City hopes study determines fate of recreation

Some city leaders want to see if a YMCA can work in Richmond and others are joining.
The Richmond Finance Committee decided Wednesday night to put $300 towards a feasibility study that will cost about $1,200. The Richmond Park Board also decided earlier this week to pitch in $250. City Councilman Jason Berning said other private entities would contribute the remaining funds for the study.
City officials are hoping the study will give them a better understanding about what the community wants from recreation programs.
“None of us know,” Berning said. “The only people that know are the people sitting in their houses that are going to answer a mailer or answer a phone call or answer a knock on the door.”
City staff is apprehensive to the idea of a YMCA coming in and taking over the recreation programs. City Finance Director Melanie Allwood said the city doesn’t have extra money right now.
“I think down the road four or five years after it builds up, it may save us some money but the first few years I see it costing us more money,” she said.
City Administrator Rick Childers said the city would not end up getting the $115,000 of projected net lose in this years budget back if YMCA took over. Childers said at best it could eliminate $60,000 but would be replaced with a YMCA expense. Childers said the city would still be responsible for all maintenance of facilities.
“If it would save the full $115,000, it would cost us $140,000, which to me says this doesn’t make sense,” Childers said. “It’s going to cost us $140,000 to save $115,000. That doesn’t fly.”
Councilwoman Melissa Miller said she isn’t sure what the answers are to the recreation program, but said every option needs to be looked at because she is not comfortable with losing about $115,000 in the recreation budget this year.
“It took me a long time to figure out the budget. I feel comfortable with every aspect of it except the rec department,” Miller said. “I’m looking long term. I realize it’s going to take baby steps. Is it worth starting now so that 10 years from now it’s up and running and successful?”
Childers said the study completed in 2000 showed that it was not feasible at that time for a YMCA in Richmond. Childers said the true test would come from the community’s pocket books.
“The YMCA can be successful as long as it has community support,” Childers said. “Even after the feasibility study is complete, how many checks come in?”
Miller said something has to be considered because the recreation department cannot lose that much money each year.
“I think people in the community are not satisfied with the programs being offered,” Miller said. “If they continue to be unsatisfied, it’s going to decrease numbers.”
Some argued that the recreation department has not had stability in several years and that not enough help has been given to the department to be successful.
“It’s too overwhelming for one person to run successfully,” Councilman Scott Marshall said.
“Have we been able to run a successful rec department?” asked Berning. “Maybe at times. Has someone been able to bring stability for a long period of time and run it consistently? Absolutely not.”
Berning agreed with Marshall and said that the city has gotten by with a lot of volunteer work; however, those efforts will have to continue and grow if the recreation department is to succeed.
“One person can’t do it. It takes a lot of volunteer work,” Berning said. “With the size of our community, and without volunteer work, I don’t see how it’s going to be successful in the short term.”
Some still question whether or not the subject should even be discussed, and want to see where recently hired recreation director Haley Morrissey takes the department. Miller said they still owe it to the public to explore the options.
“I don’t care what is the end result or how we get there as long as it ends with a good rec department,” Miller said. “Right now, I think it’s the responsible thing to ask if we should do it.”
City officials want to make it clear though, that bringing the YMCA to town doesn’t mean a brand new shiny building with all the amenities.
“There could be nothing further from the truth,” Berning said. “That’s not what it is about.”
Park Board Member Mark Sowder said most programs start out small and build up to a recreation center.
“Every community that gets a YMCA starts this way,” Sowder said.

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