Potsdam takes steps toward cutting recreation budget

Christopher Bugler, left, watches as his son Liam Bugler tries ice skating for the first time in recent years at Pine Street arena in Potsdam. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

POTSDAM — After a joint meeting between the town and village on Wednesday, it appears cuts may be coming to the combined budget for recreation programs amid fiscal uncertainty.

The town, which has historically chipped in about half of the expenses of running recreation programs facilitated by the village, agreed to cap its contribution at $160,000 for the 2021 fiscal year. This is down about $7,000 from the year prior. “We still feel recreation is very important. We want to support it in any way that we can and right now ... we don’t want to look like the bad guy, they don’t want to look at the bad guy,” Town Councilor Marty Miller said. “But I think at the end of the day there’s going to be some trying times ahead when it comes to rec budgets.”

Town Supervisor Ann Carvill said she heard other towns were reducing their contributions to recreation budgets by upwards of $10,000 and that village officials seemed relatively pleased in prior talks that the reduction wasn’t going to be that significant.

Expenses to the recreation budget are projected to increase by a little less than $11,000 next year, entirely accounting for the rise in minimum wage and a union contract-mandated pay increase for a staff member. What’s less predictable is increased expenses for additional staffing and resources required to maintain clean facilities to comply with public health guidelines amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

An unknown appears to be working in the inverse, though, as Recreation Director Trey Smutz explained. With the arenas at SUNY Potsdam and Clarkson University closed due to the pandemic, he said other groups that rent the arena have said they may request more ice time. While he said this may eat up more public skating time, it may be necessary to keep things functioning.

Mr. Smutz also said the arena’s Zamboni desperately needs to be replaced at an estimated cost of $130,000 to $140,000. As of May, the department had just about $140,000 in its general fund, but Mr. Smutz explained the general policy has always been to keep an extra $20,000 on hand just in case a component in the ice refrigeration equipment blows.

The change of contributions made by the town are only part of the tentative budget and won’t be officially adopted until later this year. If they move forward, the village will have to reduce the rec expenses or find revenue elsewhere.

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