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CS Area Parks and Rec program could be dissolved

If you are interested in what happens to the program, you might want to attend this meeting.

By Judy Reed

Unless more funding comes through, a popular community program could be eliminated. The board for the Cedar Springs Area Parks and Recreation program (now called North Kent Community Enrichment) will meet on Monday, June 10, at 4 p.m. at Hilltop to decide the fate of the organization.

The Post asked for clarification from the board on what is happening and why they are in trouble. A call to board president Alexis Ader was not returned, but board secretary Sara Thornton agreed to talk with us, as did Director Amanda Gerhardt.

Hundreds of kids and adults take part in the various enrichment activities offered each year through CSAPR. Events include a variety of classes and other events, including bus trips (such as to the Detroit Tigers, and shopping trips to Chicago); Concerts in the Park during the summer on the third Thursday of the month; music lessons (ukelele, guitar); swimming lessons; art camp; Broadway boot camp; sports clinics and camps (football, wresting, volleyball, basketball, baseball tennis, soccer, etc); yoga; aerobics; zumba; twae kon do; origami; the ever popular daddy/daughter dance (which is a sellout each year); and the mother/son Whitecaps game. 

While the number and variety of programs has increased exponentially, the funding level from the various municipalities has not kept pace, according to both Thornton and Gerhardt.

The program was originally started 33 years ago as an answer to the school district no longer doing Adult Education. The school district, the city of Cedar Springs, and several other municipalities joined together to give seed money to the organization annually to help fund programs.

“When I first came on the board 16 years ago, the municipalities were paying $4,000,” said Thornton. Now it’s at $6,600.”

The 2018 audit showed that the City of Cedar Springs, and the townships of Algoma, Nelson, and Courtland all paid in $6,000; Solon Township paid $5,250; and the school district chipped in $2,500. The numbers are up to $6,600 this year for the municipalities and $3,200 for the school district, according to Gerhardt. But it’s still not enough.

While the 2018 audit shows that revenues from the programs have also increased, the organization continues to have more expenses than income, especially in the areas of payroll, insurance, and technology. This is causing their net position to decrease to the point where they may not be able to cover program costs in the coming year. 

While Thornton and Gerhardt both agree more funding is needed to continue the program, that’s where their agreement ends. Gerhardt, who is resigning as director after 13 years to follow another career path, wants to see the board continue the program and hire another director. But Thornton said she thinks it’s time for the program to end.

“When I was appointed to the board 16 years ago, I thought, ‘This is awesome! I get to plan things for the community.’ I was on the board, and then went off, and came back three years ago. It’s been very difficult the last three years. Before, the municipalities knew how parks and rec was run. Now, they don’t understand the value of giving seed money. 

“Amanda has done a great job—she has grown the program,” added Thornton. “I count it as a badge of success to have been part of the board that hired her. But I don’t think we are going to be able to get anyone to do what she does at that salary ($39,000) with no benefits. We’d probably go through three directors in one year.”

Thornton said the board and municipalities have been aware of the diminishing numbers. “For those who want to claim that they didn’t know we were going in the hole, they did get the numbers. They just didn’t want to be part of a board that was closing down,” she remarked.

At two meetings last week, the board asked the municipalities to raise their giving to $16,000—an almost $10,000 jump. Thornton doesn’t think that’s feasible. “I don’t want to beg for money. I just think this funding model has met its end. I hope the community knows we did our thing, and it’s not ending through mismanagement of anything.”

She noted that if the program dissolves, many of the programs they currently run could be picked up by other entities, such as the school, or other area community education programs, such as Greenville and Rockford. She also acknowledged that there could be some holes for some of the programming they provided.

Gerhardt thinks the funding is still manageable, but with smaller, incremental increases to get where they need to be. She said that the North Ottawa Area Recreation has a similar funding model, but they fund at much higher levels. Many communities, like Rockford, have a millage for funding their community education programs. “They generate a million dollars on their millage,” she said.

Gerhardt also noted that another community service, the Cedar Springs Library, secures funding from the City of Cedar Springs and Solon Township through a millage. Solon pays .4 mills, which equals over $71,000. “Solon pays more to the library than all our municipalities combined and doubled,” she said. 

Gerhardt said that regardless of what decision the board makes on Monday, all programs scheduled for this summer will go ahead, although she may not be at many of them. “I’ve already delegated a lot of them to other people,” she explained.

Gerhardt said the Parks and Rec meetings are usually held in the Rotary room in the annex at Hilltop, and there will be a sign in the entryway pointing where to go. 

To see the 2018 audit, click here

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