Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Council declines vote on fund-raising proposal for skate park

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
December 20, 2006

VERNON - A proposal to raise money for a skateboard park by using fees from tickets written by the Police Department died at Tuesday's Town Council meeting, and the matter has been put back to the community at large.

According to town officials, Vernon collected roughly $2,280 in fees in the first quarter of this fiscal year under recent legislation that allows a portion of motor vehicle infraction fines to be returned to the town where it was generated. That money now sits in the town general fund. The surcharge, which the state returns quarterly, ranges from $1 to $8 per ticket, depending on the violation.

The state statute was enacted in June 2006. While it does not mandate a particular use for the funds, it was passed with the hope of providing additional resources for municipal and state police training.

Republican Brian R. Motola suggested Tuesday that those funds, and any more collected, could be retained in the skateboard park fund until the account reaches $30,000. At that time, the council would review the program, and determine if further allocations are needed, Motola said.

"It makes great sense to fund special items with this kind of revenue because we can't really estimate how many tickets will be written and how much revenue will be gained year to year," Motola wrote in his proposal. "Also, while I assume the revenue will be defined as 'small' compared to our total budget, it can be used to fund projects which consistently get cut from the budget but require small amounts of money to complete."

Motola's proposal did not make it to a vote.

Estimates to build a new park range from $30,000 to $150,000, town officials say. In the last five years, only $4,900 has been raised through car washes and fund raisers, while two grant applications have been rejected.

Liability remains an issue. And some council members raised concerns that police, who are in favor of building a skateboard park to get teens off the streets, would become overzealous with ticket writing in order to raise funds.

That concern was soundly rejected, however, as police could, theoretically, become overzealous for any pet project, such as buying a new cruiser.

"And they would never do that," Mayor Ellen L. Marmer said.

Still, Marmer said, she was against the proposal, suggesting that if earmarked at all, the money should instead be used for public safety needs.

"Unfortunately, when you have failed budgets and tough economic decisions, you have to prioritize, and as much as I'm for recreation in general, and the skate park in particular, we have needs in other areas," Marmer said.

In 2003, parents and more than 20 middle and high school students revived the skateboard park project after the Town Council cut $40,000 earmarked for the endeavor in budget discussion the previous year.

Since then, the committee has more or less fallen apart and the fundraising remains stagnant, generating about $50 annually, Parks and Recreation Director Bruce Dinnie said.

Now, "it looks like we're going to have to go back and talk to the kids on this, and see what else can be done," Dinnie said after the meeting.

Also Tuesday, the Town Council unanimously approved Susan Boyan as town attorney, replacing her law partner, Joseph D. Courtney, who was elected in November to represent the second congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Marmer had intended to nominate local lawyer Martin B. Burke for the post, but at the Dec. 5 meeting his name was whisked off the agenda when Republicans promised to defeat his appointment, citing a disagreement with an opinion he rendered on the selection of the new police chief.

Burke, who has practiced law for 37 years and been special town counsel since the mid-1990s, immediately resigned from town business when his name was withdrawn. At the time he told the Journal Inquirer that he was "disappointed" with the situation and would have liked to see his nomination come up for a vote. He did not attend Tuesday's meeting.

Marmer said she hopes Burke returns as special counsel, however.

Boyan has been a member of the Connecticut Bar Association since 1983, practicing in Vernon for the last 23 years. She also served as town attorney for Tolland in 2000-01 and for Ellington from 2003 to 2005.

"I consider this an honor," Boyan said afterwards, adding that the job is appealing to her as it is more neutral rather than adversarial. "You're asked to give your legal opinion to questions raised by the council, and I find that interesting."

©Journal Inquirer 2006