HOULTON – At this time last year, town councilors debated for more than a half-hour before nixing an idea to raise youth program fees at the Parks and Recreation Department.
After an equally lengthy debate on Monday evening, however, councilors came up with an entirely different decision.
They agreed during the meeting to approve the program fee increase, which will be effective upon final approval of the fiscal year 2006 budget. Panelists also decided that the town should look into securing sponsorships that could lower the overall cost of the programs and allow more children to participate.
Councilors had asked Parks and Recreation Director Bernard Reece to find ways to raise additional revenue for the department, which prompted the rate hike suggestion.
Not everyone was happy about the plan, however.
“It is just too bad that we have to increase the rates on programs dealing with kids,” Councilor Paul Cleary said. “If you ask the police chief, I think you’ll find that any kid involved with activities is a kid that is more likely not to be involved with crime.”
He added that the increases did not appear significant on paper, but that the hike would be felt by families that had numerous children participating in the programs.
“I just think that there are other things we can do to generate income that does not include raising prices on the kids,” he continued, suggesting that sponsorships could be a solution. “I don’t think we have investigated all of our opportunities.”
That sentiment was echoed by Councilor Phil Bernaiche, who admitted he detested the thought of “charging little kids to go to any recreation.”
The councilor said that his children had taken part in the town’s recreation programs, participation that would not have been possible if it had cost a lot of money.
“We raised all of our department heads’ salaries this year, and we didn’t have a hard time voting for that,” he told fellow councilors. “I think we are willing to give money away everywhere else, but we can’t sacrifice for our children.”
Reece consistently has maintained that children are allowed to participate in programs even if they can’t always pay. On Monday evening, he noted that thousands of dollars in delinquent fees have gone uncollected in the past, but children from those families were still allowed to take part.
Chairman Paul Romanelli said that he liked the idea of seeking sponsorships, but said that he felt that the rate hike had to be implemented.
“Every process in town is becoming more expensive,” he said. “The elderly do not want to pay more for fuel oil, but it is a fact of life … I think we should actively seek corporate sponsorships while also raising the fee schedule. I think that we have to be careful with any [rate] increases … but we have to begin to inch them up a little.”
Councilors eventually voted 4-2 in favor of the program fee increase, with Cleary and Bernaiche opposing.