SEASIDE - The Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District's solid financial position suggests residents recognize the importance of its offerings, according to district leaders.

While some local governments and taxing entities have struggled to make ends meet financially, the recreation district is not facing dramatic cuts in the 2002-03 budget.

"It's a privilege to be part of this district - we're invested in quality-of-life issues," said Mary Blake, general manager of the district. "We're in a good position."

The district's budget committee has unanimously recommended approval of the proposed budget for when the board of directors meet June 19. The total general fund in the proposed budget is $1.7 million, approximately 2.2 percent higher than the current year.

Money from property taxes represents approximately 60 percent of the district's budget. User fees, grants, sponsorships, leases, contracts, investment returns and gifts make up the rest.

Revenues are expected to grow 10 percent, in part as a result of increased property development within the taxing district, more income from fees and greater use of the pool.

Reorganization accounts for the biggest changes in the budget. The proposed administration budget shows a 22.2 percent increase, to $397,308.

As part of the shifts, Mike Marshall, previously the pool manager, is diving into a new human resources position in administration. The job will involve hiring, orientation, training, safety requirements, coaching, scheduling, evaluation, team projects and improvement plans.

The district has six full-time employees and 40 to 50 part-time or seasonal employees in the course of a year.

Marshall has been with the district more than 22 years and is ideal for the position, Blake said. "He has played the game and now is coaching the game."

Zoe Manhire, the special events coordinator, has been assigned as program developer and will help evaluate the effectiveness of programs.

Such personnel shifts are seen as a way to enhance the district for patrons as well as the staff, Blake said. An effective, motivated staff is part of customer service.

Staff teamwork, training and technological changes demand constant upkeep in today's park and recreation field, she added. Computer and software improvements also figure into the budget.

The district expanded and improved Sunset Pool last year using a $783,000 flexible municipal lease program, and also proceeded with a $178,000 warm water therapy pool. A fund-raising calendar offset costs of the latter, and the 2002-03 budget includes printing costs for a sequel calendar.

The district had not raised its pool-use fees for approximately nine years. The board of directors wanted to keep the facility accessible and affordable to the public, so drop-in fee increases in January averaged only $1; an adult who lives in the district pays $3, for example.

Patronage also appear to be increasing, Blake said. The number of participants in the arthritis exercise class has risen from an average of 15 to nearly 25 in recent months, for example.

But the district is more than a pool. A free drop-in center for children after school, holiday camps, open gym, seasonal arts and crafts classes and a covered skate park are among other offerings.

A faulty exterior sealant product installed at the city-owned building for the district's youth center has led to dry-rot problems which the city is trying to resolve. Meanwhile, the district has been developing its youth programs nearby, at the Bob Chisholm Community Center and at the Boy Scout Hut.

The district is often drawn into social issues, Blake added. It participates in the Clatsop County Peer Jury program for first-time juvenile offenders and helps to organize events during spring break to dissipate crowds, for example.

"We cross into many collaborative efforts to improve quality of life in this community," she said. "It's a terribly exciting time."

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