ROCKLAND — City Councilors were not in agreement Wednesday evening, May 18 on whether to add employees to the recreation department as it tries to revive programming for the community.

Currently, the department has a full-time director and one part-time employee.

City Manager Tom Luttrell has proposed increasing staffing to four year-round part-time employees and another five part-time workers for the summer to maintain the parks and oversee programs at the Flanagan Community Center.

The Penobscot Bay YMCA had operated the city’s recreation program from October 2015 until December 2020. That proposal was initially met with opposition and skepticism by many residents who wanted to continue with Rockland operating its own department. The Council voted in June 2018 to renew the contract for another two years, which was met by widespread support and praise from the community for the non-profit organization based in Rockport.

The recreation center was largely closed during the first year of the pandemic.

Recreation Director Donald Prescott was hired by the city in July 2021. Prescott spent a lot of time at the recreation center as a youth and called himself a “rec rat.” Beginning in high school, Prescott worked for nine years at the recreation center, manning the front desk and organizing programs such as basketball and soccer. He worked there through January 2017.

The debate on whether to add staff comes as the Council faces difficult decisions on the overall budget for 2022-2023 of $15,545,000, an increase of 7% ($1,076,000) over the approved 2021-2022 budget.

City Councilor Nate Davis said he was very uncomfortable with adding the number of staff requested with the city facing additional requests for staff in police and fire departments and the need for an additional person in the code office to prevent burnout.

The proposed recreation department budget is $338,356, an increase of 68 percent ($137,483). Most of that increase is due to increased wages and benefits with the increased staff.

Councilor Sarah Austin, who served on a committee that came up with recommendations for recreation prior to being elected to the Council, pointed out there was a ton of enthusiasm for the city taking over the recreation program when it was closed and the city should take advantage of that by seeking volunteers.

Prescott said all the “help wanted” signs in the city show that it is difficult to find workers let alone volunteers.

Austin said Rockland has a lot of people who would be willing to volunteer, noting there are many retirees who could offer their services.

The recreation director said he found it difficult to even find people to volunteer to coach pee wee sports teams.

Austin said she wasn’t prepared to support the number of added positions but agreed some additional staff was needed.

The Council is scheduled to meet 5:30 p.m. Monday, May 23 to take a preliminary vote on the overall municipal budget. A formal public hearing and final vote are scheduled for Monday, June 27.