Kid’s Play – Recreation Dept. skillfully weathers fiscal storm
Transcript Staff Report
The economic crisis that is laying bare the town’s financial problems is having a minimal effect on the Parks and Recreation Department and the Larsen Rink, two town departments that are entirely self-sufficient and are funded by user fees to pay their own way.
“We’re actually having a pretty successful season,” said Parks and Recreation Director Sean Driscoll, who oversees the two enterprise funds that operate the Recreation Department programs and the Larsen Rink.
“The year got off to a bit of a rough start and the bad economy hasn’t been a help, but things have actually been picking up, and I anticipate the budgets for [both Larsen Rink and Parks and Recreation] to either break even or maybe even have a little bit of a surplus by the end of the year.”
Driscoll’s assessment of the status of the two enterprise funds seems to support the decision several years ago to take those departments off the town’s budget and have them survive independently.
“Overall, the year’s been good,” added rink manager Mark Wallace. “We’re actually on the plus side at the rink, and any cuts the town has to make shouldn’t affect us.”
The nature of enterprise funds dictates the programs be self-sufficient and cannot rely on any funding from the town’s budget. However, the reciprocal impact is revenue from the enterprise fund is legally earmarked specifically for those programs.
Both Driscoll and Wallace acknowledged that some people in town have asked why cuts won’t be made to Parks and Recreation or at the rink, when town officials are being forced to lay off department heads and potentially close departments, such as the library and senior center.
Meanwhile, programs like the senior center and library, which are funded through the town budget, are more deeply impacted in tight fiscal times.
“We’ve been really lucky,” Wallace said, referring to the rink’s success. “We have some issues with regard to the repairs that need to be made to the rink, but we’ve had a good season with lots of teams using the ice, and we’ve been getting a lot of turnout at the public skates, and we’ve probably had the most birthday party rentals that we’ve ever had, so we’ve actually done pretty well.”
Wallace also noted the success of the Winthrop High hockey program has had a trickle down effect this year as well. With full high school programs at the freshman, junior varsity and varsity levels, there has been plenty of ice time dedicated to the hockey teams. At the same time, the rink’s largest users, Winthrop Youth Hockey and the Winthrop Skating Association, have also had banner years and have booked regular ice time.
“We’ve also had several outside hockey teams and programs using the ice, such as Catholic Memorial’s high school team, the girls teams from Marblehead and Lynn English-Winthrop have been using the rink for practice time and home games, and we’ve had other requests,” noted Driscoll. “The key going forward is going to be what the town decides to do about making repairs to the rink, which are needed. That will really have an impact on next year.”
Driscoll said the town is still deciding how to proceed at the rink, because of faulty contracting work done by the general contractor who installed the new ice surface two years ago. Town officials think additional repairs are needed.