Newport Mayor Mark McConnell reported to his city council Monday night that members of the city’s Recreation Center Task Force are fanning out across the state and maybe a little beyond to see how city or special district recreation centers are run. Task Force members will head out to 17 different facilities region-wide and will ask the same 21 questions of their managers about membership prices, range of services, taxpayer subsidy levels, specialty programming, government run vs non-profit, etc.
McConnell said the task force would like to have all their data compiled and ready for presenting to the city council in about two months so the council can take the next step, if any, toward lightening the Newport Recreation Center’s financial burden on city taxpayers. They’re also looking closely at the municipal pool.
Initial discussions among task force members, guided by Parks and Recreation Director Jim Protiva and Finance Director David Marshall, painted a rec center operational picture that showed much-reduced staff levels leaving each remaining worker doing more than one and sometimes two jobs. But even with dramatically reduced costs, the financial burden on the city is still formidable. Protiva said when the recreation center was approved by the voters, it was advertised as “always needing some kind of taxpayer subsidy to keep it’s doors open,” he said. One newspaper article at the time pegged the anticipated annual subsidy at around $300,000 a year. That’s in the neighborhood of what it is today, according to city budget records.
McConnell said the Recreation Center Task Force intends to have a full report for city council consideration sometime in December, in time to provide insight as to how the recreation center might be run more cheaply and to plan for possible management changes in time for next year’s budget discussions. Task force members have been musing about alternatives that might have the center run more cheaply by the city, by a non-profit, private entity, or, depending on public input, remain status quo.