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City Cuts Recreation Programs, Cites Fees, Participation

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Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)

 

Lino Lakes is cutting about 30 recreation programs and one staff position as part of a department overhaul.

City staff say the sweeping changes largely stem from a facility rental dilemma and changes in program participation.

For years, the city's parks and recreation department has used Centennial School District facilities for many of its program offerings and, in 2016, the district began charging the city facility rental fees, according to City Council documents. City figures show that rental costs jumped from about $2,500 in 2016 to $8,600 worth of invoices so far for 2017.

To cover the costs, the city considered boosting program registration fees, finding different places to meet and scaling back offerings. City and school district officials also held several meetings last year about the rental charges, but negotiations fizzled.

"It was pretty clear that we were going to be unable to reach an agreement in how to move forward," said Lino Lakes City Administrator Jeff Karlson.

City Council members voted on Jan. 8 to eliminate one of two recreation supervisor positions, based on the department's newly scaled-back offerings. Cutting that position will save the city about $50,000 this year, Karlson said.

Council members discussed the rental charges at a July 2017 meeting, where city staff members outlined the increases and noted efforts to reduce expenses by moving some programs to neighborhood parks and others to the Senior Center.

School district officials say the rental fee changes boil down to making the district's budget work.

"I get that [the city is] making those reductions, but I feel like it's being placed that we're the reason why," said Superintendent Brian Dietz. "That's completely inaccurate."

The city and school district had an agreement for nearly 20 years that gave Lino Lakes free use of district facilities in exchange for the city maintaining the district's fields and trails, Dietz said. That agreement ended in 2009, leaving the district on the hook for upkeep of the fields and trails, he said.

"It comes down to simple economics," Dietz said. "There's gotta be a middle ground and a partnership so that it's equal for both parties."

About 30 city programs have been cut. Youth and family offerings were among the hardest hit, including sports and theater camps, seasonal events and dance classes.

Karlson said dipping registration numbers and overlap with separate community groups offering similar programs also factored into the decisions. For instance, the city's "royal princess ball," an event for costumed children to attend with their families, saw registrations plummet to 13 this year from 54 in 2017.

"We found out the school district offered the exact same program, and that's why the numbers were down this year," Karlson said. "As long as these programs are available to the residents, that's the most important thing. We don't need to be competing with one another."

Hannah Covington · 612-673-4751

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