WEATHER IN LINCOLN COUNTY

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Newport panel launches study to consider advantages of Newport’s recreation center being run by a non-profit organization, among others.

Correction on Rec Center Loss: $180,000 is correct amount (annually)
Pool Loss: $241,000 (annually)

The Newport Task Force for recommending how to run the city’s indoor recreation more efficiently, and at lower cost, convened their first meeting Tuesday night. The citizens committee was told that the center is losing nearly $180,000 a year, money that could help cover the costs of other city services. The pool loses $241.000, according to the committee. Mayor Mark McConnell was on hand to orient the group on what the council wants as feedback, including honest opinions and well researched management alternatives. If the city was to hire a non-profit entity to the run the center, McConnell said the city would expect that the same level of services, or even higher, would be preserved under that new management. Others reminded everyone in the room that the elderly, others on fixed income and low income youth should not priced out of using the facility and that programs should not be cut.

The task force, made up of a cross-section of the community, decided to launch an investigation into the kind of business models other recreation centers have in place. They’ll be asking who runs them and ask whether low income and disabled patrons enjoy continuous access to the facility. Any proposal that turns the recreation center over to a private non-profit or other entity, will still keep the city on the hook for a lot of the cost for building maintenance and for paying off its outstanding debt.

Committeeman Pat Cowan, a retired educator, asked if the original stated purpose of the recreation center still holds up and whether it’s providing the level and quality of services originally promised. Or are they higher, which makes it more costly to operate?

Committeeman Ed Simon, who serves on the city’s Parks and Recreation Commissioner and who is also a volunteer for Newport Police chimed in saying, that “disadvantaged kids can easily wind up in detention or jail if there’s nothing for them to do. That’s what the recreation center provides; things for kids to do thereby keeping them out of trouble.”

City Manager Jim Voetberg told the committee that the indoor recreation center and the pool have not met higher income goals which puts a heavier burden on the city. Voetberg suggested that the drop in income is the result of the city offering customers too many discounted coupons.

The committee decided to meet on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month, 5:30pm at city hall. Mayor McConnell urged the committee to do their homework, get the facts and pick the right “business model” for the recreation center. He said the council wants the committee’s recommendations by the middle of November. If the city council is inclined to go along with the Task Force recommendations, it would be able to do so in plenty of time to adjust the city’s 2012-13 budget.

With only six meetings before the drop dead date in November, the group has its work cut out for them.

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