Proposed move of Norwich recreation staff to Public Works discussed at budget hearing
Norwich — Supporters of the city recreation programs on Monday objected to a plan in the proposed 2022-23 budget to move three recreation maintenance staff into the Public Works Department, expressing concern that sports fields will take second priority in the larger city department.
The Recreation Advisory Board held a special meeting May 4 to discuss the proposed move and by consensus expressed objections. During Monday’s third budget public hearing, several supporters of recreation programs added their objections.
Karen Redanz, mother of three children and a member of the board of directors for Norwich Youth Soccer, said city youth sports rely on the fields for games and practices that can change at the last minute or after business hours. Redanz questioned how they could get responses from the Public Works Department after hours.
Redanz also praised city Recreation Director Cheryl Hancin-Preston for her leadership but said the city needs to support her department with funding and improved staffing.
Julie Cagle, chairwoman of the Recreation Advisory Board, called the Recreation Department “a vital asset” and said the city does not do it justice with funding and staffing.
Speakers who supported the Recreation Department were applauded by some of the two dozen or so attendees at the third and final budget hearing.
The plan by City Manager John Salomone calls for moving two Recreation Department maintainers and one supervisor to the Public Works Department in the 2022-23 budget. The move does not save money, but Salomone said previously that he has a goal of consolidating maintenance functions under one department to allow for enhanced services. During busy times, Public Works could assign more maintenance staff to care for the recreation fields.
Beryl Fishbone, chairwoman of the Mohegan Park Improvements and Development Committee, praised the Public Works Department for its care of the park and for its quick response to emergencies and reported issues.
“I’d be very confident in moving the maintenance of the parks to Public Works,” Fishbone said.
Public Works Director Patrick McLaughlin, speaking at the start of Monday’s hearing, tried to assure recreation supporters that the sports fields would be well cared for in the budget plan. McLaughlin said the department has a total of 55 employees, 32 of them in the streets and parks division.
“I just want to assure everyone that we take pride in what we do,” McLaughlin said.