With county zeroing out funds, North Summit rec faces elimination
Things are getting harder for North Summit parents who want to sign their kids up for recreational sports.
Nearly half of the North Summit Recreation District’s budget used to come from Summit County, but that amount was cut by a third this year, with plans to draw it down to zero.
That’s left the district scrambling to find funding sources, with Recreation Manager Nathan Brooks explaining that in some cases, it’s had to double the cost for kids to participate. He said the county is “pushing us toward a self-funded program.”
“We’ve had to raise participation fees just to cover operational costs,” Brooks said. “The cut was large, but it’s more impactful that the county will fade out all funding in a couple years.”
The district is considering asking the Summit County Council for approval to levy a property tax that would generate $85,000 per year to cover operations costs.
That would be about $28.50 per year on a home with $265,000 in taxable value.
The district offers youth basketball, flag and contact football, volleyball, baseball/softball, soccer and some summer camps. With the new revenue, Brooks said, it might be able to expand programming, including possibly adding options for adults.
Without the new revenue, according to the district website, North Summit would lose all youth recreation programming by 2021, and the district may dissolve.
Last year, the district’s operations cost about $74,000, with $35,000 coming from the county. That number was reduced to $25,000 this year, and County Finance Officer Matt Leavitt wrote in an email the County Council put both North and South Summit recreation programs “on notice” in 2018 that the funds will eventually be zeroed out entirely, though the timing of that has yet to be determined.
This comes in the wake of two previous failed attempts to raise money for North Summit recreation at the polls. In 2012, voters soundly rejected an $8 million bond to build new recreation facilities, with the request having been lowered from the original ask of $15 million.
And in 2016, voters rejected a similar measure to the one the district is mulling this time around: a tax increase to pay for operational costs that would have generated around $100,000. At the time, North Summit Recreation District board member Tyler Rowser said it would have amounted to about $25 per year per home, roughly the same as paying for one kid to play a sport. But the proposition was rejected by a more than 2-to-1 margin.
If the measure makes it to the ballot, only those who live in the North Summit Recreation District would vote on it. And County Council Chair Roger Armstrong said those voters have made their position clear, influencing the decision to cut funding.
“The people of North Summit have told us twice about how they feel about, No. 1, new rec funding in North Summit — they seem to feel they’re doing OK — and No. 2, their feeling about the use of public funds specifically for rec projects,” Armstrong said. “If the public is saying, ‘Look, we don’t really need this,’ then we’re spending money on something that’s not a need.”
He said he sees the process as a function of community priorities. In his view, North Summit residents don’t value recreation any less, but they might have a different idea of what recreation is, and perhaps don’t want an aquatic center, say, or a new rec center. He pointed to recent moves the district has made to increase playground and park space as indicative of the community’s priorities.
“North Summit has the ability to levy tax, they just have chosen not to,” Armstrong said. “I suspect they have a different perceived need.”
Brooks, the recreation manager, worries that if the measure doesn’t pass, it will be the death knell for youth sports programs in the area. Youth baseball, for instance, used to cost $35, and now costs $70, he wrote in an email. He said he’s already seeing declining enrollment.
The benefits of youth sports are many, Brooks wrote, pointing to increased self-esteem, problem-solving skills and sense of identity, and decreased obesity, arrests and school dropouts.
Brooks hopes the Council passes the ordinance for the tax in late July, which would put it on the ballot come November.
If passed, he said the money will stay in North Summit and not end up in the county coffers.
“This is an investment in the community,” Brooks said.
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