Paying for recreation programs is problematic in tough budget

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published May 11, 2016

ST. CLAIR SHORES — In a budget season when St. Clair Shores faces a potential multimillion-dollar shortfall between revenues and expenses, requests from different departments in Parks and Recreation were met with concerns and questions from City Council during the fiscal year 2016-17 budget hearings.

Recreation programs, like the swimming pool and the Special Needs Playground Program, are costing more to run this year because of the increase in the minimum wage, City Manager Michael Smith said.

Parks and Recreation Director Greg Esler said they had to increase the cost of the Special Needs Playground Program by $25 per week to raise an additional $10,000 to help cover costs associated with that increase and the fact that more campers are coming who need one-on-one assistance.

“Obviously we’re going to do the field trips, but we’re going to cut costs where we can cut,” he said. 

Esler said the Parks and Recreation Commission also is trying to establish a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization to benefit the Parks and Recreation Department. Right now, St. Clair Shores can’t use any of its Community Development Block Grant money on the Special Needs Playground Program because there is no nonprofit organization associated with it.

Esler said a new nonprofit would function similarly to the Friends of the Library and make it easier for people to make donations to the parks department.

At Civic Arena, new gutters, new floor mats and a three-year lease on a new Zamboni were on the list of requests. 

The $33,000-per-year lease would replace a 1999 model and make sure that at least two of the city’s three Zambonis are working at a time — one for each rink.

Mayor Kip Walby said the department was asking for too much for the arena when the city already had to make big capital expenditures for the Fire Department.

“I think it’s too much. I’m not for all of this,” he said. With a nearly $4.5 million shortfall in the budget, he said, “you have to make tough decisions.”

“We cannot continue to just let every department come up here and spend money.”

Smith warned that the requests were not new and that “everything that’s not funded will be back before you next year.”

“The gutters, we had them on there (the budget) two years ago. We had to cut them out because we thought we had a tough budget then.”

The gutters are rusted through in some spots from downspouts, said Recreation Sports Manager Gina Rheaume. That’s leading to doors being frozen shut during the winter months at times, as well as foundation problems at the Senior Center.

Councilman Peter Rubino said that, with budgeted revenues of $1.046 million and expenditures of $1.017 million, the arena is a department that supports itself and should have the money to make needed improvements, especially when the city just agreed to host a hockey team that will be bringing in 500 to 1,000 patrons a week to watch games.

“This is not going to get any better,” Rubino said. “We need to make sure we have the things to run an ice arena or else we get rid of the ice arena. 

“Something like a Zamboni is a functioning part of an ice arena that’s never going to go away.”

Councilman Ron Frederick agreed that the city can’t take the chance of being without a Zamboni to resurface the ice during a Federal Professional Hockey League game.

Smith said that they would keep the gutters and the floor mats in the budget and work to find a company that could refurbish the Zamboni before moving forward with that request.

On the list of expenses for the Parks and Recreation administration fund was a new five-year master plan, which the Michigan Department of Natural Resources requires if the city wants to apply for any grant money. St. Clair Shores’ plan expires Dec. 31. Although the city directed a request to the Tax Increment Finance Authority to pay for the plan in the prior fiscal year, it hasn’t been completed. Council members said they’d like the request to go back to TIFA this fiscal year.

Doing so, they said, will allow the city to pay for joint sealing in the Civic Arena parking lot, which is also in need of completion.

The city will also be running its own concession stand at Kyte Monroe Memorial Park this year, and is putting off the replacement of a leaking irrigation system. Council members suggested that a request to repaint the bath house at Blossom Heath Park also be sent to TIFA for its consideration. Plans to fill in the lagoon at the park and possibly expand the park have hit a wall with the state, Smith said, and likely won’t proceed, so something has to be done about peeling paint on the bath house.

Smith said they will investigate boat well rental rates for the city’s harbors and may increase them for 2017, since it appears that other marinas have been raising their rates while the city holds steady.

“That will be incorporated into this budget,” he said. 

On the golf course, City Council recommended a more than $71,000 reduction in capital expenditures, looking to only replace as much of the cart paths as $40,000 could buy, adding in another dollar per round for the capital improvement fund on rates beginning in 2017 — which would bring in at least another $23,000 — and only approving about $50,000 to help fix a maintenance building that needs a new roof. The city also is looking at leasing a fleet of golf carts instead of continually replacing the fleet themselves.

Council will decide what projects to fund when it votes to adopt the budget in June.