It's official. Starting Saturday, the city of Soldotna will have a parks and recreation department.
At Wednesday's meeting, the Soldotna City Council unanimously approved the move.
"I think its something that's long overdue," said Barbara Jewell, longtime member of the city's parks committee.
The department will run the Soldotna Sports Center, two campgrounds, eight other parks and the fish walk near the Soldotna Visitors Center. Andrew Carmichael, the sports center director, will head the new department.
The city made the change because expanding recreational needs and opportunities outgrew the old way of handling its public spaces, he said.
"The offerings broadened," he said. "It was time to stop doing it piecemeal."
The change will make it easier for people who want to contact staff about parks or recreation. They will be able to get their questions answered by calling 262-3151 instead of trying to figure out who is in charge.
Until now, several city departments have dealt with aspects of running the parks.
The sports center staff took over campground management from a private contractor about five years ago. The goal was to subsidize winter costs and to provide year-round employment for the center's workers, whose main function during other months is caring for the ice rink, he said.
At the same time, city public works maintenance employees faced increasing obligations to care for parks, and clerical staff at city hall accumulated expanding files of park-related documents. The reorganization will free them up to return to other duties.
Two years ago, the city formalized the Soldotna Parks Advisory Committee. The volunteer committee, which dates back about a decade, advises the city about developing expanded recreational opportunities and coordinates the Adopt-A-Corner program of roadside gardens.
Carmichael described the committee as a first step and major impetus toward consolidating the new department.
Discussion about operating a winter recreation site for families at Karen Street Park was the final reason for the change, he said.
The city wanted to streamline the management while allowing for new opportunities.
Jewell said the change will reduce duplication and increase continuity.
The decision also reflects the current city council's interest in what Carmichael called "quality of life things."
The new department is more of a reorganization than an expansion, he emphasized.
The city will add one staff position in setting up the parks and recreation section. The total departmental budget for the fiscal year beginning Saturday will be $741,502, an increase of about $30,000 over last year.
To advise the new department, the current Parks Advisory Committee and Sports Center Advisory Board will be merged into a new Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. That initial board will serve through the end of the calendar year. In January, a nine-member board will be appointed.
From his office at the sports center, Carmichael will supervise five full-time workers and 11 seasonal campground workers.
He said he is both intimidated and excited about his new responsibilities. But his first official day as Soldotna parks and recreation director happens to fall on his day off.
"I'm going fishing Saturday," he said.
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