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Officials exchange words at city Park Board meeting

The new president of the Grand Forks Park Board and the Park District's executive director had a long and heated exchange during Tuesday's regular meeting over how the district's top staffer gives fiscal information to the board.

The new president of the Grand Forks Park Board and the Park District's executive director had a long and heated exchange during Tuesday's regular meeting over how the district's top staffer gives fiscal information to the board.

Executive Director John Staley gave the board a proposed "capital and betterment plan," or "C and B," a laundry list of possible short- and long-term expansions and new projects for the district, along with proposed budget figures for C and B.

Staley separately provided information Tuesday to the board on how a large reserve fund in C and B could win better interest rates from local banks for long-term capital spending by the district.

Separate proposal

Longtime commissioner and new president Bill Hutchison told Staley he

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wasn't happy that Staley's separate proposal to set aside $250,000 or more as a reserve in the capital and betterment budget was not included in Staley's budget report for C and B for this year and next.

Hutchison said he wasn't against the idea of a reserve set-aside, but wondered why the reserve figure wasn't included in a proposed 2008 budget for C and B for $680,000. With the proposed reserve included, the figure should be about $930,000, Hutchison and Commissioner Jay Panzer said.

Staley was, in effect, pre-empting what should be a board action, said Hutchison, who said he had tried for months to get such information from Staley.

"I'm disappointed it's not in there," Hutchison said. "We have never discussed setting aside $250,000 or $260,000 for the budget."

"Well, discuss it," Staley replied, rather sharply, repeating that the board could do anything it wanted about any proposal by him. Staley cited several instances in recent months when he had mentioned the idea of such a reserve to the board.

"Anything we provide you, you can change," Staley said, sounding as exasperated as Hutchison. "I don't know how else to lead it."

Panzer joined Hutchison's point. "It should be in here as a line item," he said.

"Exactly," Hutchison said.

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The proposed reserve figure should be included regularly in the proposed budget reports Staley provides to the board, said Hutchison, who is an accountant for the Grand Forks Public School District.

'Misleading'

"To me, it's been misleading, the way it's done," he said, adding that the board couldn't make good decisions on how to spend the C and B money if it wasn't clear how much there was.

Staley, explaining that the board could decide to spend the money however it pleased, said he would do whatever the board wanted in changing the formats of his financial reports. "I'll do what you ask."

Hutchison said while he supports the need for such reserve funds, he also wonders if immediate needs, such as renovating the restrooms at Apollo Park, are more important than setting aside such a large reserve right now.

The back-and-forth on the issue went on for about 15 minutes and simmered a little after that.

Staley said the district's main summer programs are going perhaps better than expected, especially the Lincoln Golf Course, which has made $36,000 so far this summer, compared with $21,400 at the same time a year ago. Membership revenue at Kings Walk Golf Course is down 3 percent so far, but expenses have been kept lower, and the restaurant there is doing great business, Staley said. Center Court Fitness Center also is showing more revenue over last year, he said.

New board member Brian Westlund, chosen this spring by the other four to fill in the two years left of Julie Jeske's four-year term, missed his first meeting because of a family gathering. Westlund previously served eight years on the board and said he would not run again in 2010.

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The board voted 4 to 0 to have Suite 49 again sponsor Spring Fest for UND students for the fourth year. The restaurant and bar has done a good job running the event, reducing the problems seen in the end-of-year party held in University Park, board members said. No one else expressed interest in sponsoring the event, Panzer said.

City Administrator Rick Duquette gave the board a brief update on plans to draw up a joint powers agreement between the city and the Park District to operate Riverside Pool. The results of last month's election, showing almost 70 percent of the city's voters wanted the pool re-opened, was a big deal, board members said, and warranted the district spending resources to make sure the pool becomes a success.

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send e-mail to slee@gfherald.com

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