By CRAIG FREILICH
POTSDAM – The village government has decided to restore funding to the joint town-village recreation program through May 2015.
The village Board of Trustees Thursday restored the village’s $180,000 share of the program to their budget, plus $30,000 for a replacement ice-making compressor in Pine Street Arena, after voting to pull out of the program a year ago.
“We offered a compromise resolution to try to keep the board together, and have extended funding through the entire fiscal year, through May 2015,” said Mayor Steve Yurgartis.
“We had wanted to improve the program, reduce costs, improve administration, and distribute the costs equitably among all users,” he said.
“We’re back to where we were previously, but maybe with some renewed commitment to look at the program and make some improvements.”
The board voted 4-1 in favor of restoring the funding, with Trustee Eleanor Hopke opposed.
Hopke said she was in favor of continuing with the summer recreation program for kids, which includes swimming lessons at Sandstoner Park and Postwood Park, a variety of workshops and other activities, plus bus transportation around the town, but she had heard almost no support from community members to continue the ice program at the arena.
“Even after I made a point at our meeting on Monday night that I had not heard any real interest in taxpayer-paid ice, I have had few such requests. Even last night I had an unsolicited call from someone long involved with all kinds of recreation in Potsdam, including the Arena, who surprised me by saying that we should not continue ice. It still remains that the majority of comments I have had, even from current ice users, is that we should not extend funding,” Hopke said in a prepared statement at the meeting.
“Given how quick board members are to go back on the promised consequence of no funding after Dec. 31, I can’t help but wonder if those of you who want to continue uninterrupted ice at Pine Street were not truly serious about meeting our fiscal responsibilities to the village taxpayers,” she said.
After the failure earlier this month of a proposal to create a recreation tax district as a way to fund the program, to be administered by the Town Council, the future of the popular recreation program was uncertain. Town Supervisor Marie Regan said the town was depending on the tax-district funding to keep the program going at full capacity, and that the council would do the best it could to supply some sort of program after this year.
That left it up to the village board to decide if they wanted to try to find a new way to run the recreation program or simply go back to the jointly funded program.
Yurgartis said he had hoped to find support for a plan to separate the arena from the recreation budget, noting that most of the use of the ice is by about 300 figure skaters and hockey players, not enough to justify funding the arena program with taxpayer money. He proposed finding people interested in hockey and figure skating to create a non-profit entity to take it over, with the group getting a favorable lease on the arena and charging users for ice time.
“That would be an ideal situation. The arena is very expensive to run. This would be less expensive, more efficient, and a more appropriately funded way” to run the arena.
“We would pledge to put more into the arena for repairs, so we would turn over an arena that’s in good shape and would not be a burden to the organization.”
But time ran out and the board had to act on village budget, which was approved with the restored recreation funding.
Yurgartis said he hoped a study group with open minds could still find a way to review the program and its funding and come up with better ideas.