By Mary Spicer
Wednesday is the time for members of the Greater Meadville community to either step up on the platform and dive right in with ideas for making Meadville Area Recreation Complex fiscally feasible or remain silently outside the splash zone and wonder what happened when the facility’s pool is no longer available for year-round use.
The MARC Town Hall Meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 6, in the assembly room at Meadville Medical Center’s Grove Street facility.
The meeting is open to the public. In fact, organizers are urging — make that begging — the public to attend.
The purpose of the meeting is to generate ideas about how to make a recreation complex of its size financially viable in a community of this size. Participants are asked to “please come prepared to be asked for ideas and input, not donations” according to Jay Verno, a Vernon Township resident, Meadville businessman, Meadville Area Recreation Authority member and chair of the MARC Town Hall Committee.
As things now stand, the beginning of the 2014 fiscal year, which starts Jan. 1, will mark the first time that Crawford Central School District will not be a major funding partner. In fact, until this year, the school district, which had used the complex to provide swimming lessons for all of the district’s fourth graders as well as swimming classes as part of the physical education curriculum for students in middle and high school, had provided approximately 25 percent of the operating revenue for the complex, whose annual operating budget totals approximately $1 million.
From a high of $260,000 several years ago, the district’s contribution had fallen to just over $100,000 in 2013 and is expected to drop to zero in the district’s 2013-14 budget.
Discussions about whether the district will continue to use the complex on a fee-for-services basis are now under way.
The cost of maintaining the school district’s relationship with the MARC has been a component of the Crawford Central School Board’s annual budget deliberations for several years.
While board President Jan VanTuil has described withdrawing from the MARC as a difficult decision, school board members including Frank Schreck and Mitch Roe maintained that the district must find a more academically-oriented use for its money.
Other funding partners include the City of Meadville, which budgeted $125,000 for the current fiscal year — an amount representing almost 1 mill of the 20.42 mills in property taxes paid by owners of property located within city limits. Accordingly, the owner of a residential property with the city’s median assessed value of $25,000 is paying approximately $25 per year to support the MARC.
West Mead and Vernon townships have budgeted payments to the MARC of $57,500 and $40,000 respectively for 2013.
In a recent interview with the Tribune, Mayor Christopher Soff noted that everything he hears from local employers and real estate agents indicates that the MARC is a huge asset — and a selling point for those trying to locate people to the City of Meadville. “They point to the rec. complex specifically,” he said. “The ability to have a complex like this in a town of our size is rare.”
The only reason the complex has a year-round pool facility, according to members of the authority and Executive Director Mike Fisher, who runs the complex on a daily basis, is because the school district approached the authority during the planning stages more than three decades ago and asked that the planned outdoor pool be enclosed so that swimming could be included in the curriculum.
The authority recently approved a 2013 budget that includes funding for the pool to be open for the outdoor summer season as well as for 15 weeks during the indoor swim team season, which begins in November. However, authority members have stressed repeatedly that keeping the pool open during the winter is strictly dependent on sufficient funds being available to maintain the winter operation.
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.