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“Big dreams, tight pockets” is a summer series about the town’s aging facilities and services under the umbrella of Community Services. Use of town parks, recreation programs, tourism, special events and the Community Center is on the rise while budget deficits have deferred expanded offerings and improvements. How does the town balance priorities and residents’ willingness to pay?

The Community Center could be regarded as the “Grand Central of Fountain Hills.”

Thousands have passed through its doors in the nearly 20 years since the building opened in 2001. Last year alone, 4,000 events and programs were booked.

At least 56,000 individuals from outside the community used the facility in 2017-18, not including 1,254 seniors who are members and engage in activities designed for them. The various recreation programs attracted 3,100 participants.

The town budget allocates $2.6 million for Community Services’ expenses to the Community Center, parks, recreation, special events, tourism and senior programs. Parks are opened and maintained 365 days a year. Payroll for 13 full-time staff is included.

But according to Superintendent of Parks, Kevin Snipes, that success comes at a cost.

“The more things get used, the more we spend,” Snipes said. “It’s a continual circle. We’re seeing an uptick on how much all our things are being used. Everything is going up, except our budget.”

“And our staffing,” interjected Community Services Director Rachel Goodwin.

“There are things that are visual, such as our parks, our playgrounds and Community Center,” she continued. “They are easily identified…I can see that playground equipment needs replacing. But there are so many intangible things that we support, like our Home Delivered Meals and our special events.”

The 31,000-square foot building accommodates a variety of meetings, social functions, 10-20 weddings annually and events attended by residents and out-of-town visitors.

Community Center Manager Mike Fenzel said the highly visible facility is showing its age because of extensive usage. Insufficient funding in 2017 delayed carpet and tile replacement, interior and exterior painting and upgraded kitchen equipment.

As tables, chairs and other furnishings show signs of “wear and tear,” replacements for “first impression” items under $10,000 are purchased in a patchwork process through the department’s general fund allocation, said Goodwin.

Improvements to the sound system and audio-visual technology are overdue and could cost anywhere from $80,000 to $150,000 or more, depending on technology advancements. Because of the “big ticket” cost, capital project funding would be necessary, said Goodwin.

Fenzel’s top priority for the Community Center is increased staffing beyond the current two full-time employees, including Fenzel, and one in Senior Services. Part-time employees assigned to Community Center and Senior Services equate to about nine full-timers. Volunteers fill in gaps.

The town is reviewing the fee structure for Community Center use. When Fenzel came on board five years ago, the standard hourly rate for residents was $15. The rate has increased by 10 percent to the current $17.

Both Goodwin and Fenzel said the fact that the Community Center operates as well as it does is a testament to the staff.

“We will do what we can when we can,” Goodwin said.

Next week: Splash Pad upkeep.