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    Saturday, August 13, 2022

    Norwich recreation officials object to moving staff to Public Works Department

    Norwich – A plan to move three Recreation Department facilities workers to the Public Works Department in the proposed 2022-23 budget has raised the ire of Recreation Advisory Board members, who fear the city’s busy sports facilities will be overlooked with the change.

    The board discussed the move during a special meeting last week, and Chairwoman Julie Cagle objected to the change during Monday’s City Council budget public hearing.

    The board was not consulted and was surprised to see that City Manager John Salomone placed the change in his proposed $139 million combined city government and school budget.

    The move would not change staffing, and the budget still lists the positions as two recreation facilities maintainers and one recreation facilities maintenance supervisor.

    During the special meeting last week, Cagle and board member Jeffrey Brown said the move would “sever” the workers from the Recreation Department Director Cheryl Hancin-Preston and programmers who know the immediate needs and schedules for the fields.

    This isn’t the first time I’ve been here to support the Rec budget,” she said, listing lack of staffing and support compared to other cities and towns. She said city officials cut a position of community engagement coordinator, to be funded with federal American Rescue Plan dollars, as finalists were being interviewed.

    Prior to Monday's hearing, Salomone said he has wanted to consolidate various city maintenance work under one roof for years. He said it was unfair to criticize Public Works maintenance before the consolidation.

    Salomone argued the move would enhance services, allowing Public Works staff to pitch in during busy times or to repair weather damage on fields.

    “Their duties are very similar,” Salomone said. “The ultimate goal is to have the ability to interchange duties.”

    Currently, the three recreation maintainers oversee 25 facilities covering more than 155 acres, while Public Works crews maintain all city parks, city cemeteries and town greens.

    During the May 4 Recreation Advisory Board meeting, members complained that the board was not consulted about the move. Aldermen Derell Wilson and Grant Neuendorf are members of the committee. Wilson remained neutral during the discussion, while Neuendorf agreed with concerns that recreation fields could have secondary priority with the change.

    Wilson suggested if the council approves the change, the advisory board could ask for weekly coordination between Recreation Department and the maintainers and monthly updates for the Recreation Advisory Board.

    “I am very concerned about the fact that they’re severing the head of the Rec Department from the maintainers who are integral in keeping up the fields in terms of processing requests and so on,” Cagle said at the May 4 meeting.

    Brown said the much-used basketball court on the grounds of the former Buckingham School, which is maintained by Public Works, is in disrepair and said recreation facilities could decline with the staff change.

    “Day to day operations is key to all those sports, so I think that’s really important to have the maintenance crew connected and be right there,” Brown said during last week’s meeting.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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