Le Sueur Community Center

The Le Sueur Community Center will be closed for the rest of the year if no stimulus funds are available to the facility. The city council made the decision after finding that they could not open the Community Center without a significant budget defecit. (Carson Hughes/Le Sueur County News)

Le Sueur residents may have to kiss their 2020 plans of swimming, skating and working out at the Community Center goodbye.

On May 25, the Le Sueur City Council voted to close the Community Center for the rest of the year. The decision came after the Personnel and Budget Committee reviewed seven different plans for the center and found that opening it would not be possible without a deficit of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Le Sueur Community Center is in a dire financial position. Having been closed since March 16, the facility has gone two and a half months without revenue. As of May 1, the Community Center had $477,500 remaining out of the $503,000 allocated to the facility in the 2020 budget, but those funds are likely to evaporate quickly with no income source.

To have the center open and fully operational, it would cost more than $117,000 a month and opening up just the fitness center, while keeping the pool and ice rink closed, would still cost $95,000 a month. The cheapest option available to the city would be to keep it closed, which would cost $72,000 a month.

Following that cheapest option is a necessity for the city of Le Sueur. The budget for the Community Center is required to be balanced and if operational expenses are over budget, the expense would need to be subsidized through the city’s general fund. The city estimated that if the center opened up just the fitness center, while following CDC guidelines, the center would run a deficit of $262,000. The scenario left the council with only one choice: to close the Community Center through the rest of the year.

“It’s something we don’t want to do, but our hands are tied,” said City Administrator Jasper Kruggel. “We can’t open the facility. We have no revenue generation right now.”

Stimulus needed

But Kruggel described these projections as “a worst case scenario.” The city has directed the closure of the center under the assumption that the facility will not receive any stimulus from the state of Minnesota or the federal government through bills like the CARES Act.

Kruggel said that the city is still holding out hope that the Community Center could benefit from a potential stimulus disbursement from the Minnesota Legislature’s June special legislative session. If the Community Center were to receive stimulus dollars, Kruggel said that the city would reassess opening the facility.

“If we do receive outside funding, we’ll be back at the drawing board and doing another analysis on how we can open things up and the different things we’re going to have to do to ensure the safety of our patrons,” said Kruggel.

The city will also be working with major users of the Community Center — the Le Sueur-Henderson School District and the Bulldogs Hockey Association — with the goal of opening the ice arena if finances allow.

To determine how the Community Center would operate while closed, the City Council looked at seven different scenarios. Of those scenarios, only two were expected to leave the Community Center budget with a surplus.

In Scenario 4, all part-time staff at the center would remain furloughed and the three full-time staff would have their hours cut to one-third of their normal hours. Under this plan, the Community Center would have nearly $2,000 left over at the end of the year. In Scenario 6, all staff would be furloughed on July 1, leaving the Community Center with $17,000 in its budget.

However, the city described these scenarios as infeasible. While the Community Center would be closed, there is still essential work that would need to be done including general maintenance, the building of a new gym wall and the implementation of new software.

“Staff is still working on the Community Center,” said Councilor John Favolise.“They’re still doing things. When it’s finally open, we should be in a really good position. We’ll have new software all being put together far more efficiently, more comprehensively than anything we’ve ever had and staff is working on that. There’s the new wall area upstairs in the fitness gym with cubbies in it that’s being built. There’s freshening up and everything else, plus they have to make sure that they are meeting their own [reopening] plan before they can open.”

Looking ahead

Instead of these plans, the Personnel and Budget Committee recommended that the City Council approve Scenario 7. This plan would furlough all employees except for the manager, who would work 16 hours a week. The Community Center would be left with a deficit of $443 at the end of the year, but the city hoped that efficiencies would allow the Community Center to break even.

Kruggel explained that the committee favored Scenario 7 because preparing a budget for 2021 was a major priority for the Community Center. The budgeting process has been complicated by COVID-19, which has left the city uncertain about how many people will use the Community Center once it opens up again. Since the manager is the staff member most familiar with the budgeting process, Kruggel advocated for giving that person more hours.

Six of the seven members of the council supported Scenario 7, but Councilor Marvin Sullivan voted no on the measure, favoring Scenario 4. Sullivan believed that 4 was preferable because it would allow the Community Center to be staffed throughout the week and it would ensure that all full-time employees could continue working throughout the year.

“The big downfall I see with scenario 7 is our Community Center does not operate without all those staff,” said Sullivan. “I understand that we’re not operating for the rest of the year under any of these scenarios, but come Jan. 1 next year, if that’s the plan we’re going to open back up, we’ve essentially taken this job away from those other two parties and they haven’t been hands on with anything involved in the Community Center, so there’s going to be a period of time where it’s new to them again.”

The councilors that did vote in favor of Scenario 7 did so with reluctance, expressing their hope that the Community Center would be allowed to open this year with outside funding.

“If any of our assumptions change, particularly stimulus funding for the hardships caused by COVID-19 pandemic, this would give staff an opportunity to do the actions they need to do based on what we have in front of us to work with,” said Mayor Gregory Hagg. “This is something that could be changing daily, weekly — we don’t know. It’s just like every day with this COVID-19, it seems like something is changing on it.”

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