Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Swanton Village, schools clash on rec fees

SWANTON - Should Swanton village residents get a fee discount for recreational sports that use village fields for which they already pay a maintenance levy?

Village council believes residents should pay half price, and that's one of two main sticking points between council and the Swanton Board of Education in a dispute over the school board's continuing use of village facilities for recreation programs once run by a joint recreation board.

With the village collecting $50,000 to $60,000 annually for park maintenance into which residents of surrounding townships don't pay, "village residents should get a break on fees," city councilman Deacon Dzierzawski said last week as he defended a 50 percent discount proposed in a park-use contract the village had tendered to the school board.

But Cheryl Swisher, the school district's treasurer, said during a board meeting later in the week that a discount that large would, for many of the recreation program's more active participants, add up to more than their park-tax bill - and cripple the program's budget.

If the village wants its residents to get a discount, she suggested, it could rebate part of park tax for those who have paid recreation fees. Requiring the school district to verify residency could be problematic and vulnerable to abuse.

Ms. Swisher asked: "If someone shows up to register and says, 'These are my four children,' how are we going to know" if some of them are really family friends from outside the village?

After further discussion, board member Dennis Heban proposed a joint meeting of the school board and village council to try to hash out their differences over park use, which also include indemnity for the village and contract length.

The school board voted to invite council to a special meeting on June 1 at the school board's office, choosing its own office on the grounds that the meeting room is bigger.

Having a special meeting with the parks issue as its only agenda item will ensure it isn't "diluted with our agenda or their agenda," board president Jeff Michael said, referring to other business that might pose a time constraint on either board at a regular meeting.

"I'm willing to come to the table and have an open dialogue," Mr. Dzierzawski said. A joint meeting, he said, would allow all affected by the recreation debate to hear both the village's case and the school board's.

Swanton's joint recreation district had collected about $58,000 annually from a 0.4 mill levy in both the village and the surrounding school district to subsidize operating costs for the local softball, baseball, and soccer programs. The tax had generated more than three fifths of the recreation board's budget of about $98,000.

But the rec district's board decided last year not to renew the levy, and early this year the school board decided to withdraw from the joint agency, effectively abolishing it. School officials said at the time they believed local recreation programs could be self-sustaining from user fees.

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