Council tackles privatization issues

By Kelly Ducote / The Observer May 10, 2013 11:25 am

The La Grande City Council accepted a recommendation to explore cost-cutting measures for the cityís aquatics division, which could include privatization of Veteranís Memorial Pool maintenance. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)
The La Grande City Council accepted a recommendation to explore cost-cutting measures for the cityís aquatics division, which could include privatization of Veteranís Memorial Pool maintenance. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)
 

City council approves exploring privatizing maintenance of Veteran’s Memorial Pool 

A motion was moved and seconded Wednesday night to eliminate the city’s parks and recreation department.

Councilor John Lackey moved the motion that also called for eliminating the parks and recreation director and recreation coordinator positions. It failed when it came to a vote.

The discussion stemmed from recommendations from City Manager Robert Strope on how to save money within the parks and recreation department. Of four recommendations submitted to the council, only one was accepted: to charge the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission with exploring alternatives for the aquatics division — which could include privatization.

Strope’s recommendation that the council refrain from pursuing privatization apart from the aquatics division was not taken up, as several councilors expressed interest in finding out more information on the potential savings from a privatization plan.

“I would like to see us at least look into it. I’m not saying that’s what we’re going to end up with, but why not explore it? It could save more than you’re thinking if we really and truly explored the whole thing,” Councilor Mary Ann Miesner said.

Councilors Gary Lillard and Jerry Sebestyen, who joined the council via telephone, both expressed concern about the quality of parks if the council were to privatize.

“I think we need to be very careful here. Saving money is all well and good. It’s important and I think it’s fine to take a look at that, if that’s what we want to do,” Lillard said. “But what concerns me is I’m not hearing very much said about an important piece of this and that’s the quality of the product. One thing I hear a lot from citizens consistently is how solid our parks are, how nice they are. That needs to be a part of our consideration in addition to money.”

City management should be able to write a proposal and contract properly enough to ensure that the quality of services is not diminished, Lackey said.

“I cannot agree that (privatization) brings a better quality of service to our parks and recreation program,” Sebestyen said.

Lillard added that the job of maintaining the parks is getting done well as it is and that a high bar has been set, but that he would consider looking at potential savings from privatization.

After accepting Strope’s recommendation about aquatics privatization, Miesner moved a motion to pursue looking into privatization of other park functions. Strope then explained that it had been explored and that it would take quite a bit of time and resources to truly discover what savings could be derived from privatization. She then withdrew her motion.

Also at the meeting, the council approved the appointment of Art Rhodes to the budget committee, to begin serving at budget hearings next week. The council also approved seating councilor Jerry Sebestyen as a representative and liaison for the Union County Senior Council.

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