Kenai's efforts to cut budget raise concerns

Some worry adult programs will suffer under proposed partnership with Boys and Girls Clubs will hurt adult programs

Posted: Wednesday, April 09, 2003

A meeting to discuss a proposal in which the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula would partner with the city of Kenai to operate the Kenai Recreation Center starting July 1 raised more questions than answers.

That was its purpose.

Club representatives met with the Kenai City Council and members of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission during a council budget work session Monday. The purpose of the meeting was for the groups to discuss concerns they have about the proposed partnership to get an idea of what conditions should be included in a memorandum of understanding between the groups, should the partnership be approved.

The current proposal is the city would pay for maintenance and utilities of the Rec Center and provide $125,000 to the Boys and Girls Club to operate the center. This would eliminate 3.5 full-time positions and 10 part-time positions at the center and save the city $87,000. In return, the Boys and Girls Club would operate the facility.

Club representatives said the club would transfer its teen program to the Rec Center's Teen Center but would not move out of its current Kenai facilities. They mentioned that similar partnerships between clubs and cities exist in 13 other locations, including Anchorage.

The presentation did not answer the all the concerns of those attending the meeting. The most frequently voiced concern regarded what would happen to the adult services the center currently offers.

"I'm worried my adult programs going on downstairs are going to be lost because (the Boys and Girls Club) don't know what they're going to do with it," said Jan Echternach, who works at the center. "And I've been there for seven years and I know what a loss that would be."

No one disparaged the club's ability to operate youth and teen programs, but their lack of experience in operating facilities that offer adult services was questioned.

"They have no track record doing (adult programs) in the community and they don't know what they're doing," said Kristine Schmidt of Kenai.

Boys and Girls Club representatives said several times they plan to continue the adult services the Rec Center currently offers.

"It is our intent to continue offering existing adult programs as well as enhance adult programs with new adult opportunities," said Peter Micciche, president of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula's board of directors.

This means whatever services the Rec Center currently offers will continue to be offered if the partnership goes into effect July 1, said city manager Linda Snow. However, club representatives were not able to promise to continue the services in the future.

"We would start out without reducing services, but it would remain to be seen how that would develop," Micciche said.

The center employees who will lose their jobs was another concern. Echternach said she's one of the positions on the chopping block.

"I love my job and I don't want to lose my job," she said. "I was told I'm not supposed to make this personal, but its hard not to. The people who come into that center are like my family."

Tina Marie Herford, the club's executive director, said the club would consider hiring back the center employees who get cut.

"We recognize the value of the current staff," she said.

The speed with which the proposal is progressing concerns Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission members as well as some members of the public who spoke at the meeting.

"I think you're going way, way too fast," said Robert Molloy of Kenai. "This is not an emergency. ... I'm surprised that this is so far along."

Discussions of a partnership have been going on for more than a year, at least as far as the Teen Center is concerned, said Parks and Recreation director Bob Frates. However, the process of producing and approving a memorandum of understanding for the partnership is facing a deadline since the city's fiscal year 2004 budget must be resolved within the next two months.

"This thing is definitely on the fast track," council member Joe Moore said.

Other concerns raised by community members include opposition to letting any private contractor operate the center and the way in which the Boys and Girls Club was sought out for the partnership, rather than putting it out to bid.

According to Snow, it is not unusual for private entities to contract with the city to operate city facilities, like the Multipurpose Facility and the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center.

It also is not unusual -- in fact it is the norm -- for the city to seek out a specific private group for such partnerships, Snow said. The Boys and Girls Club was chosen for the proposed partnership because of its history operating youth programs, its track record in similar partnerships in other communities and its ability to continue to offer the services the Rec Center already does, Snow said.

If the city council and the club do not reach an agreement on a partnership, the city will continue to operate the center, but with significant budget reductions. The Boys and Girls Club partnership would save the city $87,000, but if that partnership doesn't happen the city will have to cut $110,000 from the Parks and Recreation budget, Snow said.

Those cuts would include eliminating one full-time and five part-time positions (rather than the 3.5 full-time and 10 part-time positions that will be eliminated if the partnership is approved), closing the center on Sundays and Mondays, opening the center at 8 a.m. instead of 6 a.m., opening the Teen Center at 4 p.m. on Saturdays instead of 1 p.m., eliminating the city's responsibility for the city league basketball program (which could still exist if league members organize it themselves and rent the facility), cutting $2,500 from the snack bar's operational budget and $12,500 from different elements of the beautification department, and eliminating the wellness program and wellness letter for a savings of $3,800.

After the public comment portion of the meeting, the council gave the city attorney, Carey Graves, the go-ahead to start drafting a memorandum of agreement for the partnership between the city and the club.

Graves said he would include the concerns discussed at the meeting, most notably the interest in continuing adult services.

The council, commission and club's board of directors will discuss the issue separately and likely have at least one more joint meeting before a decision is made whether to approve the partnership.

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