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Council votes down some fees, makes way for others

Longtime tap instructor Linda Weathers urges the Roswell City Council during a Thursday night meeting at the Roswell Convention and Civic Center to change city policies requiring individual teachers to obtain liability insurance. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Adult Center fees delayed, zoo plans approved

The Roswell City Council decided Thursday to nix the Roswell Adult Center fees but to institute a policy that will allow for future income-generation at the zoo.

Adult Center fees on hold

The Adult Center debate at the Roswell City Council meeting brought out some members of the public, who added to the public outcry since signs went up on the facility’s doors in early August to let people know about the fees that were to take effect Sept. 1.

“Three dollars to go in the door is ridiculous,” said Jim Curry, a retired educator who said he moved to Roswell because of all of its benefits for retirees. “There’s nothing to go there for, unless it is to meet us, the other people who are there.”

He said that the people who gather at the Adult Center at North Missouri Avenue don’t cost the city any additional money to operate the building, and that he didn’t think the city would be able to raise much money from the small number who visit the Adult Center regularly.

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“I am sorry that the city is having such a problem with money that it needs to make everything pay for itself,” he said. “We need a city that supports its population. We don’t need to support the city because we are already supporting the city.”

The City Council had unanimously passed a resolution in July to institute fees after first approving a cost-recovery plan for the recreation division of the city.

The fees for those not taking classes would have been $5 for adults 13 and older and $3 for youth, seniors over 60, and military members and veterans, plus tax. Spectators would have paid $1 a day. Children 3 or younger would be free. There also were discounts for monthly or annual memberships. Billiard and domino players had separate fees of $1 a visit or $5 a month, plus tax, without a separate admission fee.

The city also had informed instructors of classes that they had to carry their own liability insurance. Linda Weathers, a longtime tap instructor, and Beth Isler, a stained-glass instructor for five years, both described their difficulties trying to obtain insurance. Isler said the insurance quotes she received ranged from $300 to $800 per class, when she only made about $84 from her previous 10-week class.

Carolyn Mitchell, president of the Roswell Adult Center Foundation, said that the Adult Center is not comparable to the newly constructed Recreation and Aquatic Center, which is also covered by the cost-recovery plan and fees. Instead, she said, it has a long history of serving youth, veterans and, now, primarily older citizens.

“The cost-recovery plan of the RAC is not well-thought-out as to the servicing of its current citizens or population of Roswell,” she said. “There has been an outcry as to the lack of communications allowing input into the fees that have been developed, and that is not just for the Adult Center.”

After discussions and public comment, the City Council voted unanimously, 10-0, on two related actions, one to delay implementation of the fees and the other to rescind the cost-recovery plan as it pertained to the Roswell Adult Center.

City Manager Joe Neeb and Administrative Services Director Juan Fuentes said that they now plan to spend about nine months meeting with community members to develop new ideas for possible cost-recovery efforts for the facility. Neeb also said that they thought they could develop a better plan regarding liability insurance. He explained that current instructors will not be required to obtain the insurance if they do not already have it, but that he could not allow new instructors to begin classes without it.

Prior to the City Council vote, they also clarified that decisions regarding the Adult Center fee policy would not affect the Recreation and Aquatic Center.

Zoo measures approved

Much longer debates ensued about two issues related to the Spring River Zoo.

City Councilors were asked to decide about a new cost-recovery plan, or income-generation plan, for the zoo and about providing city money as part of the funding for a new “big cat” enclosure. The councilors debated many different issues, including whether proper procedures and rules were followed to bring the items to City Council and whether the city has more pressing needs and concerns than the zoo.

The cost-recovery plan presented by the city and the Finance Committee was considered unrealistic or “too aggressive” by some councilors. That plan would have called for the zoo to increase its operating revenues from its current levels of about $17,000 a year, or 2.6% of its $650,156 annual budget, to 5% or $32,508 for the 2020 current fiscal year, 25% or $162,539 for 2021, and 50% or $325,078 for 2022 and future years.

Three different amendments, including an amendment to an amendment, were offered by councilors with the one forwarded by Councilor Jacob Roebuck approved as the one to be considered: 5% for 2020, 5% for 2021, 25% for 2022 and 45% for 2023, with no future-year goals considered at this time.

The plan passed only after Mayor Dennis Kintigh broke a tie to approve the motion. Councilors Juan Oropesa, Savino Sanchez, Angela Moore, George Peterson and Judy Stubbs voted against the motion.

Their objections included that they did not think it was realistic to expect the zoo to raise that much money each year; that fees would hurt lower-income families; that visitors were unlikely to want to pay much to visit a zoo in need of renovations; and that cost-recovery plans for city enhancements need to be “equal,” requiring the same levels for the zoo, the golf course, the museum or other city attractions.

City Councilors supporting the measure said that the plan gives staff a starting point and some goals to work with and that earning money is essential to achieving the zoo master plan, which envisions the venue as the “No. 1 attraction in Roswell” at some point in the future. Councilor Roebuck also said that creative ideas for earning money could be developed, involving more than just entry fees, and that free admission days could be instituted should entry fees be established.

The request to have the city contribute $291,157 for a $500,000 “big cat” enclosure passed 7-3 after councilors debated for some time whether the city had higher priorities for its general fund monies.

Councilors Jeanine Corn Best, Peterson and Oropesa voted against the motion.

Neeb said that the exhibit, a scaled-down version of the $1.36 million concept outlined in the master plan, will be a new permanent exhibit but one that could house some animals temporarily. That would include the zoo’s mountain lion, which is having its exhibit upgraded. In the future, jaguars or cougars or other large felines could be housed there. About $208,843 for the exhibit has been raised during the past couple of years by the Safari Club, the Friends of the Spring River Zoo and other donors.

Councilor Best called the issue a “big pet peeve” because she thinks the money could be better used for other city needs.

“For the $290,200, at $200 a piece, you could get 1,451 vests for our police department,” she said. She added it could pay for 50 “completely outfitted” police cars or replace city water lines or city streets badly in need of repair.

She and other councilors suggested that fundraising could continue until enough donations had been raised to pay for the exhibit.

Those who supported the measure said that it behooved the city to support the private donation efforts and that a new exhibit would help draw visitors to help the zoo reach its cost-recovery goals. They also pointed out that the zoo is an important community resource.

“We only protect what we love,” said Susan Weston, the president of the Friends of Spring River Zoo. “We only love what we know and we only know what we are taught, and herein lies the beauty of education.”

She explained that the zoo educates youth about animal populations and functions as a rescue zoo for animals in need. At some point, the zoo could begin to house and repopulate endangered species, she said.

Following the City Council’s vote, zoo Superintendent Marge Woods said that major work on the exhibit could begin by the end of 2019.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.