Parks board sees Mac Center progress

Thursday, November 30, 2017 - 18:43
  • Referee Scott Sivulich skates onto the ice between periods of a Chugiak vs. Wasilla high school hockey game on Oct. 28 at the McDonald Center in Eagle River. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • From left, Eagle River/Chugiak Parks and Recreation Board of Supervisors Bill Brion, Tony Sisto, Lexi Hill, Brian Fay and Anchorage Parks and Recreation Director John Rodda go over the previous month’s minutes at the start of the board’s monthly meeting Monday, Nov. 13, 2017 in the Eagle River Town Center meeting room. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)

Members of the local parks board believe steps taken over the last year have improved several areas of concern at the Harry J. McDonald Center in Eagle River.

Following a joint work session earlier this month with the Fire Lake Arena Management Inc. (FLAMI) board of directors, the Eagle River/Chugiak Parks and Recreation Board of Supervisors is crafting a memorandum of understanding acknowledging improvements to the center’s finances and management.

The parks board worked to finalize its version of the memo at its Monday, Nov. 13 meeting. Discussion of the document came at the end of a meeting in which center manager Reid McDonald told parks supervisors the Mac should be in the black for 2017.

“We’ve definitely turned the corner financially,” said McDonald, who gave a brief presentation to the board to open the meeting.

McDonald said he expects to beat his budget by about $16,000 this year, thanks to a combination of factors that include a new adult hockey league, increased ice rentals and more interest in learn-to-skate classes.

“It looks really good,” McDonald said.

For the past year, the board has seen its oversight role increase in the wake of a municipal audit that found a number of management issues in need of fixing. Following the audit, center management was directed by the Anchorage Assembly to improve its reporting to the parks board.

The memo crafted Monday includes acknowledgement that profits appear to be up, finances and operations have improved and communication between the boards is better. The memo agreed to by parks supervisors also states center management will continue working to improve financial reporting, cut costs, develop more non-ice programs and identify new board members.

That final point appears to be one of the lone outstanding items of concern. Eagle River/Chugiak Parks and Recreation manager Karen Richards told supervisors FLAMI board president Pat McCormick informed her candidates have been identified — though she hasn’t been given any names.

That’s not how it’s supposed to be done, according to Anchorage Parks and Recreation director John Rodda, who said two of the seven FLAMI board members are supposed to come from parks board nominations.

Board supervisor Lexi Hill said there seems to be a miscommunication over the issue.

“They do not understand that,” she said in response to Rodda’s comments.

Board chair Brian Fay said he planned to contact McCormick to let him know the process that needs to be followed. Requirements that the FLAMI board membership increase from five to seven members and add 6-year term limits (three members have served since its inception in 1984) were included in a resolution passed by the Anchorage Assembly earlier this year.

Hill said she would finalize the draft language of the parks board’s memo and forward it to the FLAMI board for review. Once it’s complete, the document should be ready for approval by the next parks board meeting on Dec. 11.

Monday’s meeting lasted just an hour. Other topics included an update on area ski trails, the upcoming municipal budget discussions and the impact of homelessness on parks operations.

— On the ski trails issue, Richards said the trails at Beach Lake are not yet open, although some “rock skiers” have been using them anyway. But until there’s a thick enough layer of snow on the ground, she said it’s still too dangerous to open the trails to the public.

“If I can’t open it up to a novice like me, it’s not quite open yet,” she said.

Board member Bill Brion — who grooms area trails for the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage — said the cold temperatures and a dusting of snow have the trails set up great for the coming winter.

“We are really well positioned on all the trails,” he said.

But the trails need snow, he said, agreeing with Richards that the trails are no place for unseasoned skiers.

“There’s places right now where a novice could get really hurt,” he said.

— On the budget, Rodda said the fact area parks are funded through a local service area should insulate the local department from any significant cuts in the upcoming municipal budget cycle.

“We are pretty well left alone,” he said.

— On the homeless population, Rodda said Chugiak-Eagle River hasn’t dealt with much in the way of camps or transient people moving through the area. But in Anchorage proper it’s a whole different story, he said.

“It’s very widespread,” he told the board.

Read more about the issue here.

editor@alaskastar.com

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