Millage, Bonding Considered for $7 Million Saline Rec Center Proposal


City of Saline officials once again addressed a potential expansion of the Saline Rec Center during a work meeting Nov. 20.

Here are the key points.

  • Total revenues at the Rec Center are at $1.3 million, about $200,000 south of pre-pandemic revenues. Membership revenues are down considerably. The Rec Center has made up some of those losses with increased program revenue and rentals.
  • The city’s general fund contribution to the Rec Center was around $200,000 for five straight years. It rose to nearly $700,000 during the pandemic - which caused the city’s fund balance to shrink and led to decisions like the outsourcing of police dispatch. For 2023, the Rec Center contribution was still north of $400,000. It’s expected to be around $325,000 next year.
  • City officials say the Rec Center does a good job recouping costs by generating revenue. According to new Rec Center director Sunshine Lambert, the Rec Center recoups about 75 percent of its costs. She said that is much higher than peers, such as the Washtenaw Rec Center (22 percent), Howell (49 percent), West Bloomfield (13 percent), Troy (21 percent), Canton (43 percent). Lambert said the national average was 25 percent. These numbers, however, do factor in that Saline has far fewer taxpayers than most of the other centers. It’s also not clear which of those centers are supported by a dedicated millage. Saline recreation does not have a dedicated millage. That is one of the options being considered. Originally, the school district’s CARES millage was meant to help fund Rec Center programming - but that support was cut when the millage was scaled back - a trade-off for a new sinking fund millage in the district at the time. Lambert said Parks and Rec departments rely on general fund revenues and “Saline should be no different.”
  • With or without a Rec Center, many communities subsidize Parks and Recreation. Dexter spends $260,000 and Fenton spends $700,000 on Parks and Recreation. Neither have a Rec Center.
  • For those wondering about closing the Rec Center, City Manager Colleen O’Toole suggested it might cost $12-20 million to decommission the building.
  • O’Toole noted there could be legal consequences for closing the Rec Center. In exchange for annexing the property into the city, Saline had to promise that Pittsfield residents within the school district would receive city residential discounts. “There would be quite a bit of legal untangling,” O’Toole said.
  • To gain more members, the district is engaging in more marking, Lambert said. “We’re trying to spread the word that the Rec Center is the “home of health and wellness in Saline.”
  • Staff is recommending moving forward with a plan put forth by Barry Dunn that includes a $7 million expansion and remodel of the aquatic area and locker rooms. There would be a six-lane lap pool, renovated locker rooms, a zero-depth entry family pool, a 1200 square-foot extension of the pool, a lazy river, an indoor splash pad, a slide and rockwall.
  • Phase two of the improvement, estimated at $3-4.5 million, would repurpose the racquetball courts, expand offices, relocate kids corner and renovate the second-floor fitness area.
  • There are two options for phase three. The cheaper option, estimated at $1.2-1.7 million, would add a small elevated track in the gym. The more expensive option, estimated at $7-8 million, would add a new gym with an expanded elevated track.
  • Where does all this money come from? Borrowing is one option. Another idea is a one-mill tax. City officials say they also plan to talk to officials in the neighboring townships - but it’s not clear what incentive they would have to help fund the center. Officials say there are grant dollars available to help fund these kinds of projects. It was announced yesterday that the City of Manton received a $1 million grant for a splash pad.
  • Councillor Dean Girbach said if the city wants to do a millage, “it needed to be done yesterday.” He was uneasy with projections that the city might be on the hook for another $575,000 in losses from the Rec Center.
  • If you build it, will they come? The $7 million investment is predicated on the idea that the new aquatic center will bolster memberships and revenues. But will it? City officials say county studies show a strong demand for aquatics facilities.
  • Another rising cost is labor. Lambert said the Rec Center needed to pay more competitive wages to retain quality staff.
  • Council members will discuss the issue again at a meeting at 6 p.m., Dec. 11.
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