Sides still clash on rec center issue

Posted: Sunday, May 11, 2003

The Kenai City Council, Kenai Parks and Recreation Commission and representatives of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula met Tuesday to give the groups and the public another opportunity to voice and address concerns over a proposed partnership between the club and the city to operate the Kenai Recreation Center.

At the last meeting held between these groups April 7, it was decided a draft partnership agreement would be written up to address some of the concerns and give the entities a better idea of what, specifically, the contract would entail.

The document addresses the legal nuts and bolts of what would be required of the city and club should the partnership be formed. For instance, the club would be required to manage the rec center and Teen

Center, provide maintenance and repairs to center equipment and provide janitorial services for the facility, while the city would be responsible for maintenance and repairs to the building, utility costs and provide $125,000 to the club each year to pay for the management of the facility.

If approved, the draft agreement would be in effect for three years, at which time it could be extended in terms of five years. The contract could be canceled by mutual consent of the city and club, or if one party fails to perform the requirements specified in the contract. The document is available for the public to view at the city's Web site, www.ci.kenai.ak.us., and at city hall.

The proposed partnership has encountered opposition from the public and the Kenai Parks and Recreation Commission. Many of the same opponents were back Tuesday to reiterate their concerns.

"I'd like to think that the city council's still open to different points of view," said Kristine Schmidt of Kenai, a member of the recently formed Friends of the Rec Center group. The group presented the council with a petition opposing the proposed partnership signed by 455 people from the peninsula who use the rec center. The group did not specify how many signatures were from Kenai taxpayers.

"I haven't heard one single thing that convinces me this is the best option," Schmidt said.

Some of the concerns voiced at past meetings were addressed in the draft agreement, including that the city would be contracting the club's professional services to operate the facility like it does with the Kenai Multipurpose Facility not leasing it or transferring ownership of it to the club; that the center will remain open to the public and any fees charged must not discourage public use of the facility; that the club will consider hiring current rec center employees who would lose their jobs through the transfer of management; that the club will continue to make the center available to the community groups and organizations that use it now; and that the club and Kenai Parks and Recreation Commission will designate a liaison member that will attend the others' meetings twice a year to discuss the operation of the center.

One of the most contentious ongoing arguments came up again at Tuesday's meeting the concern that the club would significantly change or discontinue the recreation programs that currently are offered at the center, for instance not allowing adults to continue using the weight room or walleyball courts, and turn the building into a kid zone for club members.

Club representatives said this would not be the case. The club would continue to use its current facilities on the Kenai Spur Highway for the majority of its programs, and would only move its teen programs to the upstairs of the rec center. The downstairs portion of the rec center would continue to be open to public use as it is now.

"The perception is that the Boys and Girls Club is taking over the rec center," said Tod McGillivray, vice president of the club's board of directors. "We all know that's not true, but the people at the rec center didn't get that message."

A clause in the draft partnership agreement states the club must provide the city with its latest version of its operation plan for the center no later than Nov. 15 every year.

Some audience members took that to mean the club would continue current recreation programs only until Nov. 15, then change how things were done. Peter Micciche, president of the club's board of directors, said that wouldn't happen. He said current rec center services would remain the same for the length of the contract.

"The only thing that's changeable in November is the fee schedule, and that doesn't mean it will change it's up for review," Micciche said. "... The hours could possibly change, but the services will remain for three years."

Fees were another issue that were readdressed. Club representatives were asked to clarify the fees charged to club members, out of a concern that teens wouldn't be able to utilize the Teen Center if they didn't pay the club membership cost.

"For the last 20 years, the youth of the community (and school basketball teams) have used our facility for free," said Parks and Recreation Commission member Jack Castimore. "We didn't charge our children to use our facility."

Tina Marie Herford, the club's executive director, said each participant in the club is charged a $20 annual membership fee as a way to get the kids to take ownership of the club. It offers scholarships to anyone interested in participating who for any reason do not have the money to pay.

"We do not turn anyone away," Herford said. "Any youth who wanted to participate would not be turned away."

Other complaints reiterated at the meeting included that the city should consider other options to operate the rec center and that the proposal was moving too quickly.

"I think we're going too fast," said Dan Conetta of Kenai. "... Postponing (the forming of a partnership) for a year could be a self-correcting problem."

The city's position is that it has pursued the partnership option as a way to maintain the level of services currently offered at the rec center while dealing with budget shortfalls caused by increases in insurance costs and decreases in state municipal assistance funds, interest rate revenue and the sales tax revenue from the closing of Big Kmart.

The city's administration does have a backup plan if the club partnership is not approved. According to City Manager Linda Snow, the city would 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 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; cutting $12,500 from different elements of the beautification department; and eliminating the wellness program and wellness letter for a savings of $3,800.

A decision on the partnership has not yet been made. The council must approve a budget by June 1, so a decision will be made by then at the latest.



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