Budget cuts force Mercer Island Community and Event Center to reduce hours

The city council will discuss more reductions at its planning session next month.

Due to budget cuts, the city decided to scale back the operating hours at the Mercer Island Community and Event Center (MICEC) effective Jan. 2.

Voters rejected the city’s Proposition 1, a property tax levy lid lift, in the November general election. If passed, the ballot measure would have raised enough money to maintain city services at 2018 levels.

The Community and Event Center was the first casualty of Prop. 1’s failure, and the city council will discuss options for further reducing services at its planning session on Feb. 1-2.

“We had to implement some of these changes more quickly because of the realities of staffing,” said Ross Freeman, the city’s communications and sustainability manager.

In 2018, the MICEC operated from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.

In 2019-2020, the hours will be from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Thursday, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday-Saturday. The facility will be closed on Sundays.

It’s a reduction of 27 hours per week, said Community and Event Center manager Ryan Daly.

“When we talk operating hours, the way we really look at it is customer service hours,” he said. “These are the hours that we’re in the facility available to take program registrations, have drop-in programs, those kinds of things.”

Sundays were a “slower day” dedicated to drop-in programs, as well as Jazzercise and Indoor Playground.

MICEC will still be available to rent outside of its regular operating hours. Facility rentals may extend to midnight with an extended-hours fee paid in full prior to rental date.

“It’s sort of dependent on the amount of staffing that we need to bring in to accommodate the rental,” Daly said. “A lot of our events and quite a few of our rentals, probably about 50 percent, are from off-Island, so it’s a cost that’s being transferred to the non-resident user and less impactful to our residents.”

The new policy will be phased in over the next few months, as the city is still honoring its current rental agreements and continuing the programs in its current recreation guide, which runs through the month of March.

When the changes are fully implemented, they will save the city $54,000 a year in casual labor, Daly said.

Some staff positions also have been reduced, including a full-time reservations specialist who worked at the MICEC front desk.

Some programs will be impacted — for example, a Kendo class now scheduled for 7-9 p.m. on Fridays, which will soon fall outside of MICEC’s operating hours.

“We’re trying to give rentals as well as the recreation programs as many options as possible,” Daly said. “The last thing we want to see is them go away… [But] we’re just not in the scenario where we can continue to offer that level of service.”

Freeman said the city will start having to inform its customers of the changes, which are likely to affect every department but mostly Parks and Recreation and Youth and Family Services.

The city is using the following statement as a starting point for conversations: “We regret to inform you that the city cannot continue to provide this program/service due to insufficient funding and the reduction of staff. A property tax measure on the November 2018 ballot did not pass, and the city must reduce expenses going forward.”

The city already reached out to drop-ins through its registration system, posted on social media and put a sign on the MICEC door encouraging people to talk to the staff about how the reduced hours will affect them.

“Feedback is welcomed,” Daly said.

Daly said the center is “still very busy,” and that staff morale is still relatively high. The parks department moved some of its employees from their offices at the Luther Burbank administrative building up to the Community Center “to give us additional people in the building who can assist,” he said.

“We’re all doing things outside of our job descriptions and doing the best we can,” he said.

The city is looking for volunteers, but the diversity of programs and volume of rentals at the Community Center require a professional staff, Daly said.

“That [front desk] staff is really striving to meet the needs of the community, but it’s very difficult right now,” he said.

Go online www.mercergov.org for more information.