Several members of The Centre spoke about their need to continue using its services, particularly the swimming pool, at Tuesday night's parks and recreation tax wrap-up meeting.
"Without it, I would be lost," said one woman. She and others voiced their support for a quarter-cent sales tax that would be used to subsidize operation of the recreation center, maintain the outdoor parks and pay for capital improvements in the parks.
On the other hand, some other taxpayers expressed their admiration of The Centre and support of the outdoor parks but told Parks and Recreation Director Scott Caron that the facility needs to stand on its own, not subsidized by a tax, which they say was promised when the recreation tax passed with a healthy margin in 1998.
"If you want a tax about just the parks, I think you'd get a lot of support," one man said after expressing his opposition to a tax that would support the recreation center, which competes with private business enterprises.
The Tuesday night meeting at The Centre was a wrap-up session, coming after a series of three meetings held in the wards at Ber Juan Park, Green Acres Park and Buehler Park.
Those meetings were called by the Rolla City Council to present information about the current state of parks and recreation finances while also accepting comments from the taxpayers.
The council has been talking about a quarter-cent parks sales tax proposal for the April 2014 ballot. The current half-cent recreation sales tax "sunsets" Dec. 31, 2013.
Opening the wrap-up meeting, Caron first turned the floor over to two employees of Phelps County Regional Medical Center who work as physical therapists. They spoke about the use of the pool at The Centre for patients who cannot receive adequate therapy on a solid surface.
Quadriplegics, amputees and hip replacement patients respond well to physical therapy administered in a pool.
"Without this facility, we couldn't offer this therapy," said one of the therapists. "We support this place."
In his opening remarks, Caron reviewed the ward meetings and then gave a short description of the finances of the parks and recreation department, information that was distributed in handouts at the ward meetings.
He told how the parks and recreation departments were merged and how money was saved by offering early retirements.
The Centre "recaptured" 88 percent of its expenses through memberships and fees in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. Combining the parks and recreation departments resulted in a recapture rate of 60 percent of all expenses in the department, which Caron said "far exceeds what any parks and recreation department does in the entire country."
The Centre is more than a fitness center, Caron said. In addition to the fitness center area, The Centre has a pool, gym, track and meeting rooms.
Page 2 of 2 - "Only 7 percent of the building is the fitness center," he said.
Nearly half of the people who use programs and attend meetings at The Centre are not members.
The Centre has true value and is an asset to the community, he said. Consequently, the recommendation following the three ward meetings is that the city council should pass an ordinance calling for an election in April to present voters with a quarter-cent sales tax, he said.
That would raise $900,000 annually. Half of that amount would go to operations of the parks and the recreation center while half would be used for capital improvements in the outdoor parks. Capital expenditures in The Centre are covered by the depreciation fund, which will be more than $1 million when the current half-cent sales tax collection ceases.