Cutting Costs at Doko

Blythewood – Town Council and the Mayor’s Park Committee met separately last week to look at ways to cut operating and maintenance costs for the park and Manor. For its part, Council has already raised rental fees for the Manor and is looking to initiate a minimum-use fee of about $35 per hour to cover overhead expenses like heat, air conditioning, electricity, an attendant and other costs to the Town. Any group using table cloths, napkins and other equipment would pay standard charges, and ‘free’ use of the facility would be very limited and would be charged the minimum-use hourly fee.

Councilman Tom Utroska said he has been working closely with the new Director of the Manor, Booth Chilcutt, and that they agree the Town must charge for minimum use of the facility.

“We have costs associated with use,” Utroska said. “It’s not fair that the Town is covering the overhead costs for some groups to use it at no charge.”

According to a list of expenses and revenues provided by former Director Martha Jones last fall, the Town was not only allowing the Richland 2 School District and others to use the Manor for free, but was also sometimes laundering tablecloths and napkins for the groups without recouping the costs. At a recent Town Council meeting, Councilman Bob Massa questioned why Bravo Blythewood was allowed to use the Manor free of charge for 24 play rehearsals when the play was being performed at Westwood High School.

While the District sometimes paid token fees, it has used the Manor free more than other groups and he suggested that, in the future, the District be limited to free use only when that use involves students in certain charitable or educational endeavors and that they pay the minimum-use rate to cover overhead expenses plus the cost of any equipment used. He suggested all other administrative uses by the District, whether during the day or in the evening be paid uses. In all fairness to the District, though, a town official quoted a District official as saying, “We have other places to meet, and we were actually surprised that you’re not charging us to use the Manor.”

“The minimum-use fee will only cover our basic costs, not wear and tear,” Utroska told Council.

Mayor J. Michael Ross said he has asked all Town boards, committees and commissions to begin meeting in the Town Hall planning room instead of the Manor unless they need to accommodate a large audience.

Utroska said the Town is still operating the Manor at a loss and that it has to contribute, on average, about $2,000 per month right now to cover the Manor’s monthly expenses. Massa suggested that Council pass a resolution at the upcoming budget meeting to allocate funds from the Town’s Hospitality tax to fund a reserve.

Jim McLean, chairman of the Mayor’s Park Committee, said the Committee is also considering ways to economize in the park, primarily through energy savings by cutting off every other street light in the park and turning off all walking trail lights after midnight.

“Fairfield Electric has indicated that this is a possibility with a modest investment of about $25 per light to add a cell at the top of the light poles,” McLean said.

The Park Committee’s primary goal, however, is not to find ways to economize in the park, but to prioritize features to be built. While there is no more money in the park’s coffers according to Council, the Park Committee is still hoping to find economical ways to add features that were originally planned.

“We’re looking for better pricing on all the remaining park features,” McLean said. “Plus we’re looking to reduce the size and scope of some features to make them less costly and more attractive to individuals who might want to donate funds to build them.”

Both the Park Committee and Town Council will meet separately again on Tuesday, April 15 at the Town Hall. The Park Committee will meet at 6 p.m. and Council’s meeting is set for 9 a.m. until noon or so. The public is invited to attend both meetings. Call 754-0501 for more information.

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