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Council kicks in a conditional $4,000 raise for summer rec

The Wadena City Council voted to increase its summer rec allocation by $4,000 from its original 2010 proposed allocation of $15,000, while some members expressed their disappointment with the Wadena-Deer Creek School District's funding.

"It's getting to a point financially by the school district where they're basically participating, not partnering," Mayor Wayne Wolden said. "That concerns me greatly."

The school district decreased funding from $26,100 in 2008 to $10,000 in 2009.

Councilman Don Niles presented a proposal at last month's council meeting where he said the superintendent promised to seek an additional $4,000 in funding for summer rec from the school board. This was sort of on the condition that the city of Wadena would also increase its allocation by $4,000, he said.

After a series of motions, the council voted in December to have City Administrator Brad Swenson look for up to $4,000 from the city's general fund to possibly return funding to the 2009 level of $17,500 or to increase the original 2010 allocation of $15,000 to $19,000.

Swenson told council members Tuesday night that he didn't have any "specific smoking guns" for cuts after going through the budget extensively. He prepared a list of items that could be reduced or eliminated as the board saw fit.

The council voted to use a $1,162 savings in the budgeted amount for carpet in the city administrative building toward the $4,000 increase. The rest of the increase will be split three ways from $30,000 in the comprehensive plan reserve, the $30,000 set aside for a library project consultant and a $4,000 reserve for landscaping for the city's entrance signs.

The motion to increase the city's funding by $4,000 included the condition that the school board commits no less than $14,000 to summer rec in 2010.

Pete Phillips, a past president of the recreation board, asked Niles what assurance he had from any school board members that they're even willing to entertain the idea.

Niles said he received assurance from Superintendant Virginia Dahlstrom that she would make the recommendation.

"My observation has been that her recommendations have been followed quite often," Niles said.

Phillips also questioned the school board's authority to even make funding decisions about summer rec. He said community education money is a separate taxpayer levy fund that goes to the community ed board and not the school's general fund.

Niles said he disagreed with Phillips because he's been told in no uncertain terms that the community ed board is merely an advisory body and that, ultimately, it's up to the school board to either accept or reject their recommendation.

Wolden voted against the motion the council approved to increase funding to joint recreation.

He said he met with Dahlstrom shortly after reading that the school had a more than $200,000 budget excess and that he was concerned about the $16,100 the school had cut joint recreation. Wolden was disappointed in what he said was her recommendation again that the school would increase funding by $4,000.

"They do have resources, they do have budget excesses," he said.

The recreation program is a joint venture by the city and the school, he said. He pointed out the cash input made by the city of Wadena.

According to a summer recreation contribution comparison included with the council's agenda, the 2009 total expenses for the city were $44,696.47 including the annual appropriation of $17,500 and the maintenance costs of $27,196.47 with the school's total expenses amounting to the $10,000 annual appropriation.

The practical question is whether there will be a summer rec program this year if the city doesn't act, Niles said. He is willing to proceed assuming that Dahlstrom has the ability to make that commitment of $4,000.

Prior to the motion the council approved, Wolden also said he was tempted to move to adopt a budget that reflects the $15,000 the city originally budgeted for 2010, and the $10,000 the school district has officially committed.

Niles responded to Wolden's comments by saying he thinks the joint rec board has done all it can do.

"I don't think by punishing the ... rec board and telling them to make do with that kind of budget that that is going to be the solution," he said.

Wolden said he didn't see it as a punishment but as a call to action for the joint rec board.

Councilwoman Jeanette Baymler said she didn't think anybody wants summer rec to fall by the wayside.

"It's that we want the school to be an active partner," she said.

Councilman Toby Pierce said his problem is why the school can't pull their fair share.

"You're looking at us as if it's our fault," Pierce told Niles. "You've got to look at the school and the superintendant."

Niles said he's just the city's appointed designee to joint recreation.

After offering the motion to conditionally increase the city's allocation this year, Niles also offered a motion to invite the school board to a special meeting to discuss the future of the joint recreation partnership, which the council approved.

"I think we should consider a joint school board, city council meeting where we have this discussion finally, because we know we've spent some hours discussing it here and a lot of the frustration has been a lack of communication," Niles said.