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Schools put recreation in city's hands

Director position may be advertised openly

Staff writer

USD 408 elected to take no action regarding community recreation in a move Superintendent Lee Leiker said is indicative of its ultimate intent: let the city handle it.

The city, which had already outlined a plan for a recreation department, will move forward to have a department set up to begin operations Jan. 1.

“We had a feeling, because of the education funding challenges that still exist at the state level, that this might be their decision,” city administrator Roger Holter said. “The decision makes our goal a little clearer.”

Mayor Todd Heitschmidt said it’s good to know for sure that recreation will fall to the city.

“We’re not having to worry about two organizations attempting the same thing,” he said. “It ensures our time investment won’t be in vain.”

Leiker said it’s more convenient, given that the city will soon make its 2016 budget, to decide now rather than create a preliminary plan of its own.

“By the time we’d know whether to pursue it, it would be too late for the city to change its budget,” Leiker said.

He said the board didn’t have enough long-term interest in a school-run recreation department to pursue it in spite of the inconvenient timing.

In May, city council declared intent to offer a recreation director position to rec commission director Margo Yates. Holter said that offer was based on a recreation department that would begin operating today. Heitschmidt said the position may be advertised openly because of a six-month extension granted by the school in June.

“My thought process is that toward the end of the year we’ll advertise for positions available,” Heitschmidt said. “We may offer the full-time position to Margo because of her years of experience. There are two options, I cannot tell you definitely which way the council will go or be recommended to go by our administration.”

He added that it would “still make some sense” to offer Yates the position outright.

Heitschmidt said he believes six months is enough time to properly prepare a new department.

“It is something new, but it’s more of a reorganization,” he said. “Whenever you change things, there’s going to be hiccups. We’ll have to deal with those in the planning process, and a lot will have to be straightened out in the first year or so.”

Holter said it will be important to create a three-year budget with a plan to phase in a program director position, which would report to the recreation director.

Funding the recreation program could require a mill levy. A city mill levy will raise just over a third of what a school levy would raise, per mill. However, a school mill rate increase requires a public vote. Leiker said he wasn’t certain the school could get a rate increase approved right now. The city can increase mill rates without a vote.

Holter said the city feels a responsibility to its citizens to provide recreational opportunities, but it also sees a recreation department as an opportunity for economic development.

“You want to build and grow, rather than reconstruct and redesign,” he said. “It’s important that we figure out that solid foundation to work with. The council made their intent known that they were willing to invest in this program to get it going. So that’s what we’ll work through.”

Last modified July 2, 2015

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