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Council members balk at proposal to close two recreation centers

Monday, August 1, 2011 by Michael Kanin

A proposal by the City of Austin‘s Parks and Recreation Department to cut the funding for the Austin Recreation Center at 12th and Lamar and the Dottie Jordan Recreation Center on Loyola Lane in Northeast Austin will run into questions from at least two members of the Austin City Council.


The parks department proposed that they look at a partnership and having someone take over the lease and management of those two,” earlier this year, Council Member Laura Morrison told In Fact Daily. “I think what was not clear—at least to me—when I first heard that is that there was no Plan B in place for keeping them open if something like that does not get developed before Oct 1. And from my perspective that’s really not acceptable and both those rec centers are important pieces of the service that we provide to the City of Austin. We need to keep them open.”


Council Member Mike Martinez also expressed some concern. “Staff is working with potential non-profits to operate the facility…but I think the neighbors simply want it to be a recreation center for the community like it has always been,” he said.


Council Member Chris Riley also asked about the details of the proposed cuts in written questions about the budget. In their response, staff noted that, by zeroing out funding for the Austin Recreation Center, the department would save $249,712. Staff added that “full-time and permanent part-time employees” would be reassigned.


The loss of the Austin Recreation Center would likely result in the total loss of a number of programs hosted by the facility including Youth Sports, Youth After-School Programs, and Teen Camps. Parks and Recreation official Patrick Corona told In Fact Daily that, should the facility lose city funding, his department would seek a public-private partnership that would aim to continue some of the other programs offered by the facility including those associated Austin Community College and Jazzercise.


“We’re going to try and work it out,” he said.


Corona added that the programs that would be lost would stop on October 1.


The cuts at Dottie Jordan would save the city $39,726.


Opposition to the cuts arrived in the form of an email to Council from Hyde Park activist and Jazzercise participant Karen McGraw. In it, she suggested that the city “is overlooking additional potential income from the facility.” She added that the department is currently studying fees “to determine where losses are occurring and opportunities for increases may exist.” That analysis, she said, should be completed in January.


McGraw argues “it would be hugely premature to close this or any facility before the review is complete” and that “it is quite possible that a fee adjustment for (Austin Community College)…would improve the center’s financial efficiency.”


“I’ve met with University Hills Neighborhood folks and based on what they’ve told me, for the $39,000 that it would save out of a two-and-a-half billion budget, it seems hardly worth the hardship it would put on that community if they closed (Dottie Jordan),” Martinez said Monday.


Martinez said that the concerns for the Austin Recreation Center closing were similar. “I think it’s a little bit more money… but for the Austin Recreation Center and the folks that utilize the facility it would be difficult for them to contemplate not having that,” he said.


Still, he added that he wasn’t “sure where we will find the funds.”


Look for the subject to come up when the City Council formally reviews the Parks and Recreation Department budget on August 24.


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