The City of Saline and Saline Area Schools will not consolidate their Parks and Recreation and Community Education departments.
Members of Saline City Council and the Saline Board of Education met Monday night to review a report from an ad hoc committee struck in March to investigate Plante Moran's proposals to merge the two organizations.
Saline City Council members Dean Girbach and Linda TerHaar served on the ad hoc committee with Board of Education Trustees Paul Hynek and David Zimmer. The group worked with Parks and Rec Director Carla Scruggs and Community Education Director Brian Puffer.
After 40 hours of reviewing Plante Moran's recommendations and investigating cost cutting and sharing proposals, the committee found there is very little overlap in the services and that the departments already cooperate and share resources. The committee also found that while there are existing and future opportunities for synergy, consolidating would have potential negative impacts on the levels of services. The earlier Plante Moran report suggested that fully consolidating the programs could provide $200,000 in annual savings.
While he was disappointed that there was no money to be saved, Mayor Brian Marl said it was an important process nonetheless.
“I don't believe that on this particular issue we hit it out of the park. But we did do our due diligence. We investigated this matter thoroughly,” Marl said. “I think we have an obligation to the people we represent – the taxpayers, to systematically review all of our programs and policies to see of there is room for cost savings and efficiencies.”
Board President David Holden agreed it was a worthwhile investigation.
“Sometimes it's the journey, not the destination, and we should always go on the journey because you never know what you'll find,” Holden said, adding that the school district should invite the townships and library and other entities along on the journey.
Using Marl's terminology, Holden said a home run would have been an arrangement to move some some school programs into the Rec Center.
“Once it became apparent that it wasn't going to transpire, it was going back into the city's hands,” Holden said.
The Plante Moran study proposed two ways of consolidating. Full consolidation would save $200,000 annually by eliminating jobs. In the other proposal Parks and Recreation and Community Education would have remained separate entities, but they would have appeared the same to users because they would share a website, program guide, registration process and other things. The committee determined functional consolidation wouldn't offer significant savings. It was found that combined websites or brochures might become large and cumbersome for readers and that delivery costs would rise.
Board of Education Trustee David Zimmer said the committee learned that leadership of both organizations had worked together to eliminate duplication of services.
“Saline Rec is going for a certain age group and population and Community Ed is going for a different area. As a result there's not much duplication of services,” Zimmer said. “When you get into consolidating services, the devil is in the details. And when you get into the details, consolidation didn't hold up. With the disruptions that would be caused, the cost savings was really not worth it.”
The two organizations did manage to save $40,000 by partnering on a computer purchase, Paul Hynek noted.
Councillor David Rhoads had hoped the study would identify areas to collaborate. But, he said, he was glad to see that collaboration was now on the radar.
Saline Area Schools Superintendent Scot Graden said he anticipated that both Scruggs and Puffers will be more active in searching for ways to collaborate as a result of the process.
The idea of consolidating the Rec Center and Community Education was proposed at a 2012 meeting attended by leaders from the city, school district, library, chamber of commerce, Main Street and other organizations.
The city and school district identified grounds and maintenance, technology and recreation and enrichment as three areas where collaboration might save money.
The school district and city did not share equal incentive to consolidate parks and recreation and community education, however. Community Education generates money for the school district, while the city's general fund subsidizes the Rec Center.
As the city explored sharing services with the school district, city council also struck a task force to explore the sustainability of the Rec Center. Over the years, the Rec Center has seen membership drop from 3,200 to 2,090.
The task force recently shared details of a plan to offer cheaper, residential rates to all residents of the school district, raise rates, offer free fitness classes as part of the membership packages, and expand hours of operation.
The plan, however, required up-front investment to cover the decline in fitness class revenues. The task force hoped the Cultural Arts, Recreation, Enrichment and Senior Citizens millage might provide the funds. But negotiations to use CARES money for the Rec Center plan stalled.