By Miriam Raftery
April 4, 2011 (Lemon Grove) – Faced with a budget gap, Lemon Grove City Council will consider four proposals at Tuesday's meeting for slashing costs in recreational services:
1) outsource youth programs to the Boys and Girls Club of East County;
2) Outsource both youth and adult services to the East County Family YMCA;
3) Combine contracting with one of those organizations to run some programs, while having a new Recreation Services Department handle others;
4) Completely eliminate the City’s Recreation Services Department—a move that could also end City-sponsored community events such as Concerts in the Park, Movie Night, and the annual holiday Bonfire.
The Council meeting will be held Tuesday, April 5 at 6 p.m. in the Lemon Grove Community Center, 3146 School Lane, Lemon Grove, CA 91945.
According to a report prepared by city staff, net savings for the four proposed options would be:
Boys & Girls Club $86,000
New Recreation Services Dept. $80,000
Eliminate Recreation Services Dept. $103,000
“I think we’re going to be looking very seriously at the first three ideas,” Councilman George Gastil told East County Magazine. “I’ll be really eager to hear more.” Gastil called the fourth proposal “ a crackpot idea” however, adding, “I don’t want a decision that we’ll live with for many years based on a budget crisis that we’re in right now….My primary concern is the quality of programs,” he said. “It’s the job of the city to serve the people.”
The City has offered youth and adult recreational programs since 1978. While adult programs have also been financially self-supporting, children’s programs have been subsidized in the past. Several years ago, a staff proposal to have annual fees for youth recreation programs was rejected after Council responded that youth creation services are gifts from the City to the community.
But times have changed. Last year, Council directed that youth programs, too, needed to recover direct costs. However, a staff report notes, “The current model may still not be affordable given continuing budget shortfalls.” The City has slashed a million dollars already from its budget, but needs to cut more to balance its budget.
Schools in Lemon Grove will continue to offer after-school child care. But charges will apply for all other City-run recreation programs under the new proposals, which vary widely.
Boys & Girls Club, which has experience serving low income populations in other local communities, proposes to offer activities only for youths ages 5-18, including a drop-in program called Boys & Girls Clubhouse after school, as well as league sports and a day camp program during extended school breaks. Fees would range up to $90 a week or $23 a day for the day camp program, with additional fees for field trips and transportation. But Boys & Girls Clubs’ proposal calls for a whopping 50 year commitment.
“Fifty years? There is no way to do that. We don’t even have the building for that long,” Gastil commented. While praising the transportation aspect of the Boys & Girls Club plan, he said the 50 year minimum appeared to be a “deal breaker.”
The YMCA currently offers a day care program in Lemon Grove and has a sliding scale so families can pay as little as $12 a month for the program (which actually costs $295 a month to run), thanks to a state subsidy and donations from YMCA supporters. Now the YMCA proposes to offer 8-week youth sports programs and fitness classes that would run $70 for YMCA members, $80 for non-members and Lemon Grove residents, and $90 for those who are neither members nor residents. In addition, the YMCA would offer day camps for kids and teens ranging from $120-$243 a week. The YMCA offers a sliding scale of reduced rates based on income and family size; most families in Lemon Grove could qualify for a 50% reduction in the above rates. In addition, The YMCA has reduced rates for families with higher incomes, if there are extreme circumstances such as a child with cancer or loss of a home to fire.
The YMCA also proposes to run adult sports and fitness activities such as zumba and volleyball, as well as senior programs such as arthritis classes, bridge, fitness and social activities. The YMCA requires only a 5-year minimum commitment.
The third option would outsource some activities to either the YMCA or Boys & Girls Club, but have a new City Recreation Services Deparment actually expand certain profitable programs such as popular adult recreation classes and to aggressively marketing its facilities and programs.
Option four would outsource all recreational services and stop the City from providing even programs that generate revenues such as facility rentals and eliminate community events. But eliminating the department entirely could put the city at risk in case of emergencies when shelters are needed, according to a staff report, and would result in layoffs of all employees in the Recreation Services Department. It would also require hiring an analyst for the City Manager’s office, since some functions would be shifted to other departments.
Eliminating the department was suggested by Councilman Howard Cook, who thought it could generate significant savings. But according to staff, total eliminating would save only about $27,000 more than option 3.
“It’s silly to outsource things you are making money off of,” said Gastil, who suggested that if the City retains a Recreation Services Department, it could potentially boost revenues higher by marketing popular recreational programs over a wider geographical area and by adding new community festivals or offerings such as a multi-cultural festival or community gardens.
“We have to think about what kind of city we want to be after the budget crisis—what we want our city to look like 20 years from now,” he concluded, expressing confidence that the current problems can be resolved to meet the community’s needs.