Newport Pool/Rec Center study committee” launches probe to determine whether to farm both out to save money.
Newport Parks and Recreation Director Jim Protiva Tuesday gave his Pool/Rec Center Task Force what he said was the “straight skinny” on services and their costs to the city that the committee will have to take into account if they try to farm both facilities out to a private company or a non-profit. Protiva showed how he’s cut staff, reduced hours and programs which, he says, has required remaining staff to do double duty picking up the slack. Even City Finance Director David Marshall commented that Recreation Center staff especially are literally doing two jobs, sometimes even more, just to keep costs down.
On the revenue side, the recreation center and the pool together are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and incurring a lot of deferred maintenance and upgrading required to keep both facilities capable of meeting demand. Marshall said Protiva has cut staff and materials and supplies to the bone but that it can’t keep operating this way forever. He also noted that user fees have risen every year since the facilities opened and that he’s concerned if they go up much higher, income would drop because far fewer residents could refuse to pay the higher rates.
One committeeman suggested that some of the projected improvements that might otherwise be made to the facilities be deferred so that a sinking fund could be created to help build a new pool, along with a little additional help from the taxpayers. City Manager Jim Voetberg responded that the city’s financial condition has improved over the past year and that soon such a “pool savings plan” might be feasible. He said he’ll have to crunch the numbers to be sure.
Protiva pointed out that when the recreation center was built at the beginning of the last decade, city officials portrayed the facility as “never paying its own way.” Protiva showed newspaper articles clearly stating that the most the city could expect was that the rec center might cover up to half its costs, with a projected annual budget of around $600,000. Protiva said, “Right there you can see that based on what was promised the voters for the bond, was a fully accessible recreation center that was expected to run up to $300,000 in the red every year, with the city’s general fund sopping up all that red ink.”
Protiva’s comment begged the question of whether any non-profit or private company could come in turn a profit without either dramatically raising user rates or slashing programs that would exclude many who now use the center. Protiva said indoor recreation centers generally, across the country cost money. They are not money-makers.
From there the committee drew up a method of determining how recreation centers and pools are run elsewhere in Oregon, if not regionally or even nationally. They went over a number of important questions they should ask those who run such centers, aimed at figuring out what else Newport’s facilities might do to get rid of some of the red ink.
Questions of other pool and rec center operators surround whether anyone in the community has access to the facilities, or whether price or program offerings pose barriers to lower income residents. With the current recession dragging on, those numbers would be expected to grow. Other questions center around how organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, YMCA and other non-profits channel at least some revenues to their home corporate or organizational headquarters. Other questions deal with how they make up for revenue shortfalls; is it through foundations established to raise private sector money, annual fundraising special events, general community giving or local, regional or national grants? Are all recreation and pool services expected to be self-sufficient? if so, what’s the effect on user rates? These are but a few of the questions that will be refined and readied for use when committee members begin contacting recreation centers across the region, the state, and perhaps beyond.
Protiva again emphasized that how the recreation center and pool are operated in the future will reveal how the city continues to offer the quality of life activities that both facilities provide, and to whom and at what cost. The committee has been tasked by the city council to bring back a full report of their findings by mid-November so that the council can deliberate on everything learned with an eye to making whatever changes it deems necessary to reduce the pool and recreation center’s dependency on the town’s general fund.