After much discussion before a torn crowd, the New Baltimore Parks and Recreation Commission voted Wednesday evening not to recommend the lease of the Anchor Bay Aquatic Center to New Baltimore City Council.
Commission Chairman Larry Gingas said he did not think the city's lease of the district pool, gym and outdoor fields for one year made financial sense. Citing the $180,000 up-front fee for the lease as well as staffing, maintenance and other departmental costs, Gingas said the city would be better off utilizing the existing recreation center and not jeopardizing the general fund with a new venture. He said profits based purely on projections and anticipated program attendance were too risky.
Some attendees questioned whether Gingas was giving the deal a fair shot.
"If you're looking for hard, fast numbers to make a decision, then that's not even possible," Phyllis Roulo, resident and volunteer city photographer, said.
"Do you take into account what the residents want?" she later asked the commission chairman.
Calling estimated profits from programs under the possible lease a financial stretch, Gingas proposed a motion to advise council against the deal as it is currently written. Tom Hepp and Dawn Wolschleger agreed with Gingas while Marc Levise cast an opposing vote.
Mayor Larry Smith, who championed the deal with Anchor Bay as a win-win situation for a community in need of advancing its recreation programs and a school district with a budget in the red, was disappointed by the vote.
"This was predetermined before they got here. This is just an absolute travesty to the community," Smith said, adding the recommendation not to forge ahead with the deal likely means an ultimate rejection by city council Monday night. "I think that the best interest of our community just got turned down–just got shot down."
Smith, who envisions big plans for the waterfront property where the recreation center sits, said he's received positive feedback from residents excited about the aquatic center lease.
Divided on the Deal
New Baltimore resident Patrick Green attended the meeting Wednesday to hear the presentation about the new recreation programs and facilities.
"I think all the New Baltimore residents want to grow our recreation department," Green said. "We're just not comfortable this is the avenue to do it."
Green says the lease is not a wise financial move to make in this economy.
Resident Frank Krause, who is running for city council in November, said he disagrees with the commission's vote.
"I think it's totally ridiculous," Krause said after the meeting. "The residents, I think, would definitely benefit from this. But, if we don't take a chance, then we get nothing."
Longtime New Baltimore resident Mickie Mellon was also displeased with the commission's decision.
"New Baltimore–they don't like growth," Mellon said. "They're afraid to take a step.
"I thought it was very fair," she said of the proposed deal.
Councilwoman Florence Hayman, along with fellow council members Ken Butler and Jeffrey Christie, questioned whether the city could handle the financial burden of the deal if new programs weren't profitable.
"Have the school come down on the rent," Hayman said, pointing out the pool would likely be the biggest cost for the city. "If they're anxious to come out from it, have them rent it to us for $1."
Deal Means Partnership Between ABS, City
Under the possible lease agreement, the school district is willing to split the risk evenly if the deal does not reach projected profits, said Kyle Anderson, business director for the school district.
For example, if the target profit for 2012 is $400,000 and $300,000 is made instead, the district and city would be held accountable for $50,000 each.
"We want to be good neighbors; there's no hidden agenda here; there's no evil scheme or anything like that," Anderson said. "We have the building. City of New Baltimore has the staff. We wanted to collaborate."
While the mayor and other supporters of the deal say it will cost the same as it does to run the existing recreation department–around $470,000–others say it would be much more. That's because the existing recreation center would need upkeep and classes–some of which barely are attended now–must get a minimum of eight participants in order to bring in revenue. Another facet of Assistant Parks and Recreation Director Carlos Aprea's proposal has him teaching a total of 18 classes, which is more than double what he currently teaches.
Butler told Aprea, with all his responsibilities and overlapping programs, that "could lead to a collapse of you."
After the meeting, Aprea said he will continue to work seven days a week to keep the department running whether the deal is reached or not because he loves his work. He acknowledged though, "the more facilities you have, the more you can offer."
Changes Suggested for Lease
The lease of the Anchor Bay Aquatic Center means several things.
- The recreation department will go from paying instructors 80 percent of the class proceeds to 70 percent.
- The programs will be offered in the evening–as opposed to having women's exercise and a Moms group at the center during the day–and will be at the pool, Lighthouse Elementary and on the outdoor fields. (Other fields and Burke Park will continue to be used.)
- Pavilion fees will rise, meaning that nonprofits will be charged for their rentals for the first time but at a discounted rate.
- More programs, such as art classes, baseball, basketball and additional swimming lessons will be offered.
- Residents and nonresidents in the Anchor Bay School District may be charged the same amount for programs.
- The existing recreation center may no longer be used for community events, such as the Jingle Bell Run, Anchor Bay Triathlon and the Christmas tree lighting.
- Total projected profits for the recreation department are expected to be $169,529 in 2012, stemming from class fees and pavilion rentals while the aquatic center estimates $238,254.50 in annual profits, according to a presentation Wednesday night.
City Council Has Final Say
New Baltimore City Council is scheduled to rule on this matter at 7 p.m. Monday. Smith said he is working on having the council meeting held at Lighthouse Elementary, but those arrangements were not finalized by Wednesday night. Council typically meets at City Hall off Green Street.