BELLE FOURCHE –– For the last few months, the Belle Fourche Area Community Center committee has been tossing around ideas about how to grow the facility’s offerings and use while shrinking overhead costs.
That discussion continued at the committee’s Wednesday meeting when around 20 community members attended and voiced a variety of concerns related to the city’s action plan for moving forward with the community center. Some citizens said they’d heard rumors around town related to the city potentially selling or closing down the community center due to exorbitant costs.
Councilman Travis Martin dispelled the rumors, adding that he considers the community center a community service, as opposed to a moneymaking facility.
“It’s going to cost the city money (to operate), and that’s OK,” he said. “The return on that expenditure is not usually measured monetarily. What we see is a happier and healthier community.”
It’s more of an issue related to how the city budgets for the facility’s operational costs.
“And it’s been almost impossible to this point,” he said. “It’s fluctuated wildly; hundreds of thousands of dollars (from year to year).”
Running the facility costs the city approximately $1 million per year. The committee’s goal, Martin said, is to work on getting the facility expenses down and revenue and community participation up.
Councilman James Ager agreed with Martin, adding that while the center’s revenues have remained pretty steady through the years, the expenses have not.
“That expenditure has almost become like an inclinate slope,” he said. “It’s just skyrocketed.”
Last year, Ager said, the city allocated $621,000 worth of funds towards operations over and above the approximately $350,000 worth of annual revenue it brought in. The operation costs incorporate everything from monthly utilities to wages to programming and more. To add some perspective to how costly it is to run a facility of that size, in the 2019 budget, the city budgeted $146,000 for utility costs alone. And the facility’s aquatics department runs an annual expense of $320,000.
The center, built in 1992, was developed to be a gathering place for community members and offers programming for all ages. The facility features a 25-meter pool and separate wading pool; hot tub; two water slides; locker rooms including a family locker room; two racquetball courts; 12,700-square-foot gymnasium; cardio and weight room; walking track above the gymnasium; 542-seat auditorium; meeting rooms and rental spaces for meetings or parties; sports and fitness programs; swimming lessons; aquatic fitness classes; and community theater.
The facility, which cost $5.2 million to build, was financed utilizing third penny sales tax, grants, and a $600,000 investment made by the Belle Fourche School.
In 2013, the debt incurred by the city in building the facility was paid off.
“We’re definitely not trying to get rid of it; we’re just trying to get it more functional and better used,” Martin said.
He said the committee is exploring all aspects of the center to get the most bang for the city’s buck when it comes to the facility’s use.
“I want to keep that thing full all the time,” Martin said. “In a town this size with the things we’ve got going on ... (and) a facility of that nature, there really shouldn’t be a lot of downtime in there. It should be a scheduling nightmare rather than large chunks of time sitting empty.”
In addition to considering new types of management styles, partnerships, sponsors, marketing, programming, grant seeking, and more, the city is in the process of actively seeking qualified candidates to fill the executive director position vacated in May by longtime director Michelle Deyo-Amende.
Martin said that the former community center board, which included one or two city councilmembers, previously oversaw the operations. In March, the city changed that and added a new major city committee to oversee the center and be more intrinsically involved in the day-to-day operations and expense. Committee members include: Ager, Martin, Monte Talkington, and Randy Schmidt.
On Wednesday, Martin was pleased to see so many community members come to voice their opinions about the center’s future use.
“It’s important for me to see that the community members want to get involved in helping the community center,” he said. “That’s why, to me, these meetings are important because I want the members of the community to be invested in making the community center run at its max capacity.”
The committee requested Mayor Gloria Landphere compile and bring back to the board more firm numbers related to the city’s capital improvement plan investments made at the center, in addition to the revenue and expenditures for the last several years to have an overall big-picture view of the center.
Martin asked anyone who is interested in the center’s future or has ideas about how to grow its potential to attend a committee meeting or reach out to any of the four council members who comprise the committee. All council member and mayor contact info can be found on the city’s website: bellefourche.org.
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