Partnership holds potential to save money, programs

Posted: Friday, April 11, 2003

The city of Kenai deserves a gold medal for trying to find creative ways to cut spending and yet save popular programs.

Its proposed partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula to operate the Kenai Recreation Center is the perfect example. While lots of details still need to be worked out, the premise is the city would pay for maintenance and utilities of the rec center and provide $125,000 to the Boys and Girls Clubs to operate the center.

While the partnership would eliminate 3.5 full-time positions and 10 part-time positions, it also would save the city $87,000. Boys and Girls Club officials have said they would consider hiring city employees whose jobs are cut.

Here's the worst part of the proposal: It's a change from the status quo and that makes some people uncomfortable. No one likes to lose a popular program, and no one wants to see people lose their jobs.

The partnership, however, is a better alternative than the other option, which is to cut $110,000 from the Parks and Recreation Department budget. That cut means reducing the number of days the center is open, as well as the hours it operates. It also means a loss of jobs.

The steps the city of Kenai is taking should help economic reality sink in. These are drastic times that call for drastic measures. Kenai isn't bluffing about hard times, but, in responding to those hard times, it also is trying to cushion the blow in the case of rec center programs, through the partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs.

Everyone agrees that the rec center and its programs for all ages contribute to the quality of life in Kenai. The question city officials must answer, however, is: Can Kenai continue to afford such quality-of-life programs? Is there a way to offer the programs, but cut the cost to the city?

All departments within the city, except public safety, are facing cuts of about 10 percent to their budgets. In all, the city is looking to cut $1.2 million from its budget. Residents will feel those cuts. It's naive to think otherwise.

Instead of just cutting, however, city officials have proposed some creative solutions most notably the partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs.

There is much to recommend the idea.

First, the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula has a sterling track record in our communities. Its programs are well respected and growing. It knows kids and how to provide a fun and safe environment for them.

Second, the city and the club are not reinventing the wheel with this idea. It's been tried and proven in other communities. There's no reason it can't work here.

Third, the public often tells government to look for innovative and less expensive ways to do things. That's exactly what the city of Kenai is trying to do in this case, yet many people seem reluctant to embrace the idea.

While some are worried the Boys and Girls Clubs does not have the expertise to provide adult services, it's worth giving the organization a chance.

Club officials have pledged they will not reduce services at the rec center at the onset, but they cannot promise that will be the case forever. What critics of the proposal don't seem to understand is that the city also cannot promise a continuation of services. In fact, without the partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs it seems even more likely that programs eventually not only will be reduced, but cut altogether.

The fact is that economic times have changed for the city for many reasons. It can no longer continue to do business as it has always done business. The city is proposing innovative ways to preserve programs and still operate within its means.

The proposed partnership between the city and the Boys and Girls Clubs to operate the rec center is an excellent example of government going the extra mile to serve its constituents and keep a close eye on the bottom line.

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