Summer rec budget doesn’t add up for Rhinebeck town board

They question salary increases, and perceived lack of oversight

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In May, on the day Town of Rhinebeck board members were set to approve the annual budget and salaries for its Recreation Department, the board members noticed that some of the numbers had risen.

Although the raises were small — for only five of the 60 employees, some at 15 cents per hour — the last-minute adjustment to salaries before the summer recreation department activities sparked a conversation amongst the board over what it perceives as a lack of oversight on the all-volunteer Recreation Committee.

While recreation employees are paid on average $8 an hour, town board member and liaison Bruce Washburn said the only ones currently working and getting a paycheck at this point in the season are the lifeguards, whose salaries did not increase.

Washburn said the salary increases went to those employees who had been working for the department for many years as an incentive to continue working for the town.

“We didn’t have that information, it wasn’t on the agenda, it wasn’t something that could have been checked,” Washburn said at the board’s May 10 meeting in reference to the raises..

The summer recreation programs in Rhinebeck have expanded in recent years, and are now utilized by hundreds of the town’s citizens and account for about $140,000 of the town’s budget — a sizeable enough chunk for some board members to say they should have more control over the committee.

“The aggregate hourly rate is 5 percent higher than it was [in 2012,] and there’s one person that we’re paying $1,000 more than we’ve ever paid,” board member Elizabeth Spinzia said.

Spinzia noted concerns that three leadership positions in the summer recreation programs had been combined into two, and that the pay of one, the recreation director, had increased by $1,000 per season, from $2,800 to $3,800.

Washburn defended the increased costs, saying that some positions are mandated by the state Department of Health, and that the town had needed to create an assistant camp director position.

“Let me be very clear, I’m not being disparaging of these fantastic programs or the work done by volunteers [on the rec committee],” Spinzia said. “I have a problem with the lack of oversight that we have.”

“The committee seems to be functioning as a commission or statutory board,” Spinzia added. “There’s no rec director reporting to the town board. I haven’t seen an annual report to the town board. There’s no financial statement itemizing income and expenditures for the current year. There’s no overview of current year activities, accomplishments, and programs

In a follow-up interview, Spinzia said that the program had expanded in recent years from half-day programs to full-day programs, seven days a week, in addition to offering other special events. With the expansion, she added, it’s been more difficult to maintain oversight.

She also noted that a new recreation director and assistant director were hired late this year, forcing the town to “play catch-up.”

“I am not advocating cutting this [the recreation programs],” Spinzia said, but noted that “the public deserves more information.”

The town board will be meeting with its attorney in the coming weeks to review general municipal law and determine how to interact with its recreation committee.

Christine Carey, who is the recently hired director of the summer rec program, could not be reached as of press time.

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