Partnership offers best option for Kenai

Posted: Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Can the city of Kenai continue to offer the same services at the Kenai Recreation Center? Yes, it can, but with the reduction in revenue our community is facing, those same services would change with the center being closed two days a week, reduction of staff, programs and hours of service decreasing. The city administration suggested the idea of a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club that would save the city $87,000 and maintain the same level of services our residents have become accustomed to.

Yes, the city will provide the building, maintenance and a management fee of $125,000 yearly. A partnership usually requires both parties to contribute to the end product. The city saves programs, service hours and money. The Boys and Girls Club offers its professional management and the assurance of business as usual.

During the past several weeks, I embarked on a "fact-finding mission" to help me make what I considered an informed vote concerning the partnership.

I have made visits, nearly daily, to view for myself the activities and programs of the facility. During my visits, I have been able to speak freely with the users of the programs, especially the teens. Yes, they have had concerns with the possible Boys and Girls Club management of their programs. However, once they were able to view and understand the conditions of the contract, their concerns became less.

Their first thought of Boys and Girls Club is a program for young children on the grade school level. I asked them to think outside the box and think of a company called Coca Cola. They don't just sell cokes; their company offers other choices, like 7-Up and Dr. Pepper.

The same holds true with the programs for both adults and youth throughout our country, as well as two community center programs in the Anchorage area. The one thing they really wanted to be able to continue was their free- time atmosphere. They also were concerned about a possible $20 yearly fee. I explained the importance of buy-in to the program concept and assured them no one would be turned away because of the inability to pay. I also consulted with agencies and professionals who work closely with youth to help me understand how such a change would affect the teen program.

The Internet allowed me to view other teen programs throughout the country. They all have programs that are designed to develop self-confidence and self-esteem and that encourage productive citizenship. Their groups include middle and high school students, independent study and no-school youth. Their programs target those children who come from low-income families, those who struggle in school, those who are unconnected to their parents and adults and those who suffer neglect and abuse.

After making a trip to Anchorage to see first-hand how the municipality of Anchorage and the Boys and Girls Club partnership works in the Mountain View facility, I was convinced that the best solution to the teen program would be for the same type of partnership to happen in our community. It is a happy, positive atmosphere in which teens not only "just hang out" but also have the opportunity to avail themselves of programs and activities that can help them make changes in their lives.

As to my concerns of the downstairs programs, which include but are not limited to the gym, weight room and racquetball courts, I listened to and studied the written concerns of the general public, and again reviewed the proposed contract and suggested a few minor changes to the administration. These changes were to assure the mission statement would reflect the community goal, the targeted programs would include the teen center and middle and high school basketball programs and signage on the front of the building would state the facility was a community center with the Boys and Girls Club and city of Kenai in a partnership role. The services now included in the partnership agreement will be a teen program, toddler time, home-school gym, senior citizens exercise, wallyball and racquetball, open gym time, volleyball, weight room and sauna, men's and women's adult basketball leagues, middle and high school basketball for Kenai Central High School and the after-prom and after-graduation activities for both Kenai and Skyview high schools.

I visited the idea of transferring the additional funds needed to have the city continue with the established program and realized in good faith I could not support such a move.

The employees of the city have been denied a cost of living raise for the past three years. During the past five years, they have only been granted a 3.5 percent increase, while the cost of living index has risen 10.5 percent. This year, they have had to begin to pay a portion of their medical insurance, which in reality offers them a reduction in spendable income.

We have had to eliminate dust control on unpaved streets within our community.

The library will experience a reduction in operating days, a loss of half of their book budget and the loss of a part-time position.

The city clerk will experience the loss of support staff and many, many more reductions have been made throughout the city budget.

To consider a future dip in the fund balance without addressing other budget reductions first would not be prudent on my part.

The Boys and Girls Club contract offers a change of management only, not a change of services. There are numerous safeguards built into the contract to assure compliance. A partnership will open the doors for new grant opportunities and expanded programs both for the teens and adult participants of the facility. The Boys and Girls Clubs have an excellent reputation in our community, and I believe their No. 1 goal will be to maintain that standing.

This has been a difficult issue. It has been one that sent me on a mission to review the facts for myself. The city cannot continue to operate these same programs without additional funds from the fund balance or a huge reduction of services to the participants.

The city and its residents have everything to gain through a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club.

Pat Porter is a member of the Kenai City Council.

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