The minutes aren't posted yet, so it's not official. My inside sources say the discussion was tabled regarding the proposal of establishing a Fund 80 to support the youth center. The city has a tight budget next year and can't afford it so they asked the school to establish a Fund 80 to finance the youth center, which allows the school district to levy beyond the revenue cap. Cry me a river, Mayor Decker. As one friend pointed out, this is the height of audacity after years of blaming Evansville's high tax rates on the school district. "It's not our fault your taxes are so high! It's the school district that kills us." Now the heat's on and they want to push even more of the tax burden onto the schools. Afraid if you raise taxes you won't get reelected Mrs. Mayor? I hope to God the school district thumbs their nose at the city on this one. Hypocritical politician.
All her little pet projects like making a drive down Main Street feel like driving on a washboard have come home to roost. She has told all the city departments to propose "zero increase budgets" because state funding isn't expected to increase. She has essentially threatened the termination of every city program that isn't "self-sufficient," when previous expectations in the near past have been 50% tax payor subsidy, 50% participant fees. In the last few years, I understand that has changed to 40% tax payor subsidy, 60% participant fees. Now she expects any program to be self-sufficient.
One program with which I am intimately involved is the pool. All three of our kids are on the swim team, the Blue Sharks. Since our oldest joined the team 9 years ago, it has grown in size from about 30 kids to nearly 80 kids ages 6-18. The most challenging meet we attend is the Milton invite, for which we have never posted over 200 points prior to this year. Our goal this year was to break that 200 point barrier. We earned 353 points this year and placed third (out of six teams) for the first time ever! Milton won and they have a year round team. Go Sharks!
Fees have skyrocketed for pool programs in the time we have lived in Evansville. In 2001, we paid $25.00 for swim team and lessons. I think a family pass was 90 or 100 bucks. This year, we paid $50.00 for lessons and swim team and $200 for 5 season passes (no such thing as a family pass anymore). We pay it because it is a great opportunity for our kids and they love it. They aren't COMPLETE lumps on a log all summer and it builds character. It's not a guarantee to keep kids out of trouble, but it goes a long way in providing insurance that they are too tired to find much trouble.
At the July Park and Rec. committee meeting, Rick Hammacher proposed his budget for 2011. There is a big expenditure in next year's budget: $60,000 repair needed on the pool they just spent a lot of money on less than 10 years ago. I believe that they must have cracked the foundation of the pool when that work was done if they need a $60K liner less than a decade later. On the revenue side, some fee increases were proposed. There is a flat rate for walk-ins at $4.00, instead of different rates on different days like now, so that averages out to a 0% increase. There is a $0.25 increase for group rates proposed, averaging 13% increase, no increase for swim lessons, no increase for season passes and a whopping 50% increase proposed for swim team from $50.00-$75.00. He rationalized this because the kids are in the pool an hour most days for 6 weeks instead of a half-hour or 45 minutes for two weeks like they are in swimming lessons.
The problem with this proposal is that Evansville walk up, swimming lesson and season pass rates are all higher than the tri-county rates surveyed in Edgerton, Brodhead, New Glarus, Stoughton, Monroe and other communities. This was particularly exaggerated in the swimming lessons rates, which in one egregious case was 333% higher than a neighboring municipality. Since Evansville already exceeds the industry standard for the other services the pool provides, the first place they sought to raise rates was the swim team. But using the time in the pool as a guide is a specious argument.
Swim Team has one paid coach, the ever patient Lisa Phelps nee Hrdlicka. I'm sure her stipend doesn't come close to covering the gas alone for her to drive down here to practice every day from her home one hour away. There are 2-3 awesome, patient volunteer coaches as well. This results, at best, in a 20-1 ratio of swimmers to coaches in the pool at any given time. Swim team practice (and sometimes the meets) are controlled chaos. Lessons, on the other hand, have about a 5-1 ratio of students to instructors. There are always lifeguards on duty for afternoon lessons, swim team practice, aerobics and lap swim. There are only 2 weeks when extra guard duty is required specifically for swim team during the breaks between swim lesson sessions. So swim team does not strain the pool resources. In fact, without swimteam, the pool would be even more underutilized than it already is.
The way I look at it, they want to maximize their revenue on the backs of the one group they know is growing by 5-6 kids every year. They didn't propose to spread the wealth on revenue increases because they already charge way too much for lessons, season passes and walk-up swim. The mayor has told them to find revenue and this is how Mr. H proposed to get it. Over half of the swim team have siblings on the team, meaning their parents face $50-$75-$100 increases with this proposal. Some may not be able to afford it next year. Some may have really sacrificed to provide this activity for their families THIS year. So this shortsighted plan may backfire on the park and rec. department with reductions in participation leading to reductions in revenues. They already saw a 10% reduction in revenue on season passes this year. Other projected revenues are down as well, according to Mr. H at the park board meeting yesterday. This could indicate that they are already at the tipping point in their fee structure. I hope an alternative proposal can be structured in which the pain is more evenly distributed.
I posted this Fund 80/Swim Team discussion for many reasons. The first is to give a well deserved plug to the Blue Sharks, Coach Lisa Phelps, volunteers Matt Rohloff, Keith Hennig and all the amazing Blue Shark Families who dedicate their summers to their kids pursuit of wholesome activity and sporting competition. They chose to add their voices to the political process and spent time to come to the Park Board with a thoughtful counterproposal. Thanks also to Christine Krueger, Sandy Rohloff and Chris Leggatt for attending the park board meeting last night to help make the board aware that this isolated fee increase is a bad plan.
I also wanted to make my readers aware that our Mayor's shortsightedness is ubiquitous, not focused only on the school and the youth center. She may well be another political casualty come re-election time. We can only hope.
The minutes for the meeting of August 9th will better describe what happened during the Fund 80 discussion. They should be posted by Friday because I expect them to be on the agenda for approval at the committee meetings of the whole on August 23. I'll post a link to them when they're available and together we'll learn more about this topic.