary because the Parks and Recreation commission’s claim that they don’t have the expertise is untrue.
“They don’t put enough confidence in themselves to know what we need for our town. I think you know what we need versus what someone else tells us we need,” Swan said. “When you presented to us, there was a list of things just off the top of members heads that they know they want. I don’t think you give yourself enough credit for knowing what the kids and elderly and people need here.”
According to Susan Etsy, chair of the Parks and Recreation commission, putting a strategic plan in place would have more benefits than just helping plan, it would also potentially open the commission up to the possibility of grant funding.
“You can’t run a business without a business plan, we don’t have one, this would be one. I am trying to bring the commission into this brand, new decade,” Etsy said.
Once the plan is developed for the four identified parks, the idea is to return to the town and request funding for the remainder of the parks and recreation facilities in order to complete the strategic plan.