Although the City of Baker has suspended its Recreation Department in a cost-cutting battle with the loss of revenues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it still was supported by members of the City Council and almost two dozen residents attending the June 17 meeting in the Fallon County Courthouse.
Councilwoman Tracey Goerndt started the discussion when she told the rest of the council the closure of the recreation department will be a hardship for the community, especially with the families that have children.
“A lot of the working parents count on their kids having access to the after school programs. It helps them,” the councilwoman explained.
She added that with some families, the after school program provides social interaction.
“If, by chance we had to charge more, I am sure they would be glad to pay for that.”
“If we don’t have that, either they (the children) are going to be at home without supervision or they are going to be on the streets. It is very, very important for these kids to have programs to go to, otherwise, when the parents are working, they are at home,” she said, adding that the Baker community does not have enough daycare.
“Some of the kids are older and could stay home, but we want to keep them active. We want to keep them in team sports. We want to do all kinds of activities. That is where they learn a lot of their values – working with other kids,” she said.
Councilwoman Pat Ehret added that she didn’t need to be convinced and that the council was not completely done with it. “We need to see what happens when school starts and go from there. It is a program that is needed. The kids do love it. I worked there for a lot of years and I know that the parents would pay more if they have to,” Ehret explained.
“I don’t want to see it go completely, but I think we can just wait and see what is going to happen in August,” she added.
Angie Rabbitt, the former director of the recreation department, told the council she thought it was vital to the community. “If you save anything, I would hope that it would be the after school program,” she said from her seat in the audience. “It is the most vital program that we offered. There is a lack of daycare in this community. I am willing to work with anyone, even though I am not employed right now. I would love to see that it is there by the time that school started.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the recreation department had to cancel several programs that were money makers, according to Ehret. “She had to cancel the basketball tournament. She’s had to cancel some other things. That is money that was coming into our community and it didn’t come in this year.”
“We are a community and we have to stand together … and let’s do it,” Ehret stressed.
For Goerndt, it is a chance to look at the department again with the budget coming up.
For Luke Holestine, the director of the city’s public works department, it was also a huge issue. “My department would love to help you,” he said. “It is a huge issue and I want it to be resolved because I think this community needs it and deserves it. I think 99.9 percent of everybody here knows it.”
For councilwoman Brittany Hoversland, the budget is something that has to come from the departments and city first before it gets to the council. “Do we have a say in funding? Certainly,” she explained. “It is not like we at the council get to set the budget on our own.”
Rabbitt said that since she has been temporarily been laid off she no longer can submit a budget to the city for the recreation department.
“I just wanted the council to know that it is something important to the community and hopefully we can put it back in the budget,” Goerndt added.
The superintendent of the Baker school told the council that he needs to know soon what will happen with the after school program. “If we wait until August it will be too late,” Aaron Skogen explained. “As soon as school starts, we need the after school programs that very day. If we are just discussing it now, we need to get the ball rolling,” he added.
Rabbitt told the council members that in her budgets, it was broken into programs and that the council would be able to determine what might be needed if they just brought back the after school program only.
According to city clerk/treasurer Kevin Dukart, the department heads will submit their budget request by July 10 and then the budgeting process would move forward. “Then we’ll schedule meetings with the department heads to review those through late July,” he said. “Usually in August (the preliminary budget is done), after we get the taxable evaluation from the state of Montana. When we get that information, we can put in all the revenue estimates and expenditures.”