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Jazzercisers feel the budget burn | City needs to make more money renting Community Center

Jazzercise participants work out at the Community Center at Mercer View on Mercer Island, Friday, Nov. 21. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
Jazzercise participants work out at the Community Center at Mercer View on Mercer Island, Friday, Nov. 21.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

Changes being made within the budget for the Island’s community center are causing ripples among some user groups. Last Monday night, dozens of Islanders who participate in daily Jazzercise aerobic classes at the Community Center at Mercer View (CCMV) filled the Council Chambers at City Hall in opposition to a proposal to reduce the number of times available for the Mercer Room. One after the other, the speakers urged City Councilmembers to choose a budget that would allow more community groups to occupy the Mercer Room, the CCMV’s largest and most marketable space. Instead, the Council instructed Parks Director Pete Mayer and CCMV Manager Jana Raasch to begin renting the room to off-Island corporate groups more often so that the community center would need fewer subsidy dollars from the city’s general fund.

During the Council meeting, Jazzercise participants argued that Islanders comprise 80 percent of the group, which is also the highest local concentration among all users. Many said that renting the facility for money would force them into smaller rooms that could not accommodate their large classes and would be a disservice to the community. Many expressed dissatisfaction with losing some of the times that were once available.

“I am concerned that you go after businesses and corporate groups and just move a few classes here and there, but the Mercer Room gets packed; classes are large,” said Islander Sandra Lindstrom.

However, Raasch said that she has been working with the Jazzercise instructors to find appeasing solutions, and they may use the Mercer Room at any time when it is not rented during one of their classes. According to Raasch, the scheduling changes and room swaps are necessary so that the center can raise enough money to be more financially self-sufficient.

“We’ve had to condense to be more efficient and to use maximum time in the dance room, so we can use the Mercer Room as a potential increase for revenue,” Raasch said. “Our struggle is the balance of staying within the subsidy budget policy and trying to maximize the use of hours with the least amount of disruption.”

Jazzercise participants are not the only group that will experience such growing pains, Mayer said. While Jazzercisers told Councilmembers of the friendships and good times that they had while exercising in the program, Mayer said that badminton players were also angered earlier in the summer when they were bumped to accommodate other uses.

“At times when we have to make adjustments in terms of users, there are going to be some inconveniences,” Mayer said. “But trying to balance all the competing needs, [Jazzercise] is one program we identified we need to make changes with. Badminton was another. This is not going to be unique to any one particular group.”

Taxpayers will still subsidize $280,000 for CCMV operations, a total that is higher than the previous year. However, costs for the center are expected to continue growing while rental fees will decrease. According to budget documents, operation costs for the CCMV are expected to increase significantly over the next two years — by nearly 50 percent — totaling $798,141 next year and $824,823 in 2010. This year, costs were at $537,917, and in 2007 they were $512,840. Meanwhile, the city expects facility rentals at the CCMV to decrease next year and only generate $263,263. In 2010, there would be slightly more at $264,311. In comparison, fees in 2007 increased to $322,665 and $295,930 this year. These fees add up to generate 5.7 percent of the Parks Department’s annual revenues. The 2009 Preliminary Budget for Parks and Rec. is increasing by nearly 13 percent and will total $4.5 million. CCMV staffs less than four full-time employees, costing $176,726.

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