Facing shrinking revenues from mortgage and sales taxes, the Red Hook town board and the recreation committee are asking the school board to pay a $15,000 yearly fee for use of the athletic fields and tennis courts at the Rec Park on Linden Avenue.
“The facility itself we have shared with you probably for 25 years, and we’ve had kind of a nod and a handshake about the use of it,” town supervisor Sue Crane told school board trustees at their Sept. 5 meeting as she presented the fee proposal.
“What the supervisor was saying to you people is to maintain a facility requires money and the town has — we don’t have the income,” said John Kuhn, chair of the recreation committee. “The town’s budget to support a park goes down and down and down, and with that, the quality of the facility will go down. The school board’s consideration now is, do you let that happen?”
The annual fee was derived by taking the number of hours the school uses the rec park fields for baseball, softball and tennis, and subtracting out the number of hours that town recreational programs use school facilities, for basketball camps in the summer, for instance. Then the difference was multiplied by a flat dollar value –in this case, $25 an hour — to reach the $15,000 total. According to town budget documents, upkeep and payroll for the Rec Park totals approximately $63,000 a year.
Most of the town representatives who spoke at the school board meeting were focused on the cost of maintaining and upgrading the ballfields to keep them up to code for high school sports and playoffs. For example, according to the town, the town spent at least $20,000 after Hurricane Irene last year to repair the park with most of the fund going to repair and replace ballfield dirt that had been washed away.
Some of the town representatives were focused on the fact that the school district’s boundaries extend outside of Red Hook and thus some students were not town residents and taxpayers.
“We do have a little bit of discomfort in the town in that we are serving with town taxpayer’s funds kids who come to school here who are not from taxpayer families in the Red Hook town,” said town board member Harry Colgan.
School board members replied that, according to their records, only 20 district athletes who use the fields come from outside the town.
Following the town’s presentation, the school board trustees offered comments and questions.
Tustee Ryan McCann asked about the $25-per-hour number used to calculate the user fee and why the same $25 made sense for outdoor ballfields and indoor gymnasiums.
“How do you equate a field you would have to mow anyway with say [indoor basketball] using electricity, custodians… why $25 an hour?” he asked.
“I tried to keep it simple just because that’s the way I do business,” Crane replied. “And I looked at the history of Red Hook Central School renting facilities — having a user fee elsewhere [for sports programs].” Later, Crane revealed that she used the $25 fees paid by the district for the golf team to play at Red Hook Golf Club.
The meeting, at times, was less than congenial.
At one point, Kuhn suggested a hypothetical: “What would you do if you didn’t have the rec park facility? Assuming we just stopped all our rec programs with the schools and said no more.”
“We’d be in trouble,” replied school board president Kelly Moser. “And I don’t like to feel like we’re looking down the barrel of a gun and being threatened that we aren’t going to have programs if we don’t pay.”
Overall, school board members were open to some sort of agreement with the town on the use of each other’s facilities and a user fee but rejected the methods used to determine the proposed user fee.
“I don’t think any of us are opposed to working out some type of an agreement. I think we have some concerns about the dollar amount because we are so strapped for cash ourselves,” Mosher said.
She reminded the town board and recreation members that the school district is facing far greater spending restraints than the town because of the state-mandated tax cap.
“We have lots of things that we’re not maintaining to the level that we would like to because of a lack of funds,” said Mosher. “If we were to pay $15,000 to the town, that’s $15,000 dollar for dollar that we have to cut elsewhere in our budget.”