Recreation Program Funding is Open for Discussion.
By Don Patterson
The City of St. Helens is looking for a way to finance operations of the newly formed recreation program when grants expire, which is set to happen in 2020. Unless a stable source of funding is found the new City recreation center may have to close.
The Recreation Program, which started in June of 2018, opened a new Recreation Center located at 1810 Old Portland Road, formally known as the FARA Building. The City acquired the building when it took ownership of the Boise White Paper Property back several years ago.
When the current money paying for the Recreation Program is used other funds must be found to continue the programs and keep the activities scheduled. The current money that pays for the Recreation Program was comprised of both grant and matching approved budget committee dollars.
In addition to the Recreation Program, The Parks Department is also currently reviewing fee structures and funding options. Currently, Parks maintenance and staff is paid out of the General Fund. This General Fund supports the resources for the Police, Library, Planning, and several other departments that are housed from the General Fund.
City Finance Director, Matt Brown, oversees the recreation program right now. Brown said he began taking an active part in managing the program during the Council’s review of a potential sugar beverage tax in 2018 which would have provided funding for both Parks and the Recreation Program in the future. The Council chose not to pursue the tax after public outreach. “Now,” Brown said, “how do we finance all the projects and programs we want to do?” Brown maintains a list of possible funding sources in his office. Nothing is off the table, he says, and no idea is too crazy to consider. Those options include searching for additional grants to continue operations and potential improvements around the local parks to potentially a local option levy, bond, or separate taxing district for Parks and The Recreation Department. This would be approved by voters during a general election.
Any levy or tax-based solution is likely to encounter stiff competition, brown acknowledges. St. Helens School District plans to go to voters for additional funding to upgrade the high school facilities even after getting approval for a $50 Million Bond and Columbia County has a jail operations bond coming up too. Now add the potential tax levy for operation of CC Rider to the docket as well.
Another consideration of the City Council is to possibly approve a utility fee to cover the Recreation Budget Requirements. The afterschool program is one of the most important new offerings which invite children from kindergarten through 6th grade a place to go when parents are not at home. New, as well on the schedule, are specific days for middle school and high school students to engage in positive activities. Most funds would directly go to covering the cost of full time staff to accommodate community needs and keep the doors open during daytime and evening hours. Additional funds are also collected based on the activity directly from participants of the programs. A plethora of other options include a wide array of choices that appeal to all ages and encourage student and adult participation.
As of the last open forum a $2 per month fee is being proposed based on conversation and surveys as one of the better options for funding. Grants are also possible and have been applied for. There are 2 more times for comment at City Council Chambers on April 17th and May 1st before a decision is made. Come and let your voice be heard.