A task force charged with making the Saline Rec Center a financially sustainable operation is making several bold recommendations to Saline City Council.
Carla Scruggs, Director of Saline Parks and Recreation, presented the task force’s report on the Rec Center, which has seen membership fall by nearly 500 in the five years and requires a nearly $100,000 subsidy from the city’s general fund to break even.
Highlights of the plan include:
· Opening residential rates beyond the city limits to include the entire school district.
· Raising membership rates by 10 percent.
· Offering monthly charges, electronically transferred from a checking account or credit card.
· Including aerobics, yoga, Pilates, Zumba, water aerobics, spinning, TRX and Yogalaties as part of membership. (In the past, members paid for such classes on top of membership).
· Expanding the hours of operation each day. The Rec Center would be open 106.5 hours, up by more than 15. The Rec Center would open at 5:30 a.m. and close at 10 p.m. on weekdays, and operate from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends.
· Increasing daily fees to $8 for seniors and $12 for adults. The age group for children, meanwhile, increases from 3 -12 to 3-17 and rates remain $5.
· Open the definition of “family” to include extensions for elderly parents, adult children, au-pairs and others.
“The idea is to make the Rec Center more affordable and offer improvements that will attract members and expand the membership pool,” Scruggs told council.
Mayor Brian Marl said he was very enthusiastic about the task force’s recommendations.
“The sustainability of the Rec Center has been an issue for some time. Restatement of the problem isn’t a solution. I think this report is a game changer,” Marl said. “One thing they aren’t going to say about me is that I didn’t try. I am darned committed to trying and doing something (to make the Rec Center financially sustainable).”
City council is expected to spend the next few weeks studying the proposal before taking action on the recommendations at the first or second meeting in September.
The task force was chaired by City of Saline Manager Todd Campbell and included Director Scruggs, Mayor Brian Marl, Councilor Dean Girbach, Diane Waterhouse and Scott Fosdick. It met three times this year, pouring over old data, looking at budget trends, reviewing fees and marketing, and looking at ways to increase the residential base.
One of the critical parts of the plan is allowing residents outside the city of Saline to enjoy residential rates. Currently, annual rates for non-residents are $328, compared to $256 for city residents. Scruggs said the higher non-resident prices have chased away potential members.
“There are Lodi Township residents across the street. They have a Saline address. Their kids go to Saline schools. They go to the Saline District Library. They’re served by the Saline Area Fire Department. They don’t understand it when we charge them more because they’re not from Saline,” Scruggs said.
Opening residential rates to non-city residents is expected to increase numbers in the long run. But in the short term, reduced rates for out-of-city residents and the decline in fitness class revenues will cost the Rec Center. City leaders are in negotiations with school officials to use funds from the CARES (Cultural Arts, Recreation, Enrichment and Senior Citizens) millage as a bridge.
“Many figures have been thrown out there with regard to the use of CARES funds to bridge the gap. Negotiations are ongoing. We are looking at figures that would get us over the hump and provide a subsidy to underwrite the proposed policy changes,” Marl said, though he declined to put a number on the amount.
The recommendations would cause annual membership revenues to rise by $59,000 a year to $657,000, Scruggs estimated. She estimated daily fees would increase by $7,000 to $79,000. On the other hand, fitness class revenues would call from $104,450 to $26,122.
Costs would also rise because of the expanded hours, Scruggs said.
Councilor Girbach said that even with the price hikes, the Rec Center remained competitive with other fitness facilities.
“And one benefit we have at the Rec Center is the swimming pool,” said Girbach, who added that more needed to be done to market the pool to area residents.
Girbach said that the Rec Center mostly pays for itself. He hoped the recommendations, if passed, would help bump the Rec Center’s financial situation over the hump.
When asked by Councilor David Rhoads, Scruggs was unable to say how the recommendations would change the Rec Center’s revenue-vs.-expenses bottom line.
Rhoads also asked about the capacity of the Rec Center, which currently has 2,090 members.
“What do you anticipate is the capacity of the Rec Center, without undue crowding or having people wait in line?” Rhoads asked.
Scruggs said the Rec Center once served 3,200 members quite easily and estimated it could handle 4,500 to 5,000 members, especially with increased hours of operation.
“We’re not crowded. We have a lot of capacity to accommodate many more people,” Scruggs said.
Using CARES fund money for the Rec Center also raised issues with some members of council.
“If too much of the CARES fund is allocated to the Rec Center for ongoing support, it reduces the discretionary amount that can be used to support important programs in the community,” Rhoads said, noting that CARES millage money has been used as seed money for important community initiatives, like Fifth Corner Teen Corner.
Councilor Dean Girbach agreed with Rhoads’ point, but said that the school district has been directing more CARES funds to school-related programs.
Both Councilor Lee Bourgoin and Mayor Marl said they wouldn’t want to see permanent programming of CARES fund money to the Rec Center.
The CARES millage, originally passed by Saline Area Schools District voters in 1999, was .85 mills.
In 2009, the CARES millage was reduced to .50 mills and as the school district also passed a .35 sinking fund millage.
The 10-year CARES millage is to fund the senior center, the Saline High School pool, management of the Saline Area Schools theater, and Community Education and enrichment programs. Discretionary funds of about $165,000 a year are granted to worthwhile projects which enhance the quality of life in Saline.
The city and school district have also been discussing ways to share Rec Center and Community Education services and costs. At a joint meeting, city council and school board will discuss the findings of an ad hoc committee that studied the issue. The meeting was to place at city hall at 6:30 p.m. Thursday but has since been rescheduled.