City Administrator Roger Holter made an appeal to city council Monday about the possibility of a city-run parks and recreation program.
Holter presented the issue as an opportunity for the city to make forward strides in its recreation program. Putting the recreation department with the city, Holter said, it could accomplish more.
Under the program, the city would absorb Marion recreation director Margo Yates’ position, which would receive municipal benefits. The program would incur a first-year cost of $108,378, with a stated goal to become financially solvent within three years.
Yates currently receives occupational benefits from the USD 408 school board, but with recent cuts docking around $51,000 from the school’s budget this school year, and a block grant funding formula that is likely to provide less in state benefits, the school can no longer afford to encumber the costs of Yates’ position as of July 1, Holter said.
“It has created, structure-wise, a sense of urgency, but we need to do the right thing for a director that has given her heart and soul and made the program what it is for the last 22 years,” Holter said.
Holter cited the complicated web of authorities pertaining to recreation and parks within the city.
City Attorney Susan Robson said she had a frustrating experience years ago with one of her children playing baseball, in which she was told to talk to the recreation board, who told her to talk to the baseball boosters, who told her to talk to the city commission, in order to determine a ruling.
“It was hard on our child, and I wanted to leave this freaking town half the time because I was just so upset at the way he was being treated,” she said. “If you can streamline that and put one person in charge so you have one set of rules that deals equally with everyone, that’s important.”
In addition to having a central authority, the proposal would create a nine-person board to direct all parks and recreation within the city. The board would consist of three members from the cemetery board, three members from the recreation commission, and three members from the park board.
Councilor Chad Adkins said that, as a former member of the recreation commission, he would like to see a board with more influence.
“It was one of the most frustrating experiences of my life,” Adkins said of his time on the recreation commission. “It’s a board made under a resolution that really doesn’t have any teeth or powers.”
He also said Yates, who is also secretary of the chamber of commerce, is doing as much as she can with the recreation commission.
“They’re maxed,” he said. “They’re doing what they can with what they’ve got.”
Yates attended the meeting, and suggested the department can do more, but needs more help and more funds.
Holter cited Yates’ accomplishments as recreation director, including a basketball league which drew 70 teams, and she said she had to turn away an additional six, from the region.
“We were playing basketball for 11 straight Saturdays from 9 a.m. to about 10 p.m. at night in three gyms,” she said. “It just shows you what is possible.”
Holter said community recreation is the third most important factor “among our target demographic,” which he did not specify, for choosing a place to live.
“The No. 1 success factor in all the rural community analysis, it really comes down to: Those towns that win decide that they’re going to grow for the future,” he said. “Those that are losing right now and, honestly, going out of existence, are the ones that thought status quo would be fine.”