City Councilor Gary Fortier (left) and Ellsworth Recreation Commission members Bob Hessler, Uriah Hon and Courtney Bunker listen at a Sept. 6 meeting of the Recreation Commission during discussion about creating a parks and recreation department in Ellsworth. PHOTO BY STEVE FULLER

Push for new parks and recreation department continues in Ellsworth

ELLSWORTH — City officials last week again voiced interest in and support for creating a municipal parks and recreation department, one that would have a particular focus on the “parks” part to start.

City Manager David Cole, city councilors and others have said increased use of public outdoor spaces — most notably Knowlton Park and the waterfront — has required more time and labor from current city staff who are already busy with their existing jobs.

They said having a parks and recreation department could alleviate that burden and would result in better oversight of the facilities, from maintenance to scheduling.

City Councilor Dawn Hudson said at the Sept. 6 meeting of the city’s Recreation Commission that it is becoming “more and more cumbersome” for current staff to manage the park spaces.

At a previous workshop, a parks and rec director from another community suggested Ellsworth could use a staff of three to four people. That would include a director, an assistant and one or two full-time maintenance workers.

Hudson said Sept. 6 she thinks the city could start smaller.

“I think a director to start off with is plenty,” she said. “I think it’s too much, too soon to do more than that.”

Asked what salary the position might carry, Hudson said it was too early to say.

“We’re at the very ground level of this,” she said.

Steve Shea said it “sounds like there’s a need” for a parks and rec department, but asked a number of questions of city officials regarding how it would work and what it would cost. He asked if such as department might be able to generate enough revenue to actually lower taxes in Ellsworth.

Hudson said that depends what kind of fee structure is drawn up, but said there is a “possibility for it to be mostly self-sustaining.” Cole later said some other communities see parks and rec departments generate about 50 percent of the revenue it takes to keep them running.

“Government in general has to be more creative in finding ways to fund things rather than always going to taxpayers,” Shea said.

City Councilor Gary Fortier said the creation of a parks and rec department could save the city money in certain ways. He said the city is currently paying union wages to public works staff to mow the grass at city properties. With a parks and rec department, lower-paid seasonal staff could be brought in for such work. That would free up public works crews to work on roads, ditches and sidewalks, Fortier said.

Questions were asked about how such a department would co-exist with groups such as the Down East Family YMCA and Ellsworth Little League.

“This was never intended to be a competitive entity,” Hudson said. “This is not about taking away from what the YMCA does. The aim is to fill in the gaps of what they’re offering.”

Ken Shea, who said he has been involved in recreation activities in Ellsworth for six decades, expressed strong support for the Y.

“You’re getting a very good value from what you’re asking the YMCA to do,” he said. “I’d encourage you to use the YMCA more and fund them more.”

Though it is an independent entity, the Y gets funding from the city. It received $82,000 annually in recent years but saw that get cut to $62,000 this year. The Y, in turn, dropped Little League from its programming, citing the high cost of the program.

Officials noted that Y groups and parks and rec departments in other communities have good relationships and are able to both co-exist and cooperate with one another.

Hudson said the next step in the process of exploring adding a parks and rec department in Ellsworth would likely be to hold workshops to get input from residents about what they want. From that, a mission statement and job description for a parks and rec director could be written. The next step, Hudson said, would be to “pitch to the council what this department, at least initially, would encompass.”

Those in attendance Sept. 6 agreed that managing the city’s existing recreational facilities and scheduling the activities taking place there would be among the key jobs of a parks and rec department to start with.

Steve Fuller

Steve Fuller

Reporter at The Ellsworth American,
Steve Fuller worked at The Ellsworth American from 2012 to early 2018. He covered the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. A native of Waldo County, he served as editor of Belfast's Republican Journal prior to joining the American. He lives in Orland.