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Joint summer recreation remains a hot potato between school, city

The Wadena City Council tabled a scheduled discussion about the joint summer recreation program at its meeting Tuesday night due to the absence of two council members.

City Administrator Brad Swenson recommended the council table the matter.

"I think this is a very important discussion," he said.

Mayor Wayne Wolden agreed. Councilman Don Niles has worked a lot on this issue, he said. Councilwoman Kay Browne was also absent. The council did vote to advertise for a pool director and lifeguards so that process could begin.

Swenson provided a recap of the council's previous actions and the discussion that has continued in committee meetings.

The council voted to increase its planned 2010 allocation to summer rec by a conditional $4,000 at its January meeting. The council also agreed to pursue a joint meeting with the Wadena-Deer Creek school board to discuss the future of the city and school's joint recreation program. Swenson said the city had trouble getting that joint meeting together.

Instead, small committees of people from the school and city met twice, he said. Those meetings seemed to have some momentum in favor of splitting the joint rec program, with the city taking over the pool portion and the school taking over the rest including baseball, softball and tennis. The committees don't have any authority to make decisions, he said, and that is why the issue was on the council's agenda.

Wolden said that, according to an article in the Feb. 27 edition of the Pioneer Journal, it appeared the school board thinks the split is imminent. The school is advertising for a year-round recreation director.

Swenson said he has talked with Superintendent Virginia Dahlstrom about the issue and provided her with numbers to show what the financial outcomes would be if the city and school split the program.

If the city takes on the pool it faces a possible $13,000 shortfall with total expenses amounting to more than revenue, according to numbers provided by Swenson. The school would come out around $10,000 ahead with revenues over expenses if it takes over general recreation not including the pool.

The recreation program has a long history, Swenson said. He hasn't done a lot of research, he said, but he provided the council with an e-mail former city councilman Pete Phillips sent.

In his e-mail Phillips urged the council to delay a decision regarding dissolving the joint recreation board until the full council is able to attend.

"Furthermore, I have recently uncovered some facts that I feel warrant further investigation before the city can walk away from this productive union," he wrote.

Phillips found the following information in the city vault and past issues of the Pioneer Journal.

The joint recreation board was established in 1947 when voters approved one question 120 to 8 in a special election, according to a May 22, 1947, edition of the Pioneer Journal.

The approved measure read: "Shall the School Board of Independent District No. 1, Wadena, be authorized to cooperate with the Village of Wadena in the establishment of a joint recreation board and to appropriate and levy funds annually for the maintenance of a recreation program?"

After the joint recreation board was incorporated, its first action was to hire an architect to draw plans for a comprehensive recreation facility, according to Phillips' e-mail. The facility would be highlighted by a pool. A city wide levy to fund the proposal failed in late 1947.

However, a simple revision of the joint rec board's 1947 plans was approved in 1955, according to the letter.

"A group of citizens, comprised of many school personnel, petitioned the Village of Wadena to hold a special election to fund a swimming pool," Phillips wrote. "This measure passed."

Phillips has inquired at the courthouse, he wrote, but has not gotten an answer on what he describes as another important issue.

Phillips' question is, "Is the school special levy currently in place tied in any way to the levy that binds the school to the city to receive these funds?" he wrote.