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Wadena Council discusses end of joint recreation

Wadena city officials resigned themselves to what appears is the end of the six-decade joint recreation partnership between the city and school at a special council meeting Monday night.

Councilman Don Niles, the city's representative to joint recreation, updated the council on the school's position following a series of committee meetings between city and school representatives.

"They expressed very strongly that they do not want to continue the partnership that we've had in place," Niles said about the school's position.

The school wants to develop a year-round recreation program, he said. They do not want to be involved with the program's current summer recreation and pool components.

"They do not want to, in any way, fund or contribute towards the swimming pool," Niles said.

The school, instead, wants to assume responsibility for summer rec activities other than the swimming pool, such as baseball, he said. They would also like to continue to use city facilities without charge as has been done in the past.

So this situation leaves the city with operating the pool, Niles said.

City Administrator Brad Swenson said the city has budgeted $19,000 for the pool on the condition that the school contribute an additional $4,000, which the superintendent had offered but never materialized. If the city runs the pool with the $19,000 budget and uses up the pool's small fund balance, the pool account will be around $7,500 short this year and leave zero fund balance for next year, he said.

The other side is, the school would come out around $10,000 to the good if it takes over general recreation not including the pool, Swenson said. If they contribute $10,000 they will break even.

"So the question is, if the city is going to agree with what's happening," Swenson said. "And I don't know what choice you have. The school's pretty much already going it's own way."

He foresees the rec board going away because there is no longer a joint rec agreement. The city council can put together a committee if it wants to, Swenson said. City staff would oversee the pool and hire a head lifeguard and lifeguards.

Council members briefly discussed some options for how to make up the budget shortfall including increased fees for pool users who aren't Wadena residents, asking community ed to help fund swimming instruction and a cross-marketing partnership with the golf course, but did not make any decisions.

Niles suggested the city just try and get through this year and implement some major changes next year. The people of Wadena may be able to come up with fundraisers and creative ideas to support the pool once they realize the situation the city is facing, he said.

Following the summer rec discussion, the city was going to discuss cutting money to prepare for state unallotment possibly in excess of $150,000.

And now the city is looking at $10-12,000, or a little less if it uses the pool fund balance, in additional expenses, Mayor Wayne Wolden said.

"I'm a little bit worried about the additional money it's going to take to subsidize the operation," he said.

Niles said the new rec program the school wants could have some substantial benefits to the citizens of Wadena if it can pull off the year-round recreation program and get adults involved.

"That I see as a very positive thing if it happens," he said.

The unfortunate part is the city is left with keeping the pool going in a time of really tough financial circumstances, Niles said.

The recreation board already cut salaries quite a bit last year, he said, but there might be some opportunities on the revenue side.

"Whether it fills the entire gap that's created, I don't know," Niles said. "It may be a facility that the city just understands has a cost associated with it. The decision has to be is it worth it or isn't it worth it."

The city council did not pass any motions during the summer rec discussion.