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Board approves budget as search for space continues

The rec center and pool are dead — for now — but the need for more space lives on.

With 61 percent of voters saying “no” to the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District’s plans for a $15.2 million aquatics and recreation facility, park officials recognize they still need a place to call home for their varied program offerings.

Commissioners voted to approve their 2009 budget last week, including a capital purchase line item totaling $170,000 to design and build a 2,500-square-foot building at the entrance to Community Park on Maxwelton Road.

The building would have, at a minimum, a large multi-use area with bathrooms and storage.

The need is clear, said park program director Carrie Monforte.

“We have to improve upon the programs we’re offering today, to make them better and more attractive,” she explained. “And we want to expand, to have a place to call our own.”

Monforte and executive director Terri Arnold have been exploring alternative sites, including Langley’s empty downtown fire hall, the vacant Whidbey Island Academy portable units behind the high school and the soon-to-be abandoned classrooms at the Primary School.

None of them really is a good fit for the parks district, however. Still, the need for more elbow room remains.

“Once we have our own space, we can broaden our horizons,” Monforte said.

Next year’s budget shows program revenues are expected to increase by 4 percent to $137,800, then rise to $153,000 by 2013. Main sources of revenue include the annual triathlon, the dodge ball program, Snowrider trips, basketball and other enrichment activities that attract people from all over the South End.

Monforte said getting a permanent space for programs would be a positive step for the district.

“We are partners with several individuals and groups — the pottery lady, language classes, the day camp — that require a permanent home so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel when one class ends and the other begins,” Monforte said.

Park officials will conduct a site plan evaluation with an eye to providing electrical and plumbing hook-ups at the new facility just in case South Whidbey voters have a change of heart about the recreation center.

Commissioners said they will begin the year with a combined balance of $725,000, including capital, reserves, project, bond and maintenance funds.

Revenue is expected to run $978,000 next year with expenditures of $1,443,000 for an ending balance in all funds of $260,000.

Cost increases include dramatically higher bills for fuel and fertilizer and the need to increase one staff maintenance crew member to 32 hours per week.

Employee salary costs reflect a 3 percent cost of living and 3 percent merit pay increase.

The district has also budgeted $16,000 for five new computers and a Web site upgrade. However, $90,000 to replace the elevator at the park office was sent to the budget basement.

“We felt that money was better spent in other ways,” Parks Commissioner Don Wood said. “We wanted to keep the budget very tight while focusing on the items, like the new building, that are important for both us and the community.”

With a directive to maintain 30 percent of the maintenance-and-operations dollars in reserve, $135,900 has been set aside in 2009 for that purpose.

“The district’s financial picture heading into the new year looks positive,” Arnold told commissioners.

The next regular meeting is 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 17 at the South Whidbey Community Health Services building at 5475 Maxwelton Road in Langley.

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