Evart rec program faces change

EVART — Heading into the spring and summer seasons, with many more outdoor opportunities available to a wider range of area residents, folks throughout the Evart area will be noticing some changes made over the winter to the local Recreation Department.

In late January, former Rec Department director Amanda Walters-Brown notified those connected to her position that her job had been eliminated.

“As of January 20, 2011 my job as Recreation Director for the City of Evart has been cut,” she noted in an e-mail. “I have been relieved of all duties youth and adult ...

“It has been a pleasure getting to know all of you and working with each of you as well.”

She suggested the elimination of her position might also indicate a future downsizing of the city’s rec program.

In a communication with Evart’s City Council members, city manager Zack Szackas assured the members and public that there was no intention of eliminating the city’s recreation program.

“It was never the city’s intention to eliminated the Recreation Program,” he wrote earlier this month. “Neither was it (the decision to end the director’s role) a control issue.”

Szackas told Council members he had been observing the functioning of municipal departments since he taking over as interim city manager following the retirement of Roger Elkins.

He reported he found most departments running smoothly, efficiently and at the “highest level” when considering policies and procedures.

The Rec Department, however, didn’t - in his opinion - have the same well-developed departmental structure.

Still, he said emphatically, this apparent lack of organization wasn’t the real problem.

“Even more pressing than any other concern was the increasing strain on the city’s General Fund as we continued to finance the department without the support of surrounding townships, with the exception of one,” he pointed out.

“Despite the fact that residents from surrounding townships make up the majority of the participants, the city is still paying the majority of the bill.”

Moving from an interim role to the full-time city manager’s seat, Szackas noted that by his figuring, six months into the budget year, the recreation budget was already showing a negative balance.

“Left unchecked,” he said. “This could have ultimately led to the discontinuation of the recreation program entirely.”

The city manager assured Council members his team were looking at all avenues to continue recreation programs for both youth and adults and were in the process of reorganizing the Recreation Department.

“... the necessitated changes will, in the long run, provide our local youth with valuable opportunities to develop their recreational skills,” he continued.

He pointed to plans made to collaborate with Reed City’s rec program to form a joint area baseball program, noting that on one hand there might be an initial increase in participation fees, but at the same time assuring the public that “ ... no child will be refused because of their inability to pay.”

Other Evart Rec Department offerings, including various basketball leagues and the fall soccer program are scheduled to continue “...if participation grows and the number of volunteers involved increases.

“We have been very fortunate to have access to these (recreational) opportunities for as long as we have,” Szackas pointed out.

“I would remind residents that small communities that are able to offer these types of services rely on a strong volunteer base and participants pay fees similar to those you would find in larger cities.”

In closing his remarks to Council, Szackas again tried to emphatically discourage reports that the local Rec Department program was on the skids.

“It is not the intention of the City of Evart to eliminate the city’s recreation program,” he said.

There were, however, noticeable changes in the structure of the program that would be evident “ ... until formal reorganization is implemented.”