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Sunnyside seeks non-profit to pick up rec pieces

A steering committee of Sunnyside citizens with a focus on forming a non-profit group to oversee recreation programs was the result of a two-hour "recreation summit" the city hosted last night, Thursday, in the community center.

City Manager Eric Swansen told the crowd of 50 or 60 people on hand that because of budget constraints the city needs someone to step in as an "umbrella" group to provide a one-stop connection for making sure fields and courts are reserved and that payment is made.

The group will have to be made up of volunteers or have its own funding source to hire someone as the city is cutting recreation staff, Swansen said. Accountability, openness and a focus on limiting liability would be the keys for such a group's success, he said.

The first step, though, is getting started and, to that end, Lisa Fairbairn of Sunnyside's Promise stepped up and offered to organize the first meeting. A sign-up sheet was circulated and those interested will meet at a later time.

Other citizens stepped up to help, like Sister Mary Rita Rohde offering to organize translators for future meetings and the possibilities of churches being able to help with other needs, such as assembling flyers to get the word out to the public.

Swansen was also receptive of the idea brought forward last night of developing what would essentially be an inventory of tasks that volunteers can do.

He noted that a partnership with a non-profit or other agency will also be needed to keep the community center open.

The partnership theme carried through in other areas, such as an adopt a park program in which residents in a neighborhood would sign on with the city to take care of park upkeep. Swansen said the city will do a minimal amount of watering and landscaping and that keeping parks green and weed-free will require volunteers.

Swansen did spend time noting what the city will take responsibility for when it comes to spending on parks and recreation.

Based on input from a city parks and recreation committee, Sunnyside will keep the pool open in 2009, though with a shortened season.

Sunnyside will also continue to keep open the senior center and facilities for ballfields and a skate park at Sunnyview Park. Other park and recreation priorities include Central Park, as well as providing a place for soccer and baseball programs.

Swansen said the cuts and reliance on volunteers is a short-term answer for Sunnyside. Long-term, he continued, the city will need more family-wage jobs. The higher the per capita income, the more retailers will want to locate here and that means more sales tax revenue for the city, he said.

The band of volunteers that forms the parks and rec non-profit could also lead to a long-term answer.

"It could get to where we see really need professionals to do it and that may lead us to tax ourselves and form a park district," Swansen said.

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