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More funding needed for CBRC

Local tax money for center lags behind similarly sized cities in state and nationally

The Central Blair Recreation & Park Commission is seriously understaffed and underfunded by the three local governments that it represents — the city, Logan Township and the Altoona Area School District, according to the organization’s nearly finished comprehensive plan.

“(The CBRC’s staff) is very resourceful and does an outstanding job raising non-tax supported revenue,” states the plan, written by Sue Landes and Ann Yost of Recreation and Parks Solutions of Lebanon and YSM Landscape Architects of York, who cooperated to present the plan at a public meeting Tuesday. But the tax funding of $9.27 per resident provided last year was “well behind every comparable Pennsylvania city” — with $25.95 the next closest city — and not even in the same league as $88.53 provided to similar sized communities nationally, according to the consultants.

“The parks need major improvements, as well as better maintenance,” the consultants wrote. “(The needed) system overhaul must primarily be supported with city, township and school district tax dollars, supplemented by other public and private funding sources.”

The slender tax support provided to the commission has forced staff to rely on an unusually high percentage of programs that require participation fees and, as a corollary, an ongoing effort to raise “scholarship” money to offset those fees for people who can’t afford them, according to the consultants.

Fee-based programs constitute 97.8% of all programs, compared to the national median of 83%, the consultants wrote.

“Balancing financial needs with the social equity mission is an incredibly challenging issue,” the consultants wrote. “Time consuming for the staff, particularly the executive director.”

The plan recommends incremental increases in tax support over a decade to bring the public funding to $20 per resident, Landes said.

That support should be equal per-capita between the two municipalities, she said.

Logan’s support is currently lower than Altoona’s, the consultants said.

The commission also should seek help through partnerships with entities like Blair County and UPMC, according to the consultants.

And it should pursue a revision of the intergovernmental agreement among the three bodies so that the organization can become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which would make fundraising easier, according to the consultants.

The organization could still be a public agency after that change, Landes said.

The organization can also work with churches and neighborhoods to attract volunteers, the consultants said.

“It doesn’t have to be the way it always was,” Landes said.

With the help of the additional funding and manpower that such changes could bring about, the commission ought to push for development of trails in its parks and on further development of a network of trails in the region that would include designated routes through the city — connecting with existing trails or proposed ones like the First Frontier Trail that Antis Township is working on, according to the consultants.

“(It’s) going to be tricky,” especially finding routes in a community that is already built up, Yost said. “But it’s probably the No. 1 thing people want,” she said, citing information from the state as a whole and from research the consultants did locally in developing the plan.

The commission also ought to expand its current “excellent” programming, which focuses on youth sports, to include more activities for different age groups and that appeal to “different interests,” according to the consultants.

It also ought to create exercise areas in parks and separation in playgrounds between equipment that appeals to different age groups, the consultants said.

The commission also should encourage the improvement of sidewalks to make trips to the parks easier for residents; should make the parks themselves more accessible; should create places in the parks for parents to sit comfortably in the shade while their kids are playing; should provide more parking spaces at the parks and should turn some areas into meadows or pollinator gardens to save mowing costs, according to the consultants.

The commission also should increase its marketing capacity to promote its agenda, the consultants said.

The consultants did not recommend increasing the number of parks, even though the Altoona area has a “deficit” in park acreage for its population size, compared to other cities.

“We’re trying to be realistic,” Yost said.

The commission also ought to get busy putting the plan’s recommendations into practice, as much as possible, according to the consultants.

“I know your resources are limited,” Landes said. “Break it up into what your board feels it can handle and what the staff feels it can handle.”

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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