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City funds youth coordinator

Oak Harbor City Council members gave a thumbs up Tuesday evening to adding a youth activities coordinator to the city’s roster.

The newly created, two-year position, will cost the city about $75,000 each year. It is aimed at boosting communication among current agencies that already serve the city’s youth.

Those agencies, which include such mainstays as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County and the Oak Harbor Boys and Girls Club, work independently of one another, for the most part. So when parents and children are looking for recreational and educational opportunities they sometimes knock on several doors before finding the right fit.

Still, the new city position won’t bring back popular city-run youth programs that Oak Harbor parents used to rely on.

In the past, the city provided a wide range of athletic and arts opportunities, including basketball, tennis, T-ball, soccer, arts and crafts and special needs programs. The target age range was youth aged 4 to about 14.

Run by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, the summer recreation program was popular with parents and children alike. The fees were minimal and the program kept kids active and off the couch.

But the city axed the program in 1999, after voters, and then the Legislature, eliminated car tab fees --- a significant revenue stream that dried up and wound up costing Oak Harbor close to $1 million.

Young people make up a significant slice of the city’s population. The 2000 U.S. Census showed Oak Harbor, on a per capita basis, to have one of the highest numbers of residents under age 18 in the state.

Over the last year, a city subcommittee met to hammer out just what the city should provide its younger residents.

Some agency directors suggested that the city could better spend the money by putting some of it into actual programming, instead of earmarking it all for a point person to serve as a liaison among different providers.

Those concerns apparently were taken into account. About $20,000 will go toward direct services each year, following council approval.

Because the position is limited to just two years, whoever fills it will need to make a compelling case for the city to continue funding it beyond 2006.

“This is new territory,” acknowledged City Administrator Thom Myers.

The coordinator is expected to come on board in August or September. That will give the coordinator time to focus on two complete summers.

Said council member Paul Brewer: “I think it’s long been overdue. We need to take care of our youth.”

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