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Wadena 2010 summer recreation funding debate heats up

After a lengthy discussion, the Wadena City Council instructed the city administrator to look for up to $4,000 from the city's general fund to make up for cuts to recreation funding in 2010. The up to $4,000 would not only make up for the council cutting the recreation budget from $17,500 in 2009 to $15,000 in 2010, but would get the budget closer to the $19,000 Councilman Don Niles requested Tuesday night. The amount was the same increase he talked with Superintendent Virginia Dahlstrom of Wadena-Deer Creek School District about proposing.

WDC contributed $10,000 to the recreation budget in 2009, with a proposed 2010 contribution listed at $14,000. Both numbers are a significant decrease from the school district's 2008 contribution of $26,100.

Local businesses donating $10,105 kept the pool open last year, although fees had to be raised.

With the city's reduction and the school district and community ed's original intention to only fund $10,000 again this year, the recreation department would have seriously looked at the potential of closing the pool two or three days a week or drastically cutting programs, Niles said.

Mayor Wayne Wolden said he would not support the increase to $19,000 because the city needs to have a balanced budget. He wanted to adopt the $3,102,300 operating and capital expenditures budget for the general fund that night.

He also has a hard time with the school only coming up with $4,000 more this year than last year, Wolden said. The school just passed a referendum and he thinks the district needs to reaffirm its commitment to joint recreation, he said.

"I think they need to step up to the plate," Wolden said.

Councilman Toby Pierce agreed.

The school is taking money intended for community ed and using it for the school, Pierce said. The city will accept $4,000 from the school for the recreation budget, but it doesn't have $4,000 itself to throw in there.

The school's contribution comes out of the community ed budget, Niles said. The school has explained to him that in order to continue junior high sports it had to cut joint recreation funding.

Niles explained the timing of the budget request and his own role in it.

If the majority of the council wants to see some cuts in the recreation program because of the budget shortfall, that's fine, he said. He's just showing the reality of the numbers and what's going to happen if they let it go. They can point the finger at their joint recreation partner and say the school should pay more, but the other part is, it's the kids who will pay the price, Niles said.

Wolden said he appreciated Niles' work with the recreation board, but did not think the city could afford more than $15,000.

Councilwoman Jeanette Baymler made the observation that nobody wants to see the programs cut.

"We want things for our children to be doing," she said.

Niles suggested leaving the budget at last year's amount of $17,500.

The general fund budget is still short of revenue to cover that, Wolden responded. He put forth a motion to approve the budget as presented.

Niles amended the motion to change the total park and recreation budget from $207,379 to $211,379.

It died for lack of a second.

Niles then put forth an amendment to increase the budget by $2,500.

Baymler seconded.

City Administrator Brad Swenson said the amendment puts the operating budget out of balance. The city would have to take money out of reserves. The reserve is the city's cash flow and needs to be maintained so it doesn't have to borrow money to cover expenses, he said.

Niles said he would be willing to take the $2,500 out of reserves if there was some creative way of creating revenue. He won't go over some of the particular items the city has included in the budget, but he thinks there are a number of things that probably don't have the same priority as kids in summer rec, he said.

The amendment failed with a 2-2 vote. Wolden and Pierce voted against, and Baymler and Niles voted in favor. Councilwoman Kay Browne was absent.

Wolden asked for a vote on the original motion to approve the general fund budget as is with the reduced recreation fund budget of $15,000. It also failed with another tied vote after Wolden and Pierce voted in favor and Baymler and Niles voted against it.

Wolden said he has a hard time freezing all the city employees' pay and then giving more to recreation, although it is a very important program. He thinks the school district needs to "come up to the plate" and there are creative ways to come up with additional revenue for recreation that do not come out of city funds, he said.

Niles said he understands budget issues and he understands the frustration with the school district. But he would hate to see the program diminished when the compromise is for the city to provide the same budget it did last year.

"I think there's a little bit of 'let's teach the school district a lesson' perhaps by cutting to $15,000," Niles said.

Pierce said he thinks the cut is because of the tight budget and the probability of further state unallotment.

The pain is spread across all the departments, Wolden said.

Niles said he didn't know of another city department that is a joint partner with another entity with funding cuts of 60 percent. It's a unique circumstance, he said.

He asked Swenson where the city could find revenue to make up the $2,500.

Swenson said without going back through the general fund budget line by line he was unprepared to make a recommendation that night.

Wolden said he would like to adopt the budget tonight with the possibility of amending it later.

Pierce asked if the city had covered the recreation department in its budget meetings.

Niles said he didn't think so. The budget came up originally as $15,000 and he remembers commenting that the recreation department hadn't had time to go through its budget. He explained earlier in the meeting that the rec board had not met, so he had to work on the budget.

"This is literally the first time we've looked at the rec board budget with specificity," he said. "I think it's a fair request to make ... at this time."

Swenson said the council did discuss recreation funding at two different budget meetings with the majority opting not to bring the budget back up to $17,500.

Wolden reiterated he would rather adopt the budget now with the agreement of looking for up to $4,000 to move into the recreation budget.

Niles moved to reallocate $2,500 from the liquor store to general revenue.

Swenson said the liquor store budget is not balanced and is using reserves. The city also always has to cover the golf course deficit from its reserve.

There was no second to Niles' motion.

Wolden asked again if the council would consider supporting the resolution to adopt the 2010 operating and capital expenditures budget as is with the understanding that Swenson would look through the general fund budget and try and find some areas to reduce or find additional revenues up to $4,000 for the council to approve putting toward joint recreation.

The council approved the motion unanimously.