The Canal Winchester Times

City seeks outside advice about rec district

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With efforts underway to rebuild Canal Winchester Joint Recreation District programs and raise funds to enhance facilities, city officials sought advice from the director of New Albany's parks and recreation department.

Dave Wharton attended council's June 30 committee of the whole meeting at the invitation of Councilwoman Bobbie Mershon.

"The New Albany JRD is a very successful JRD and one we should probably model after," she said.

Wharton explained a little about the history of the New Albany Parks and Recreation District, how it is funded and how it operates. He said the district was established about 15 years ago, ahead of the real estate boom in New Albany. It began with few facilities and he was the only employee for the first few years, Wharton said.

"I try to follow the private model in that all of the programs are self-sufficient," he said. "We have taxpayer dollars coming in but right now, those only support three programs that we have, which are just starting -- like our movie series. It started last year with taxpayer dollars, but even this year, we were able to get a sponsor, so it's no longer dependent on taxpayer dollars."

Before the New Albany recreation district was set up, there wasn't a single point of contact or central responsibility for developing recreation opportunities there, Wharton said. This changed in 1999, thanks to a successful levy campaign for a 0.75-mill permanent operating levy, he said.

"When we formed in 1999, we had an operating levy to start all of our park construction, with the idea being, how much can we build with as little overhead that we can have for operations?" he said.

In 2003, with New Albany rapidly expanding, voters approved a request for a $6-million bond levy to invest more in park infrastructure. However, Wharton said, voters turned down a recent request to increase the permanent operating levy from 0.75 to 1 mill, leading to higher user fees.

"We had hoped to roll up our levy to 1 mill, along with keeping the user fees the same, but instead, we had to double the user fees, and fortunately we haven't had a lot of complaints about that. So the people who are using the parks are paying for the parks, which is good," Wharton said.

All the leagues in New Albany's recreation district have their own boards, but district staff members act as professional contacts for all of them to help with finances and background duties, he explained.

"We ask ourselves, 'What we can do to help to strengthen relationships?' and we are a central location, so when you pass on your league to someone else and you hope you've given them enough information to keep it running, but you don't always know, so we act as a stabilization point for that," Wharton said.

Councilman Joe Abbott asked how the New Albany district handles fees and organizes leagues.

According to Wharton, the New Albany recreation district works with league organizers to establish a league board. It then receives $40 per player, per league, and works with each board to determine a cost based on additional equipment requirements and hiring of officials.

"So our T-ball is $55 ... and our peewee tackle football is $250 total per player, which includes all the equipment," Wharton said.

Besides youth leagues, which Wharton said is the recreation district's primary focus, it offers several adult recreation leagues, including a very popular cornhole league.

Council and city staff members agreed they should continue discussions about how to implement some of the same financial and organizational structures in the Canal Winchester Joint Recreation District that are used in New Albany.

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