By Josh LaBella
Bill Slater, former Director of West Haven Parks and Recreation, is ready for his next adventure. Slater, who worked for the department for 41 years, finished his last day Friday.
Slater, who led the five-employee department, got his degree in recreation and leisure services from UConn. He said he entered the field because he always had an interest in sports and activities. Slater called the department important for any town or city.
“You know when you move into a town, everybody has police and fire, the Board of Education,” said Slater. “But what do you do when you get here? That’s why recreation is really important. It’s fun to give people something to do.”
According to Slater, the department runs all sorts of programs all throughout the year, although summer is the busiest season. He said the lack of a city community center has them always fighting for space.
“If it’s not a field for a game then it has to be indoors somewhere,” said Slater. “That basically means we have to go to the school system. It becomes a fight for space and time. Something that is badly needed in this town is a community center.”
Slater said along with the demographics of the town, the most popular sports and activates have also changed. He said baseball has been replaced with soccer as the most popular sport. He also said what is expected of their programs has changed.
“People are looking for organized, supervised activities,” said Slater. “What was ‘day camp’ has really become ‘daycare.’”
Historically, said Slater, parks and recreation is one of the first places to face cuts in hard financial times. He said their budgets have done well for the past few years.
“We haven’t lost a lot of money but we haven’t gotten any either,” said Slater. “One of the big issues, I was just talking to the mayor yesterday, is with the minimum wage increase that is going to go up to $15 an hour in the next four years. But if our budget doesn’t go [up] with it, then I’ll have to pay a 15 or 16 year old kid $15 an hour. Then I’ll hire fewer kids to work, which means I will service fewer kids, which means we’ll bring in less revenue. It’s a loser all the way around.”
Slater said there needs to be a difference between a minimum wage for people working to support a family and young people working their first job.
The people he got to meet and work with were his favorite part of the job.
“People come here with a smile on their face because they want to be here,” said Slater, “as opposed to paying taxes or getting a building permit. That doesn’t mean anything against those departments but those are things you have to do. People are here because it’s something they enjoy doing.”
Moving forward, Slater says he will take the days as they come. He said he and his wife like to visit baseball cities and go to games. He is also looks forward to spending more time with his grandkids.
“I’m looking forward to doing, basically, what I want, when I want as much as money and health allow,” he said.