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AASD official objects to recent CBRC criticism

An Altoona Area School District official said a recently completed comprehensive plan for the Central Blair Recreation & Park Commission fails to fully recognize the value of the district’s contributions — mainly the use of its facilities.

“The way the plan is written, it looks like we’re not holding up our end of the bargain,” said commission delegate Phil Riccio, the district’s athletic director, at a recent meeting. “I felt the school district was misrepresented.”

The commission, a council of governments comprising the city, Logan Township and the school district, is “achieving a lot with a little” but is grievously underfunded, according to the plan, which seems to single out the school district on the funding issue.

In 2020, the city covered 84% of the commission’s budget, Logan 13% and the school district 2.1%, according to the plan.

The district’s contributions are primarily “in-kind,” with facility use a major component, Riccio said.

The district provides its elementary schools for programs, despite their being full, he said.

“We’re giving as much accessibility as possible,” Riccio said.

That is supplemented by cleanup and maintenance costs coupled with grass cutting and police services that also benefit the commission, Riccio said.

Then there’s a direct financial contribution, which two years ago went from $10,500 to $15,000 a year, Riccio said.

“The perception is we’re not stepping up to the plate, when actually through the services we’re giving, we really are going above and beyond,” Riccio said.

Logan Township representative Ed Frontino was also critical of the plan, mainly with the overall funding shortage the planmakers’ say exists.

The commission supports recreation through tax funding of $9.27 per resident, which is “well behind every comparable Pennsylvania city,” according to the plan.

York, the next lowest city, paid $25.95. Nationally, the per capita average for 2019 was $88.53 for similar sized communities, according to the plan.

But comparables picked by the plan consultants were “arbitrary” and thus, unfair, Frontino said. Socioeconomic differences make it hard to “gauge what (this area) should and should not be doing.”

All three members of the commission could be doing more, said commission Chairman Jesse Ickes.

The three entities need to look at issues from their own viewpoints, said commission Executive Director Mike Hofer.

Commission staff has already done a brief overview of the plan and now will begin to look more in-depth at specific recommendations, Hofer said.

There may be tweaks to improve efficiency and other changes to generate more revenue and increase program participation, he said.

There are useful “pieces” in the document, Riccio saId.

“We’re trying to digest it, to figure out what we should do,” Hofer said.

One piece of the plan the commission has accepted is a recommendation to seek 501(c)(3) nonprofit tax status from the Internal Revenue Service.

As currently set up, the commission is non-taxable, but people who donate money to the commission can’t deduct those donations from their taxable incomes.

The change to 501(c)(3) would make such donations tax-deductible to the donors.

Solicitor Dan Stants has obtained the necessary language that would need to be included in the intergovernmental cooperation agreement that created the commission to allow the organization to apply to the IRS for the status change, he said.

Upon IRS approval, and probably the passage of ordinances by the city and township, the organization could seek its new status, according to Stants.

“It would be nice” if that could be accomplished early in 2022, to help with fundraising, Frontino said.

It might be doable, because the 501(c)(3) turnaround for another organization he advised was quick, Stants said.

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

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