LAYTON — The question from Boy Scout Spencer Larsen at a recent city council meeting was simple enough.
“Why doesn’t the city have a recreation center?” Larsen asked at the end of a meeting.
The answer from City Manager Alex Jensen is far less simple and details one of the key budget issues city officials deal with every year.
Jensen contends recreation centers don’t pay for themselves, and he said in the current economic climate, there is less of an inclination to subsidize another recreational activity in the city.
For example, the 2012-13 fiscal year budget calls for a $475,762 subsidy from the general fund to cover expenses. Jensen said that during a typical year the pool may cover its expenses in the summer months, but the overhead costs for the winter push it far beyond profitable.
He considers the subsidy a quality-of-life issue, which city officials have been addressing for a number of years. He said the annual transfer of money to cover the recreational complex was a big issue about 12 years ago, when residents made it clear they wanted the pool open all year.
Jensen said it’s not realistic to raise fees to try and cover the deficit, given competition. Every year officials look at ways to reduce the damage of the subsidy but admitted they are merely working around the edges.
The push for a rec center, the city manager contends, comes from many people who think a government facility would be cheaper and easier to access. He said in the big picture, between local gyms and clubs, most recreational opportunities are available to residents.
“Is it a need? What is the impact in providing the service?” Jensen said.
He contends city officials have explored the option before, until they run into financial realities. In his 20 years of working for the city, he said, council members have tried to be in tune with the wants of the public, and the issues of fiscal responsibility.
A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for June 21, and city leaders have until June 22 to finalize the spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.