Public Responds To Parks & Rec Reorganization

By: Stephanie Diffin Email
By: Stephanie Diffin Email

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December 2, 2010

Cutting wasteful spending of your tax dollars was the idea behind a major overhaul discussed Thursday night. The public weighed in on a plan to save more than $875,000 by reorganizing Wichita's Parks and Rec Department.

Plans for the Osage Recreation Center received the most attention at the meeting. The building is home to after-school sports, the Osage Golden Age Club, and Special Olympics activities.

"The people that are using these are needy people, they're mentally and physically handicapped," said Bill Huffman with the Wichita Independent Special Olympics.

But the city says keeping the center open is too expensive for taxpayers, for the amount of people who actually use the facility. City leaders say the number of people using the facility has been declining for the past five to seven years, despite efforts to spark interest in its services. The City Manager also says most people who use the center drive to it from outside of the neighborhood, and could easily drive to a different facility just a couple of miles away.

Closing the Osage Recreation Center is just one part of the plan the City Manager presented to residents Thursday night. The proposal also includes reorganizing management to be more effective, which will include cutting 14 jobs.

"In some ways, for what we're offering at many of our centers, we're overstaffed today," said City Manger Robert Layton.

But Layton says he hopes reorganizing will allow the department to expand, and provide services that will increase the return from taxpayer dollars, as some of the recreation centers are providing as little as 10% return.

"What that says, if you look at it just from a business standpoint, it says we're not offering the public what they want," said Layton.

What some people at Thursday's meeting say they want, is to make sure rec center users like Special Olympics athletes continue to get the programs they need.

"They enjoy the activities that they get, and if it wasn't for those types of things, most of them wouldn't get any activity," said Huffman.

Layton says people will still be able to utilize the programs the city offers. Many of the changes presented Thursday are set to be in place by the beginning of next year.

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