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Work underway to form ‘friends’ for parks

Proponents say Bethlehem group would be long-term endeavor

— A small group of Bethlehem residents are hoping to form a nonprofit group to help out the Parks and Recreation Department.

Joan Gavrilik and Kim Phelan were both members of the citizen Budget Advisory Committee that worked to draft a list of savings in the town budget, including cuts to the parks department. One of the suggestions was to establish a “friends” group to help raise funds and provide additional maintenance of areas, pursue various grants and possibly enter into a shared services agreement with the Highway Department.

“This was one of our favorite ideas that came out of the group, and we thought it should be done even if it can’t help with this year’s budget issues,” said Gavrilik.

The group is looking for additional members, especially those with expertise in nonprofit work and grant writing. They also need people who would be willing to sit on the organization’s board of directors.

To become a nonprofit, the group has to submit a three-year plan, which is being drafted. Three people have committed to sitting on the board.

“While on the committee we looked closely at the Bethlehem Senior Projects group and all of their volunteers,” said Gavrilik. “They are very similar to a friends group and they made us realize what you can do to use the community’s help to get things accomplished.”

The group is working closely with Parks and Recreation Department Director Nan Lanahan. She said she is thankful for their efforts.

“I see this organization being a long-term thing, and not a way to bail us out of shortages and the problems we’re having,” said Lanahan. “This is not a quick fix. We may still be facing cuts next year despite whether or not we have a friends group in place.”

The town is facing a possible $3.5 million budget gap, thought cutbacks this year wil likely lessen that figure. The Parks and Recreation Department was one of the areas looked at for cuts to be made. The department has an annual budget of $1.7 million, of which about 40 percent is supplemented by user fees.

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