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North Whidbey Parks director throws in the towel

North Whidbey Park and Recreation District Director Bill Walker resigned at the end of the commissioners’ meeting Thursday.

“It’s been an honor and a privilege to work for the taxpayers,” Walker said.

Walker submitted his 30-day notice. His last day will be Dec. 21.

The news followed a lengthy discussion about balancing the budget.

“I’m reporting to a commission as a body that is dysfunctional and too focused on one program,” Walker said.

Walker was referring to the North Whidbey Aquatic Club and Masters programs.

During his 18 months as director, Walker said he’s defended the programs.

Almost all residents who are not involved with NWAC or Masters do not understand why tax dollars go toward supporting the groups, Walker said.

One option Walker drafted for the meeting showed that cutting NWAC and Masters would give the budget a $23,000 surplus, because it accounts for dues and swim meets revenues, coaching salaries, payroll taxes associated with the programs and the available 6,000 hours of lane time used.

The draft budget also raised remaining program fees 10 percent, except swim lessons and pool rental fees which were raised within the past 18 months.

Other program fees have not been raised since 2006.

“I don’t believe you will make this move, nor do I think it was the right thing to do,” Walker stated in a email to the commissioners before the meeting. “This illustration simply gives you an idea of the amount of resources the district allocates to competitive swimming programs.”

“Acknowledging how much this program costs the taxpayers is a far cry from advocating change,” Walker said in his email.

When the board originally looked at the budget during a workshop meeting on Oct. 25, NWAC and Masters showed a negative $84,043 contribution to the budget.

That amount is what it costs Oak Harbor taxpayers after the swim club participants pay their current dues and fees.

After reducing benefits to coaches and taking award expenses out of the budget, the negative contribution is around $40,000, Walker said during a telephone interview Friday.

During the meeting, Commissioner Allan McDougall said competitive swim programs are important for the community at every level and that the district should try to keep the costs low as possible for participants.

Walker said he decided to resign after the budget workshop meeting Nov. 14. He said his family had also been asking him to leave for six months.

Before the resignation, the board was still unable to reach a decision on the budget and will need to meet one more time.

Commissioner Chairman Sean Merrill was not present at the meeting.

The board must approve a balanced budget for 2014 by Dec. 2.

This will be the seventh draft presented to the board. A special meeting is tenatively scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 25 at the John Vanderzicht Memorial Pool.

The board had directed Walker at the budget workshop on Nov. 14 to increase program fees 10 percent across the board, and cut salaries and wages 5 percent to balance the budget.

Walker brought back an option to the board with the fee increases, but only a 2.5 percent reduction in salaries and wages.

That left the district with a $3,300 deficit.

For more direction in where to cut, Walker asked for the board to prioritize programs so he knew how he should proceed further.

McDougall said he did not like seeing just a 2.5 percent reduction.

“I will not vote for a budget until I see that 5 percent,” McDougall said.

McDougall said he doesn’t pretend to know the ins-and-outs of the district and that it is up to Walker to use his knowledge to make staffing reductions.

“I’m a volunteer,” McDougall said.

One of the drafts showed raising fees for swim school 10 percent. Those program fees were raised 20 percent a year and a half ago.

Commissioner Steve Hoffmire said he could not support another increase to swim school since the district increased the fees recently.

“You’re going to hurt young families and they just don’t have the money,” Hoffmire said.

Commissioner Kirk Huffer said that they could look at cutting the salaries of the director, head coach and pool operator to make the budget work.

“We got to put it back where the responsibility comes from,” Huffer said.

An NWAC parent Michael Black said he’d rather see fees increased than cut salaries of staff who provide his children a swim program.

Black said he could afford an increase and believes that some of the other parents can as well.

“I don’t want to do it at the expense of people’s salaries,” Black said.

At the end of the meeting, the commissioners reacted to Walker’s resignation.

“I’m very sorry that somehow, as a commission, we let you down,” said  Commissioner Lori Clark.

“I’m sorry Bill’s had enough,” McDougall said.”

“If I would’ve been him, I would’ve had enough too.”

Huffer wished Walker success with future endeavors.

 

The special meeting to discuss the budget is 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 25 at the John Vanderzicht Memorial Pool.

 

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