By Rachel Goff
"What are the long-term recreational goals of The Valley?" Mad River Valley Recreation District director Jeff Whittingham asked at the tri-town select board meeting on Thursday, November 13.
For the past several years, the Mad River Recreational District has given grants to three big requesters: Skatium, which received about $11,000 in 2013; Mad River Path Association, which received about $10,000 in 2013; and Mad River Park, which received about $6,000 that same year per the terms of a lease agreement.
Each year, the recreation district has asked for a contribution of $12,500 from Waitsfield, Warren and Fayston in order to meet those grant requests, "But now we're at a point where we have far more requesters than we have funds," Whittingham said last Thursday, as smaller organizations like Mad River Riders and Mad River Little League have also been seeking financial assistance in expanding their operations.
Instead of asking for more money to meet more requests, Whittingham proposed that in the future the towns have a say in which organizations receive funding. "I think just throwing money at folks isn't going to get us where we want to go," he said, and several select board members agreed.
"Right now, the recreation district is accountable to nobody," Warren Select Board member and Mad River Valley Planning District Steering Committee chair Bob Ackland said. "Recreation has become a very important driver in the economy of this Valley," he said, and "it's time for a change if we're going to take [it] to the next level."
As it stands, the recreation district only interacts with elected officials once a year, when it comes to the tri-town meeting to request funding. Moving forward, "It really needs to be part of a public entity," Ackland said, and the select boards discussed what that could look like.
"We want to see the results of our spending decisions, and I think that's the missing piece here," Warren Select Board chair Andy Cunningham said, "but we don't want to micromanage."
Currently, the Mad River Valley Recreation District has only five members on a board that is designated for nine, but even still "they have a good body," Cunningham said. "They could come up with the ideas of how to step forward and bring those to the planning district or to the individual select boards," he said.
Moving forward, Whittingham plans to look further into the recreation districts bylaws and attend the upcoming Mad River Valley Planning District meeting in December to discuss how to increase its accountability.
"More collaboration is needed," Fayston Select Board chair and Mad River Valley Planning District Steering Committee member Jared Cadwell said. "What structure that takes we don't know yet, but we want to explore it and we want to grow it."
As it works on restructuring the Mad River Valley Recreation District in the long term, the boards agreed to level-fund the district for next year, approving its request of $37,500. With that money, Cadwell suggested the district could look into potentially investing in land for public playing fields.
The Valley is a "very attractive place for young families," Cadwell said, "and for the youth sports programs that go along with young families," but right now, "we do not have adequate field space," he said.