City officials OK rec center rate hike

By Eric Butler: PNT staff writer

Portales city leaders are moving forward with programs to keep kids busy during the summer.

But it all comes at a cost, and one that is higher than Portales residents are used to paying.

At issue are two programs dubbed “Kids N Motion” at the Portales Recreation Center. One is June 1-26 and the other runs from July 6-31.

Daily activities include recreational play, courses in Spanish, field trips, science classes and gender-specific courses like “Grossology” for boys.

Last week, the city council approved a rate hike for the two sessions almost doubling the cost.

Instead of paying around $80 a month, for a summer 2008 program that includes scheduled activities in the mornings only, now the price is $150 for either of the near-month-long programs – which has structured events from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m..

The cost of materials for the city to stage one painting class alone is $1,000, according to Recreation Center director Andrea Copenhaver. Since the center is under a directive to have a “self-sustaining” summer program, that made a rate increase necessary, she said.

“If we can’t make it self-sufficient, we can’t have it,” Copenhaver said.

Regular hours for the recreation center are 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and that’s what would have be in store — even in summer — for the center if the rate hike hadn’t been implemented, according to City Manager Debi Lee.

“We need to cover the extended costs for the expanded hours in the summer,” Lee said.

At the conclusion of Tuesday’s council meeting, two Portales citizens protested the increase in fees.

“I just think you’re losing a lot of kids that way and that’s not what the rec center is for,” Alexis Northrip said.

Meanwhile, Wendy Sharpe said kids would be “running the street” because some families couldn’t afford the increase. She also criticized a weightlifting area at the center being located so close to where younger children’s activities take place.

City officials were quick to react.

Lee instructed Copenhaver to dismantle the weight area.

As far as making increased costs easier to handle, the recreation center now has three timetables for paying: In one, two or four installments. Also the rate per child is reduced if there’s more than one. For two children, for instance, the cost amounts to $145 each for one session.

“And if they have over three kids, there’s no charge – and there are a lot of families that have five or six kids,” Lee said.

Another option is to find business sponsors for families that can’t afford the costs and Lee said the city would try to do that, too, if necessary.

“We really want a safe, positive place for kids. We don’t want them alone,” Lee said. “We’re gonna figure out how to make this work. We’re not going to turn anyone away.”