Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Update on Swanton Rec

There have been a few things happen since my last posting on the newly formed Swanton Recreation Program. The school board placed a paid ad into the Swanton Enterprise and into the Key. Allow me to share a little background information on those ads.

A meeting was scheduled between the village and the school district on Monday, April 27th. In attendance from the village was the Mayor, Village Administrator Jon Gochenour, and council members Mike Rochelle and Pam Moore. Representing the school district was Superintendent Paulette Baz, Treasurer/CFO Cheryl Swisher, and board members Mona Dyke and myself.

Some of the general goals and ideas for the (new) Swanton Rec program were discussed, as none of the village folk had attended our Board meetings and a couple of them mentioned feeling 'out of the loop'. (altho they could have known these things had they attended a board meeting or talked with Mike R. or Pam . . . .)

Anyway, Cheryl reiterated our desire to work amicably with the Village on an agreement that was fair to both sides. We spoke only briefly about the concessions - we explained what our plan had been (to allow the Booster Clubs to do concessions at the games) and Mike Rochelle stated that an ad had been placed (he didn't say where) asking non-profit groups who were interested in running concessions to contact the Village. When asked which non-profits they hoped to have reply, he mentioned the Lion's Club, Rotary, and (drum roll) : the SACC (of which Mr. Gochenour is Treasurer and Village Council member Deacon Dzierzawski is Secretary). We did mention that we had purchased equipment within the buildings that we would want back. There was no response to that statement, either time it was mentioned.

The lion's share of the conversation was concerning their proposed 50% discount to participants who are Village residents. I asked if we might see the lease agreements they had with other sports programs (men's slo-pitch, etc) so that we might compare them with the proposed lease they had prepared for us - and Mike R. said that no other groups had a lease. I said, "then - this is a punitive measure?" and Jon G rolled his eyes.

It was stated by village people several times during our meeting that, as everyone used the parks, it was "not fair" for only village residents to be taxed for the parks. Being a Lucas County resident myself, these statements struck me as odd. Parks are always paid for by taxes on the residents who live there. Rarely, you might find one that has little booth set up to check drivers' licenses to ascertain whether the visitor is a local person or not, with a small fee charged to the non-resident. (I know Olander Park in Sylvania did that for quite a while - maybe still does.)

But -as you all know - the norm is for anyone from anywhere be able to use local parks at various places, while the only people paying for their maintenance etc. are the residents, who do so via specific taxes for that purpose. (Typically, privately owned land is appraised at a higher value when located next to a park or other green space in a municipality - but, I digress . . . )

One of the village representatives stated that the recreation program fees for village participants should be reduced by half because that would make it "fair" for everyone. Several times, they said it shouldn't be "such a big deal", as this was only a small minority of our entire program enrollment, and the difference could easily be made up by raising the program fees on the non-village participants. Mr. Gochenour mentioned the high cost of water and electricity, and how expensive it was to change a lightbulb up at the park and how they had never charged us for any of that before. . .

We went round and round on this issue. There were many "eye rollings" by Mr. Gochenour throughout the course of the 1 1/2 + hour meeting, along with several smirks.

Cheryl again asked, "we need to work together - what will it take for us to get this moving forward?" The Mayor agreed with her that we need to move forward, and leave the past where it is. He also seemed to feel that the Village had been left 'out of the loop' on things. Again - I'm not sure exactly on what, but I mentioned that they had received a personal invitation to our special board meeting where we planned to discuss the program, but no one came. No one responded to my statement.

Pam and Mike mentioned that the fee discount would not be implemented until fall sports - and it was likely that it would not be a requirement in next year's lease.

Do those statements reveal the true purpose of this proposed discount to village residents, that would potentially impact them just in time for the November ballot? hmmmmm. . . Well, I do not claim to be a mind reader, so I will not speculate on motives.

But Jon G has made no bones about the fact that his preference is to create a new entity with taxing authority of its own, so that the entire school district would be taxed for village parks. He has stated this over and over.

There were a few other minor language issues we saw with the lease. A copy of those changes was given to the village people, who said they would discuss our concerns at their council meeting scheduled for that evening. Cheryl and Mona said they would attend, in case there were questions.

When they left, I did a quick check of just how many village residents were involved in the Rec program. I used the list of current participants, so of course it did not include anything for fall sports (which they said would be the FIRST time the discount would be given to residents - even though fall sports are not played on village parks).

Out of the 612 participants we had in Spring sports, fully 320 are Village residents - over 52%. During our meeting, we said that this lease would force us to raise fees on the others to make up for the village discount. Gochenour kept referring to it being such a small cost to us - but clearly that would not be the case. If we had to raise fees on 2/3 to make up for 1/3 having a 50% discount, it would be very difficult . . . but if we have to raise fees to the extent that the numbers truly reflect, the Rec program cannot continue to exist.

(as a side note, we also looked up the taxes paid for park levies by particular village residents and then calculated what their children's participation fees would be under the Village's proposed lease - more than a few would receive a discount greater than their tax bill)

Could that be their goal - to sabotage the Swanton Rec program, so that it dies - and then they can create a taxing entity in its place? Only Jon Gochenour knows the answer to that question.

These statistics were shared with Pam Moore prior to the council meeting that night. The vote that night to insist that the school district sign the original village lease was unanimous by Village Council. Apparently our concern that their proposal had great potential to harm the program fell on deaf ears.

Honestly, though, I am against this proposed lease on principle. Even if there was only one village participant out of the whole bunch, that one person should not receive a discount on their participation fees simply because s/he lived in the village.

The fee structure is designed to be fair to EVERYONE. For out-of-district participants, there is a slightly higher fee. But all school district kids are under the same fee structure, with discounts given only for multiple children in the same household. That is how it has always been done in the past - that is how it is done by every other recreation district in the state. That is the FAIR way to handle fees.

The attempt by Village Council to hold these sports programs hostage to their demands is terrible. Their apparent disregard for the kids of our community is shameful. I hope village residents take note of what has been happening - these are their elected officials, and should be held accountable.

Plus, it is their elected officials who keep deferring to their employee - the Village Administrator. When two council members are fully engaged in the planning process of a new and positive thing for the community - when they state with great confidence and enthusiasm that their colleagues will support the plan that they helped to forge - and when these same council members then make a 180degree turn on the matter once the Village Administrator becomes involved, something is very very wrong.

I just hope that good sense and concern for our kids will return to Village Council, so that we may get back to the business of making a positive impact on our community - together.

It's not too late.

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