Budget vote: Herbst calls new director the 'A-Rod' of parks and recreation

Trumbull Town Hall.
Trumbull Town Hall.

Moments after the Trumbull Town Council approved a budget that includes a new Director of Parks and Recreation, First Selectman Tim Herbst stepped out of council chambers to place a phone call. Herbst called the candidate who has been offered the job, giving his congratulations.

The first selectman said the town has selected a quality candidate that he called the “A-Rod of Parks and Recreation departments.”

“This is a big coup for us,” Herbst told The Times of the new hire.

Herbst said the reform of the department will make a big difference in the quality of the Parks and Recreation in town. He said he will publicly announce the name of new director soon, giving the candidate time to give notice at his current job.

The roughly $95,000 a year position has been a source of some criticism and contention this budget season. The Town Council discussed it Thursday night while voting on next year’s overall town and school budget. Questions about the new position were raised by District 3 Town Council Democrat Vicki Tesoro, but the overwhelming majority of Town Council members voted against Tesoro’s motion to remove it from the budget.

Adding another level of management in that department has been criticized by many, according to Tesoro, who said constituents have been sending letters and emails.

Tesoro asked Herbst to explain the need for the position, which he said is based on improving programs and revenue in the department. The position would oversee town parks, the Tashua Knolls golf course and recreation programs. Herbst said he believes the differences will show by next budget season when the vetting process begins.

“Going forward, as we prepare budgets this new director will develop budgets based on revenue, programing, cost center,” he said. “So you can make a decision on what’s working and what’s not.”

Herbst said the salary being offered to the director is lower than communities smaller than Trumbull offer for the same job.

“I understand the concern with adding new positions,” Herbst said.

Tesoro asked why Herbst is not putting the position on hold, since an audit of the entire department is in the works.

“Perhaps this auditor or consultant should have come in prior, to see if we really this position,” Tesoro said.

The first selectman answered by saying he is more than willing to defend this new position to voters in November.

“I am so absolutely convinced this position is needed that if this audit comes back and says it isn’t, I will be the first person to publicly eat crow,” he said.

Herbst the current Superintendent of Parks and the Recreation Director, who are both union employees, are not going anywhere.

“They can focus on what they do best,” Herbst said.

Residents are worried this new position will mean hire fees for programs, Tesoro said.

The new director will look at fee schedules, which Herbst called “out of whack” in some areas. Herbst said raising fees will be a “last resort.” All fees increases would have to be approved by the Parks and Recreation Commission.

District 2 Town Council Republican Cindy Penkoff voiced support for the position, likening it to the reforms made in departments like EMS.

“We have increased the level of professionalism in the way Trumbull does business,” Penkoff said of the last few years. “The Recreation Department is the next step.”

Penkoff said many fought against hiring an EMS chief to head up the department, but it has been a great success. The department has increased call response and found savings through donations and grants.

Penkoff said she hears from many parents, eager for camps and more varied offerings in Trumbull.

“We need to expand a department that has been stagnant for a while,” she said.
Overall budget
No major changes were made by the council to the proposed $160.5 million budget, starting July 1. The budget represents a 2.24% increase over the current year.

Overall, the council approved cutting about $71,500 from the budget approved by the Board of Finance.

Changes made Thursday night included cutting out a $49,522 vacant position in the tax collector’s office, removing an overtime budget of $23,394 from the Emergency Management department, and giving the Planning & Zoning department back a full time position it had been sharing with Human Resources, costing $23,136.

As approved, the budget reduces the Board of Education’s initial request by about $573,000. The budget includes funding the Trumbull Youth Association budget, which was initially removed in First Selectman Tim Herbst’s proposal. The Board of Finance added TYA back in.