City to consider a limited reopening of public pools this year

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Parks and Recreation activities
The Manhattan Parks and Recreation Department is looking at bringing back a few aquatic features this summer, but in a limited capacity.
The proposed plan includes keeping the CiCo Park Pool and Blue Earth Plaza water features closed while decreasing hours at the City Park Pool and Northview Pool.
Casey Smithson, park superintendent, says staffing shortages stemming from the pandemic have hampered his department’s ability to prepare the pools for the summer.
“We generally have spent about 1,000 hours preparing for pools from September to April,” Smithson said during the Manhattan City Commission meeting on Tuesday. “I’m at about a 200-hour range right now trying to get ready. So if you can look at the gap, I have to have water by April and we’re down about 600 or 800 hours. We’re already behind.”
The city is also looking at temporarily modifying or suspending certain arts programs and adult and youth sports activities for 2021.
Randi Clifford, recreation director, says Parks and Rec may look at operating some of those programs out of the city’s three recreation buildings currently being constructed.
“Looking at those programs and services that we will try to offer as some of current staff move into those facilities, they in turn will look at things they can do to program out of those facilities,” Clifford said. “It may not necessarily ever look quite the same as it did before and likely won’t.”
The city is constructing two recreation buildings next to Eisenhower and Anthony Middle Schools while the new Douglass Community Center is going up at 925 Yuma St.
Budget strategies
The Manhattan City Commission discussed raising property taxes as a way of stabilizing the city’s general fund, which covers the city’s operating expenses.
Mayor Wynn Butler was not in favor of the proposal, saying doing so could hurt the city.
“That’s why everybody moves to Pottawatomie County or Milford or Abilene, because they don’t want to pay our property taxes,” Butler said. “So we can’t grow the city by raising property taxes. What we’re doing is killing the city by doing that.”
Commissioner Usha Reddi says she believes some of the budgetary issues may be due to the city overcommitting to personnel and labor obligations.
“I often feel sometimes on our projects…we’ve overextended,” Reddi said. “Building a building is easier than operating it.”
The issue was also discussed at a city retreat last Friday, when city officials suggested forming a long-term plan for keeping up with increasing operating expenses.
According to deputy city manager Jason Hilgers, the city’s general fund has remained fairly stagnant the past five years.
Public Works construction contracts
According to Robert Ott, Public Works director, the city is projected to pay around $60 million in construction contracts this year.
This is after the city paid contractors less than half that, about $26 million, in 2020.
Among the projects set to take place in 2021 are a levee rehabilitation and work in the North Campus Corridor and Aggieville.
Ott says the increased amount of work could cause his department to run into staffing issues.
“It’s a significant work load,” Ott said. “I didn’t double my inspection staff for 2021.”
To view a list of active Public Works projects in Manhattan, visit cityofmhk.com/publicworks.
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