How much should Lakes Area Recreation pay county for rent?
How much should Lakes Area Recreation pay Douglas County for space inside the Services Center?
The question caused a split vote and mixed opinions at the March 26 Douglas County commissioners meeting.
Negotiations between Douglas County commissioners and the Lakes Area Recreation (LAR) board of directors on a new lease began about a year ago. No agreement was made at a meeting last July, but the consensus was to look at a $1 per square foot rate phased in over a three-year-period, according to LAR Director Fritz Bukowski.
In December, the county board voted to increase the rent to $1 a foot, starting on January 1, which would have more than doubled the rent with only a week's notice, Bukowski said.
Later, commissioners Dan Olson and Charlie Meyer worked on a plan with the LAR board when it became apparent that the $1 per square foot rate may be too much for the LAR to take on at one time. (Meyer filled the Lakes Area Community Recreation Committee slot vacated by former commissioner Paul C. Anderson.)
The LAR board was sent a document proposing a gradual rise in the square footage rent from 39 cents to 59 cents effective April 1, 2013, up to 79 cents in 2014 and reaching $1 per square foot beginning January 1, 2015. The LAR board approved that agreement on March 21.
At the March 26 county board meeting, Commissioner Jerry Johnson opposed the proposition, stating that it is what he believes to be a joint powers agreement that townships, the city of Alexandria and school districts put together in the 1990s.
"It's their baby," Johnson said. "We have helped over the years. When they started, they paid no rent."
At 39 cents per square foot the county receives $9,183 a year. Once the rent is raised to $1, the county can count on $23,548.
Johnson said the 39 cents per square foot rent doesn't come close to what it costs to maintain the parts of the Services Center that LAR occupies. The LAR takes up approximately 23,548 square feet, which includes space on the ground and first floor of the building, two gymnasiums, men's and women's locker rooms, auxiliary rooms and office space. The area does not include maintenance of outdoor spaces.
"I think it's time for the joint powers board to step up...and pick up the cost," Johnson said.
The LAR pays for its own custodial staff, maintenance of the gym floors and supplies, which amounts to about $14,000 annually, Bukowski later told the Echo Press. This, combined with the rent the LAR is already paying, amounts to about $1 a square foot, he said.
Olson said the city of Alexandria and townships are part of the county and the county needs to provide services to those areas one way or another.
"It's a good way to work it out to get to that $1 per square foot and not hit them all at one time," Olson said. "It's a win for folks of the area to have a recreation facility to use."
All commissioners agreed that the LAR board and individual cities and townships should have come to the county board much earlier to express their budget concerns.
Because of the location of LAR, in the county seat, Johnson said his constituents aren't benefiting as much as residents who live closer to Alexandria.
"I know the people of my district aren't able to make use of [LAR] and I'm sure it's the same way with people in the eastern end and the northern end of the county," Johnson said.
Commissioner Bev Bales' district extends along the north and eastern parts of the county. Bales said five of her townships and two cities are paying for the facility.
"So these kids are using it and I'm glad that they are contributing," Bales said, adding that the rent should be increased based on inflation.
The board rejected the contract in a 3-2 vote. Meyer and Olson voted for the gradual increase. Unanimously, commissioners approved the first 20 cents increase and will revisit the lease terms next year after negotiating with townships and the school district.
Commissioners also approved a five-year lease allowing the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) to use office space in the Services Center. The DOC will occupy approximately 1,966 square feet currently not used by the county. Douglas County will receive $154,980 by way of $2,583 monthly rent payments over five years.
Alexandria Public Schools
Alexandria City (Ward 1 Precinct 1, Ward 5 Precinct 1)
Lake Mary Township
Belle River Township
Spruce Hill Township
Alexandria City (Ward 1 Precinct 2, Ward 2)
Alexandria City (Ward 3, Ward 4, Ward 5 Precinct 2)
Info from LakesAreaRecreation.com.
Crystal Dey Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota's Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter at @CrystalDey_Echo.