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City alarmed at possible loss of summer rec funding

Members of the Wadena City Council heard Tuesday night from citizens and its own members that a huge cut to summer recreation funding could have ripples that could close the community pool or shut down youth activities this summer.

Council member Don Niles is serving his first year on the Rec Board, a joint committee funded by the city of Wadena and Wadena-Deer Creek Community Education. He said he's worried about what he's hearing about the loss of funding from Community Ed.

"There's been what I would describe as an abrupt turn of events of the functioning of the summer rec board that I wanted to alert the public to," Niles began.

He said his group began budgeting for this summer on the assumption that Community Ed would roughly match its usual $26,000 contribution toward summer rec's $74,000 annual budget.

"During that budgeting process, we heard indirectly that there might be $10,000 less this year from the school district than there was last year," Niles said. "We kept asking that question, but never got an answer to that question."

Most recently, Niles said, talk has surfaced about cutting the Community Ed contribution to $10,000, a reduction of about $16,000. Now the talk is even about cutting the contribution to zero.

"It's an abrupt change that has the potential to cause a disruption of a long-standing tradition," Niles said.

Councilwoman Kay Browne said she serves on the Community Ed board, and shared a proposed budget that used the $10,000 contribution figure. She said some state funding is in jeopardy, and the group may increase the contribution if more money comes in.

But Pete Phillips, who is a former member of the rec board, spoke as a parent and said he's researched the issue and found out the funding isn't in as much jeopardy as some have suggested. And he said a dedicated special levy is in place that funds Community Ed's contribution, and that money is dedicated and can't be spent elsewhere or cut. The district, according to numbers provided by Browne, would shift about $15,000 to fund junior varsity sports, which could be a budget casualty as the Wadena-Deer Creek School Board makes its cuts.

"That levy is for a specific purpose," parent George Behl said. "Talking with some people, we could very well lose the levy. If you fund JV sports, the levy could go away."

Phillips provided numbers that showed more than 8,000 swimmers used the community pool in 2008, and more than 300 took swimming lessons.

Niles said he's upset that the budget is supposed to be finalized in the fall, but instead there is confusion and surprise at the last minute, as the group tries to staff its positions and complete its summer offerings.

"I do not think it's fair, after 50 years [of working together on summer rec], for the school district to walk away literally at the 11th hour," Niles said.

Many of the Wadena City Council members said they planned to attend either the WDC School Board's finance committee meeting at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, April 15 at the school, or the regular WDC school board meeting at 5 p.m. on Monday, April 20.

Both meetings are open to the public.