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Selectmen seek more information about Park & Rec position

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KENT—The Board of Selectmen left the door open to the possibility of a second full-time Park and Recreation employee following a Feb. 22 presentation.

The Park and Rec Commission argues that the director’s position is so demanding it leaves little time for critical thinking about program development and grant writing. It contends that a second full-time recreational leader could oversee ongoing programs, supervise the after-school program and Camp Kent staff members, and ensure continuity if the director is temporarily absent.

“Having a recreational leader would allow the director to address issues that have not been addressed for quite a long time,” said P&R Chairman Rufus P. de Rham. “It would increase our ability to pursue grants. The commission 100 percent endorses [this proposal].”

The workload was a point of contention for previous Park and Rec Director Jared Kuczenski, and his replacement, Matt Busse, sees challenges as he finds his way into the job. 

He lauded Kuczenski for his efforts to initiate new programs and resurrect others. “We’re offering awesome programs, and we see numbers [of participants] increasing,” he said. “The recreation program has grown significantly in past years, but our parks have been neglected too long. Some things that were not necessarily exigent were put to the wayside. The ballfields need tender loving care and there is a lot of dismantle to it. The grass needs replacement. …”

He said Kuczenski did not have the support or staff to get everything done. “To increase the program and upgrade the parks was a significant amount of work,” he said. 

A full-time recreation position “would be a very significant part of the growth of the department,” Busse asserted.

The commissioners contend that the cost of the position would be partially offset by a reduction in part-time employees. The reconfigured staff would require a 17 percent budget increase to $58,700, with the cost of health insurance yet to be determined.

“The list of duties for the director is significantly long,” said Busse. “It creates difficulty for anyone in this role to handle frontline management. It’s difficult for anyone to step in and say, ‘I can handle this,’ and still do strategizing to advance the programs and do high-level critical thinking.”

Busse predicted that up to 30 percent of the program’s cost could be met with revenues if recreational opportunities and fees are increased.

“Why do you think you’re a revenue-generating organization?” asked First Selectman Marty Lindenmayer. “It’s not your role to generate profit. That’s a little misplaced in your presentation. Why resurrect Camp Kent? Why not use Club Getaway?”  

Camp Kent was held at Emery Park prior to Covid, but in 2022 the town partnered with Club Getaway to host a summer day camp for a much reduced, per-camper fee. Park and Recreation staff ran the day camp with support from the resort. It has been held there two summers and Lindenmayer has suggested that Club Getaway could take over running the day camp.

“When it comes to Club Getaway, they are a resort,” said Busse. “If they took on Camp Kent, it would require appropriate licensing and that’s not to their benefit. It’s a lot of work and a lot of paperwork.”

On the other hand, he said a closer relationship could be developed with the resort with the possibility of enriching the town’s offerings. “Right now, [Camp Kent] is not set up. We are behind the eight ball. If we had someone in that position, they could work on it, leaving the director to do advanced planning so we can increase revenues. It will bring money back into the town’s account.”

He wants to look at what the town is charging non-residents. “If we were to introduce a non-resident rate that is somewhat higher, we would still see non-residents if it’s not too steep,” he suggested.

“We’re not looking to make a profit,” added de Rham, “but we want to add to revenue because we realize it’s an important part of the plan. Maybe we will get more people than we have [in our programs]. What do we do then? There might be some day when we need full-time recreational aides.”

In addition to raising more revenue, the commission hopes to pursue grants. “The money’s out there,” de Rham said. “The commission doesn’t feel one person can oversee a healthy rec program and also be looking at grants, master plans and the critical thinking that needs to be done. And we need two people to provide continuity. What happens if Matt is out sick for 10 days. Do we cancel activities?”

Referring to maintenance of the parks and the pictures included in the PowerPoint presentation, Lindenmayer said the images of the parks were old and no longer accurate.

Busse said some of the photos are recent. “The parks need attention, and the work is not being done,” he said. “Maintenance is so important. We need someone actively checking them and scheduling work.”

Lindenmayer said a soil expert should be looking at the playing fields, not a park person. “Emery Park is a big issue as to whether its future is viable,” he added. 

Selectman Glenn Sanchez asked Park and Recreation to provide a total cost figure. “If it’s a little more, maybe it pays itself back. If it’s a lot more, it’s hard. But I like simplicity. Fewer people—I think that is a pretty good model. But is this the model we want? We must balance the need to maintain and improving.”

Lindenmayer said he had reservations about the proposal but would “be willing to let it go to the town.”

Kathryn Boughton
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