Sideline Slants

The recreation program has reached the proverbial fork in the road. How do you maintain or improve services for the good of the community when resources are scarce?

Even if money were no object, the answer would not be easy, but at least easier. Hire a full-time director and pay him or her well. Maybe include some incentives and bonuses based on performance. And allow the director enough of a budget to hire part-time help during summer, the busiest time of the year.

Providing a healthy budget for recreation is but a pipe dream right now, because this is a lean and mean time for city government programs.

Still, it’s fun to dream a little.

Serving for more than 15 years on the Hillsboro Recreation Commission in the 1980s and 1990s, I saw firsthand the advantages and disadvantages of having full- and part-time directors.

The advantages of part-time directors are few and far between. The main advantage from a budget perspective is a lower salary.

That is offset by a program lacking continuity from year to year. Most part-time directors didn’t last for more than one or two summers.

Understandably, it takes some time for a new director to grasp the most efficient way to run a program.

Hence, every time a director was hired, he or she had to reinvent the wheel.

In my experience, complaints were far fewer with a full-time director. There’s more continuity and a better chance to build on what has already been accomplished. It’s also helpful to have a director year round in order to make the necessary contacts to arrange for tournaments and help keep the Sports Complex busier in the summer.

Whether there’s enough money in city coffers to hire a full-time director remains to be seen. It’s a matter of priorities. To be fair, one needs to look at the overall city budget to see where the recreation program stands in terms of priorities.

How important is a well-rounded recreation program to a community?

That depends on your perspective. That’s why our city leaders earn the “big bucks.” (Pause for laughter.)

One thing is sure. We need to keep an open mind. There are alternatives to doing things the way we’ve done them in the past. Perhaps a full-time director could be hired for the hectic summer months, and a combination of people hired part-time from September through April to run various programs.

Maybe a deal could be worked out with USD 410 or Tabor College to share the expense of paying a recreation director. Usually you get what you pay for, so the biggest challenge is finding the dollars necessary to pay a director to run the program.

If other entities are willing to chip in, they will want to have a say in how the director does the job. It could get more complicated than figuring out who is running Iraq after Saddam.

It’s not unheard of for a school district employee to be in charge of recreation programs, since so many programs involve school-age youth.

The city could consider hiring someone whose primary responsibilities are running the recreation program in the summer while assuming other city responsibilities the rest of the year. No doubt there are other alternatives as well.

Another big issue is how to best use the recreation commission. As we witnessed last month, the HRC is not always in the loop. That needs to change. Otherwise, why bother having a recreation commission?

The HRC is an advisory board that isn’t always asked for its advice.

That’s too bad. There are many capable people in this city that could make a significant contribution to the recreation program.

I mean no disrespect to our city leaders, but considering that we have Tabor College and a school district, there are a number of people in this community who are better qualified than our city leaders to oversee a recreation program.

The city ultimately makes the final personnel and budget decisions. But if recent history tells us anything about recreation commission members, it tells us that if you don’t use them, you’ll lose them.

The recreation commission and city government should be a team, and I was taught that there’s no “I” in team.

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