Council debates parks and recreation budget

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published May 14, 2014

ST. CLAIR SHORES — In a year when the city finds the general fund in a deficit, City Council worked April 29 to find savings in a budget that is typically subsidized by that account.

Total expenditures for all divisions of the Parks and Recreation Department are proposed to be $4.68 million for the 2014-15 fiscal year. Revenues from user charges and fees are estimated to be about $3.88 million, leaving a gap of about $801,344 to be subsidized by the general fund.

The city refinanced the recreation bond last year, reducing the payment from $269,707 to $184,500 annually. When that payment is added in, the total amount paid by the city for Parks and Recreation is $985,844, or about $37 per household for parks and recreation offerings throughout the year.

The Parks and Recreation Department has eliminated the city carnival, which had about $25,744 in the committee’s fund and was traditionally used to pay for improvements to Civic Arena.

“We just haven’t been making very much money over the last couple of years, and we’ve had some problems (with) crowds and things,” said Parks and Recreation Director Greg Esler.

He said the fall Made in Michigan Festival put on by the Senior Activity Center would give Parks and Recreation an opportunity to make some of that money back in an entertainment and beer tent.

Esler said the department is also contracting out bus service through a lease with Lake Shore Public Schools for $26,000 for the special needs and summer playground programs. Esler had said in the 2013-14 budget hearings that the city needed two new buses because the current vehicles were unreliable. An increase of $25 in the weekly fees for the summer programs should bring in about $26,775, Esler said.

“Bus rental — that was the best price,” Esler said, explaining that it would cost $145,000 to buy one bus and the city really needed to purchase two.

The annual Coneys for Kids fundraiser for the Special Needs Playground Program has been moved from its annual May date at Civic Arena to 4-9 p.m. July 17 in Veterans Memorial Park. Working with the Activities Committee, the event will offer more activities and music.

Esler told City Council that with the closure of a large ice arena in Detroit, St. Clair Shores has received more business at its ice rinks.

“We picked up some of the summer camps (and) morning skates,” said Civic Arena Manager Gina Rheaume. “We don’t have the room to put the high schools in … without (displacing) any of our current residents.”

The arena runs at full capacity from about 3-10:30 p.m. weekdays. It sells “nonprimetime ice” to figure skaters in the early morning hours around 5 a.m., while hockey teams use time more during the primetime hours. Rheaume said the city charges $190 per hour from 6-10 p.m. for ice time and $140 per hour during other times. Saturday from 6-11 a.m. is also charged at the primetime rate. 

The arena is now renting out skates, as well, to increase the usage of public skating time. As many as 250 skaters took advantage of the open ice on Saturdays, Esler said, and the arena will soon be adding birthday parties to the offerings, as well. But new lockers and locker room benches are needed, and the arena would also like to get more locker rooms because its girls hockey program is growing rapidly.

“It’s a good sign because girls (the) hockey program is really getting big, so we want to continue to keep our numbers up,” Esler said.

“We don’t have space for them to dress,” Rheaume said, explaining that the city assigns locker rooms every half-hour and if there are females needing to use the locker rooms, they have to alternate with the males as to who gets to use the rooms first. “There are many, many co-ed teams now in hockey that didn’t exist in the ’70s.”

The cost to renovate a room for women’s locker rooms had to be taken out of the budget because the department couldn’t afford it, she said.

But City Council directed Parks and Recreation officials to try and figure out how much such a renovation would cost in the hopes that it would be something that could be saved for over the next few years.

Rheaume said they could save the money that had been in the Carnival Committee budget and “either see to it that it goes into renovations for women’s locker rooms or that it gets carried over,” to complete the project in the future.

For the city’s 252 acres of park land, Esler said spending had to increase on maintenance of the Statler-Maloof Dog Park, which had a previous budget of $500 but, because of the costs of dog mitts for cleanup, cutting and trimming the grass, it had to be upped to $3,000. The parks bring in revenue of $353,984 from passes, group park permits, ball diamond rentals, billboard and cell tower leases, and donations.

And the municipal pool is adding classes and hours in an effort to bring in more revenue, Esler said.

“We’re going to be having a few more swimming instruction classes, lap swimming,” he said, adding that the added classes and increased fees at the pool should bring in another $30,000 in revenue for 2014-15. Total program expenses increased by $57,000, however.

Pool Manager Jason Harms said the city is also adding a parent and tot class Saturday mornings that is popular in other communities.

Esler said the pool was under-staffed in 2013-14 and that the projected revenue increase was a conservative number that could improve. He said they also save money by sending home employees when there are not enough swimmers in the pool to warrant the high level of staffing, and when it rains and the pool has to close.

“You won’t really know until the end of this fiscal year how the additional classes will impact” the bottom line, Harms said. “You might even see that revenue is more than what we’re predicting.”

He also pointed out that the pool and harbor budget covers chemicals, water sampling and annual inspections of the Splash Pad at Veterans Memorial Park, as well.

“This paints a good picture of why a lot of communities, when they get in trouble, the first thing they pull is the pool,” said Councilman Peter Rubino.

City Manager Phillip Ludos said, in making the budget, city administration wanted to show City Council the true operating costs of the Parks and Recreation Department.

“When you make decisions … (that) this is too costly to continue, you need to be able to look at the organization that costs the money and what you’re getting back for it,” he said. “You can make the decision: do you want to run those pool hours? Do you want those other pool programs? Do we want to continue to sell time when we have open time?”

There was good news for the city harbors, however.

Advertising in communities including Royal Oak, Oak Park, Harrison Township and the Grosse Pointes has yielded the rental of at least 24 more boat wells in the Lac Ste. Claire Harbor than were rented for the summer by the same time last year.

For fiscal year 2012-13, the city earned $120,463 in boat well rentals. As of May 7, boat wells have brought in $120,957 for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which does not end until June 30.

“We’ve already surpassed it, and we’ve got the whole rest of May and June,” Esler said.

Boat well rental revenues are projected at $125,000 for the 2014-15 fiscal year.