CAPE ELIZABETH — When Community Services oversight is transfered from the School Department to the town in July, most people shouldn’t notice a difference.
Community Services Director Russell Packett said not much is expected to change when the program moves to the municipal side of town government this summer. The budget process, though, will hopefully change for the better.
“I don’t think the general public will see any difference,” Packett said.
The decision to transfer Community Services was made earlier this month in a joint workshop of the Town Council and School Board. Shortly after, they each officially approved the transfer in separate meetings.
The change will become effective July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
Packett said he doesn’t think most residents even know that Community Services is part of the School Department.
“I don’t think most people would have known we were under the School Department if you had asked them two months ago,” he said. “We have a ‘one- town’ concept.”
Community Services, at 343 Ocean House Road, was created as a municipal department in 1977; it was transferred to the School Department about a decade ago. In January, Town Manager Mike McGovern suggested it should become a municipal department again.
McGovern said in a memo that the program was transferred to the School Department because it had taken on school-related responsibilities, such as student transportation and custodial services.
According to its website, Community Services now provides “diverse programs and activities for the citizens of Cape Elizabeth,” including enrichment classes, sports, a fitness center and Cape Care preschool. Packett said it makes more sense to be a municipal department.
“It wasn’t really fitting under the School Department,” he said.
McGovern said the programs offered by Community Services are now being utilized more by senior citizens, who have been asking for additional resources and activities. Because of this, it no longer makes sense for the School Department to handle the organization.
A report from the town’s Senior Citizen Advisory Committee asked for more involvement with Community Services, and Packett said he is very aware of the interest from seniors.
“We will be exploring all of the things that came out of that report,” he said. “Some of those things can be fixed through communication.”
Packett said the organization already offers many programs for seniors, who may not be aware of them or have no way of getting to them.
“Some things are out of our control and have no connection to whether we were on the school side or the municipal side,” he said.
Community Services will be looking into what is limiting seniors from participating and how the organization can make changes to help, Packett said.
McGovern in January recommended that the Senior Citizen Advisory Committee merge with the Community Services Advisory Commission, so the commission could also work on issues of interest to senior citizens. McGovern also wants to create a panel of senior citizens who would meet monthly with Packett to discuss their priorities and whether their needs are being met.
As of right now, though, Packett said no new programs or offerings are being planned. He said most changes will only be noticed internally.
“Right now the biggest change is that we’ll go from school employees to municipal employees,” he said. “The only people who might notice any change are the full-time employees.”
Community Services has nine full-time employees, four part-time employees, and more than 100 seasonal employees. Packett said wages and salaries won’t change for anyone, but benefits may be slightly different because they’ll be packaged by the Maine Municipal Association, not the School Department.
According to Packett, one of the biggest changes will be in the budget process. Packett now creates the Community Services budget; it is approved by the School Board, and then by the Town Council. After the transfer, the budget will just go to the council for approval.
“It’ll make it less wonky,” he said.
Although Cape Elizabeth Community Services is being transferred to a different town department, officials promise its programming, like this Wednesday morning spin and sculpt class, won’t change.
Cape Elizabeth Community Services, which currently falls under the School Department, will become a municipal department in July.