Town debates charging for waterfront park usage

The town is debating whether it should charge individuals and groups to use facilities at Skenesborough Waterfront Community Park.

The town board received requests last week from both the Bridge Theater and the local Knights of Columbus to use park facilities as a location for events this summer, but officials held off on making a decision until it decides whether those organizations, or anyone else, should pay for the privilege of using the park.

“We aren’t looking to make money on the park, but it’s paid for by taxpayers and we want to cover those costs,” said board member Stephanie Safka. “We need to find a way to pay for the park and if we don’t, we could lose it.”

Officials have struggled to develop a clear and concise plan for utilizing the park since moving out of the Canal Corp. Visitors’ Center last October.

The town and the state have an agreement that the town will continue to pay for and maintain the park and surrounding grounds in exchange for autonomy over the use of park facilities.

But maintaining the park costs the town a significant amount of money and there had been some discussion last year of ceding responsibility to the state.

Local officials, however, contend the state would close the park if the town stopped caring for it, despite no official public declaration from canal officials that would happen.

In September, officials reached a tentative agreement with Atlantic Presentations LLC to host events at the park on a regular basis with a percentage or any profits being paid to the town to cover expenses.

The company, however, backed out of that agreement earlier this year, citing the town’s inability to finalize a contract for its services and carry through on a number of requests that were made.

In March, officials formed a Recreation and Parks committee, consisting of elected officials and local residents, that was tasked with developing ways to utilize the park more as well as finding a way to make it financially self-sustaining.

Prior to last week’s monthly board meeting, the committee met and discussed a tentative fee schedule for use of the park.

Essentially, groups or individuals seeking to host events—graduation parties, music concerts, for-profit events or fundraisers—at the park would be asked to pay the town a fee. The amount would vary depending on the nature of the organization (for profit vs. profit) and whether the group or individual was local. Local groups and non-profit organizations would be charged less.

But some members of the board took issue with charging people to use a public park.

“I think charging to use the park is going to cause problems,” said Dave Hollister, who has remained steadfast in his belief that the town should return control of the park to the state. “If we start charging, we are going to open a can of worms you can’t believe.”

Even Safka, who sits on the committee that developed the fee schedule, would prefer use of the park be free.

“I just assume we get rid of this and pay the $12,000 or $13,000 it costs to run the park because that’s what communities do,” she said.

Supervisor George Armstrong proposed charging a security deposit as is current practice and allowing groups or individuals to use the park on a first-come, first-serve basis.

He asked the committee to discuss the fee schedule in greater detail at their next meeting and then convey the feelings of members to the town board before it decides whether or not to charge for use of the park. 

“I think the one thing we can all agree on is the park needs to be used more,” he said.

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