Rocky Fork Enterprise

City leaders trying to keep facilities open

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Gahanna city leaders say they hope to revise programming in an effort to keep the Gahanna Senior Center and Ohio Herb Education Center open.

The facilities are just a small part of a proposed "Sustainable Operating Model" Gahanna City Council is discussing in preparation for the 2015 budget process that begins in June.

Finance director Jennifer Teal said the senior center and herb center were slated for closure, but the new plan calls for operation modifications.

The cost to operate the senior center exceeds its annual revenue by about $98,000 per year, Teal said.

As an alternative to closing the center altogether, she said, the parks-recreation department will match the net cost of senior programming with additional revenue drivers.

The changes could include consolidating senior programming into fewer days and generating additional revenue by renting the facility for community events and providing fee-based adult and youth programs at the facility.

The model includes transfer of part-time support from recreation to the senior center for the additional programs.

Teal said the cost to operate the herb center exceeds revenue by $5,000 to $20,000 annually.

As an alternative to closing the center, Teal said, the parks-recreation department would adjust its programming and retail operations to increase revenue and reduce expenditures.

In other recreational operation changes, the future closing of the swimming pools significantly would reduce the seasonal workload in the parks department, as well as in finance and human resources, Teal said.

Council already approved a $191,000 contract with Columbus Pool Management for 2014 operations and a concessions contract with Cardinal that requires the concessionaire to pay the city 6 percent of gross revenue collected.

The net cost of contracting is about $189,000 (broken out by a cost of $191,000 in expenses to Columbus Pool Management and generating revenues of $2,000 through the contract with Cardinal Vending) in 2014, whereas direct in-house operations was projected to cost $194,500.

Before council approved the outsourcing, parks and recreation director Tony Collins said residents should understanding two things: The pools are opening this season, and contracting out the operation isn't necessarily the "silver bullet" for the city's pool problems.

The greatest direct savings from the future closing of the pools would come from staffing reductions made possible in support departments as a result of the reduced workload, according to Teal.

The closures also would eliminate the city's long-term liability for the aging infrastructure at the pools and remove the unfunded pool replacement project, estimated at $3.5 million, from the city's capital needs.

Teal said the city is working to identify a private partner that would consider leasing and operating the pools from the city in 2015 and beyond in an effort to continue providing aquatic services at no cost to the city.

In looking at other operating expenses, Teal said, several reductions were initiated in 2013 and 2014, and those will continue in 2015.

For example, community events such as the Creekside Blues & Jazz Festival, Winter Wonderland, Holiday Lights parade and Service Expo will continue only when an offsetting reimbursement or sponsorship allows.

Teal said the development of the sustainable operating model has been an ongoing effort of the administration over the past two years.

Although adjustments might be proposed or made over time to account for differing priorities and emerging trends, Teal said, the underlying concept of maintaining a sustainable level of ongoing operations the city could afford within its ongoing operating revenue is key.

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