The possibility of a community recreation center on the far Westside is in a holding pattern, says the president of the Westland Area Commission.
“Given the current budget situation, the operating dollars are just not there,” Mike McKay told his fellow members at the WAC meeting Nov. 19.
“It’s my personal opinion that it will be at least another year before any decision is made. We’re in a holding pattern.”
Meanwhile, Columbus Recreation and Parks officials are aware that the Blausers wish to sell their land on West Broad Street across from the Kroger store. WAC has approved zoning changes to accommodate a community recreation center on that site, but that zoning issue has not been brought before Columbus Council.
The city’s financial situation is one of the holdups in deciding whether such a center would be built. A bond issue that voters approved a few years ago generated revenue to purchase land. The Westside proposal is one of three proposals before the city which would build two centers with funds raised from one of the bond issues that voters approved at the November election.
The money is there to buy the park land, but funds to operate a center once it is built are not assured, McKay said.
A shortage of money in city coffers for 2009 is forcing all departments within the city to look for ways to cut costs. Recreation and Parks would be hit hard, with the city looking to close 10 to 12 recreation centers and three swimming pools.
Members also questioned the advisability of trying to build new centers when the financial situation will mean the closing current ones.
“What about Prairie Township helping out with the operating expenses?” posed WAC member Ashley Hoye.
“They’re aware of that and are talking with the township,” McKay said of his discussion last week with Recreation and Parks Director Alan McKnight.
“Will the money still be around,” asked Art McCabe, “or will we lose it?”
McKay assured him the money “will be there until we spend it.”
Budget figures presented by Mayor Michael Coleman on Nov. 14 showed the city expects to take in about $30 million less than anticipated expenditures. That scenario has prompted the mayor to put off training classes for police and fire next year as well as not filling several vacancies throughout the city as they arise.
Public Safety, under which police and fire fall, as well as refuge collection, health, and recreation and parks are the areas that get the biggest chunk of city funds, said Dan Iangardella, deputy director of the Department of Public Safety, who briefed the commission on the city’s finances.
In answer to questions of what the financial situation would have on the selection of a police chief to succeed James Jackson when he retires in the spring, Iangardella said that deputy chiefs would be placed in rotation until a successor is appointed.
Jackson, who became chief in 1990, will begin taking his accrued vacation time the end of this month and take retirement officially in March.
He will leave as the last chief to be “chief for life,” Iangardella said.
Shortly after Jackson took office, voters approved a change in the city’s charter which now allows the police chief and the fire chief to serve a maximum of two five-year terms.
“The next chief will serve a five-year term and if the mayor and public safety director choose, he can serve another five years,” he said. “No more of this chief for life.”
Fire Chief Ned Pettus was appointed under the new rules and is approaching seven years in that position, Iangardella said.
He also said there is no timeline right now for the appointment of a new police chief, “but they should have something by March.”
Westland Area Plan
The economic situation which has resulted in fewer home building starts has prompted the commission to start thinking about revising or updating the area plan.
“It’s a good time to get our heads together for what we want for housing and businesses,” said Tricia Brown who serves as WAC’s planning and development chair.
She stressed the need to start discussing alternative forms of energy, noting that the openness on the Westside of the county seems to create a lot of wind.
“We could be known as the part of the city to develop alternative energy,” she said. “There’s farm land that cannot be sold for development. We could ask how the owners would feel about different forms of energy for the land that can’t be farmed.”
McKay said he would look into putting it on the agenda when WAC resumes its monthly meetings in January after taking the month of December off since the regular meeting date, the third Wednesday of the month, falls close to the holidays.
He will also look into a request to bring representatives from Metro Parks to the group to explain expansions in recreation facilities near Darby Creek Park.
WAC will reconvene at 7 p.m. Jan. 21 at a place to be determined since the usual meeting rooms at Doctors Hospital are already spoken for that night. Rather than using a much smaller room for the meeting, McKay said it would give the group the opportunity to hold meetings throughout the WAC coverage area in an attempt to get more people from the community to the meetings.