The town will explore the possibility of hiring someone to manage the Skenesborough Canalside Park and Visitors Center as it tries to determine how to manage the property going forward.
The position would serve as an independent contractor and would oversee maintenance of the park and organize events.
Officials want to ensure that the park and building remain open after the town offices are relocated to the former Skenesborough Firehouse later this fall.
The park and visitors center is owned by the New York State Canal Corp., but after a meeting earlier this month with Sharon Leighton, director of community relations for the corporation, local officials aren’t sure if the state-run agency will manage the property after the town moves.
“I don’t know what they would do. They gave the indication it wouldn’t be taken care of to the same extent,” said George Armstrong, town supervisor.
R.W. Groneman, a spokesman with the New York State Thruway Authority, said “the Canal Corp. is working with local officials and private agencies, such as the Chamber of Commerce, to develop the best plan to ensure the continued operation of the visitors center and adjacent park. We are looking for a solution that is economical and serves the local population and visiting public.”
The town has a contractual agreement to maintain the property but can void the agreement at any time by notifying the Canal Corp. they longer wish to care for it.
“I would like to continue to support the park as we did before moving into the pavilion,” said Armstrong, which would include basic maintenance and upkeep of the grounds. “It’s too valuable to the community.”
He said the possibility of the park not being properly cared for and the town losing its authority to hold traditional events, like the Winter Festival, Canal Festival, and powwow, are too great a risk to take.
He also fears losing the ability to do things in an emergency. For instance, he had a large tree removed from the park earlier this year because its center had begun to rot and represented a safety hazard.
If the town ceases to maintain the park, it may need to seek permission before taking a similar action.
But some officials fear the cost of maintaining both the firehouse and visitors center could stretch already thin budgets. Farrell Prefountaine, town councilman, said he’d like to see the town wash its hands of the visitors center.
It’s estimated the cost to maintain the park and pay for utilities is approximately $20,000 per year, although Armstrong said he believes that actual cost would be lower after the town offices move. It’s believed the cost of maintaining the firehouse will approach the same amount.
“We need to come up with a creative way to pay for it or taxes will have to increase,” said Stephanie Safka, town councilperson.
She suggested the possibility of hiring someone who would be responsible for overseeing the maintenance of the facility and grounds as well as the creation and coordination of events.
The position would not receive any salary or benefits, but instead would be paid a predetermined percentage of any profits that were made from events and the remainder would be used by the town to pay for upkeep of the park.
Advocates of the idea believe it would allow the town to maintain control of the park without having to increase taxes or find another source of revenue. It’s believed the state would continue to provide assistance, through grants, for more expensive upkeep, such as repairs to the stairs.
Armstrong said the town has a unique agreement with the Canal Corp. that allows it to raise money through the park.
There is, however, some debate over that agreement. The comptroller’s office has told officials they can’t make money at the park, while the Canal Corp. has said they can, local officials said.
“We’re going with what the Canal Corp. has told us and would even if it went the other way. We want to work with the Canal Corp. They been very good to us,” said Armstrong.
Groneman described the town’s idea as an “innovative plan” but said the Canal Corp. would “need to look at it more closely to ensure it fits all legal criteria.”
Brian Butry, deputy press secretary for the Comptroller’s office, said “as a rule the use of a facility, such as a park, by a municipality must be reasonably related to the cost of the facility.”
The board will open the bidding process for someone to manage the property but will reserve making a final decision until they’ve spoken with potential contractors. Armstrong would also like input from local residents.
“I’d like to hear what people in the community think,” he said.