After spirited debate and much unsuccessful horse-trading, the Carroll City Council Monday night rejected a parks board recommendation for rate increases and creation of new membership categories at the Recreation Center.
Council members said they had received much feedback on the Rec-rate plans.
“Nobody’s ever going to call you and say, ‘Hey, you did a great job with that rate increase,’” said Councilman Jeff Scharfenkamp.
The plan, recommended by Parks and Recreation Director Jack Wardell, and a product of much work by the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Advisory Board, would include a 6.8 percent increase in family membership rates from $382 to $408. Family memberships could also be purchased monthly for $50 — meaning if a family pays for a year, month by month, the total cost is $600.
Wardell added a proposed new category of membership at the Rec Center: the single-parent-led family membership — which would cost $372 annually or $47 per month. A new senior couple rate would be established as well at $336 annually or $45 per month, and a college rate would be launched at $180 annually or $28 monthly.
Other rates would be set as follows beginning March 1: individual senior, up 3.8 percent from $173 to $180, or paid at $28 a month;  individual youth up 9 percent from $132 to $144 or $22 a month; and single adult, up 6.3 percent from $191 to 204, or $30 a month. All yearly membership can be paid through automatic bank withdrawals at rates commensurate with the annual schedules.
Councilman Carolyn Siemann made a motion for a plan that increased rates no more than 5 percent for existing categories of memberships while adding the new ones at the starting rates proposed by the parks board and Wardell. That proposed ordinance failed on a vote of 3-2 (four votes or a majority of the six-person council are required). Siemann, Scharfenkamp and Councilman Eric Jensen supported the plan. Councilmen Mike Eifler and Michael Kots were opposed with Councilman Tom Tait absent for  the vote. Based on earlier comments Tait likely would have been a “no” vote.
Scharfenkamp said seven of the nine members of the parks board supported a rate-increase plan with membership changes.
“Why do we think we’re smarter than them?” Scharfenkamp asked.
Scharfenkamp said that for the city to get serious about plans to improve the facility it must address operating losses first.
“It’s got to begin with charging for the value that’s there,” Scharfenkamp said.
In fiscal year 2011-2012, the Rec Center posted an operating deficit of $149,830 with expenses of $527,412 and revenue of $377,582. Since 1980, the Rec Center has lost an average of $114,189 annually. The total operating losses at the Rec Center from fiscal year 1980-1981 to fiscal year 2011-2012 stand at $3.5 million.
The city has to accept the reality of those numbers with what he believes is a modest rate increase that still gives users great value for their money, Scharfenkamp said.
“I think it’s irresponsible not to do it,” Scharfenkamp said.
Overall usage at the Rec Center increased from 2010 to 2011 by 5 percent, going from 103,328 to 108,721.
Siemann supported the concept of the one-month membership plans, saying it will give people the most flexibility possible. She also expressed strong support for the single-parent rate.
“Maybe if we could do something a little bit better for the single parents,” Siemann said.
She didn’t wants rates to go up more than 5 percent on anyone
“A lot of people are upset about rates,” Siemann said.
Tait, who left the meeting to go see his daughter sing, said before the vote that it makes sense to hold off on any plans on the Rec Center until its new director, Ben Alford, starts in early January.
“I think we just leave everything alone,” Tait said.
Eifler based his vote on the absence of a six-month plan.
“(Some people) like to use it for five or six months out of the year,” Eifler said.
Jensen said the Rec Center is now being subsidized to some degree by residents of Carroll who don’t use it. It makes sense to increase the fees on those who are members to free up city tax dollars to go for other projects, he said.
A vote on the plan proposed by Wardell and the parks board failed on a 2-3 vote with Jensen and Scharfenkamp in support, Siemann, Eifler and Kots were opposed.
City Manager Gerald Clausen, after watching the council fail to move on a plan in two sessions, said he and Wardell won’t bring a new plan back. Instead, the city will look to cut some programs and services at the Rec Center to reduce the operating losses.
“I’m not trying to play the game of gotcha,” Clausen said.
Added Clausen, “I think we need to be increasing our rates steadily and very rapidly.”
Mayor Adam Schweers, who cannot vote on ordinances, said now is the time to raise rates. He said many conservative people in Carroll have told him the rates at the Rec Center are a “really good deal” as they stand.
“I understand we’re kind of throwing some people’s worlds into disarray,” Schweers said.