Change part of City Rec Department shake-up after center shows deficit

Morgan Hill – After a considerable deficit was discovered in the Morgan Hill Aquatics Center budget, the Center has undergone a change in management.

Operation of the Aquatics Center was assumed by acting supervisor Dick Busse last week after Aaron Himelson, the center’s original supervisor since it opened in May 2004, resigned on May 26.

Himelson’s departure was part of a City Recreation Department shake-up that included Melissa Dile replacing Julie Spier as acting Recreation and Community Services Manager. Spier has been reassigned to oversee recreation-related capital projects as a special assistant to City Manager Ed Tewes, Dile said.

The City Council discovered a $274,000 deficit in the Aquatics Center budget in April, after making the decision to keep the center open during the slow winter months following a staff recommendation for year-round operation.

Dile said a slower than projected spring season was probably also to blame for the deficit. The council had made it clear that the center is expected to break even.

Original budget projections called for the Aquatics Center to spend about $1.179 million and bring in about $1.181 million, a profit of about $2,000.

But, according to City Finance Director Jack Dilles, the center actually spent about $1.39 million and brought in only $1.11 million in revenue. Dilles said the actual budget will not be available until after the fiscal year ends on July 1.

Councilman Larry Carr said the council will probably have to be a little “stricter” in closing down the Aquatics Center in the off-season in order to meet budget projections.

“One of the mistakes we made is we wanted (the center) to be user-friendly and we kept it open longer than maybe we should have,” Carr said. “We didn’t have the numbers of people we were hoping for. It was more of a disappointment than a surprise.”

Busse, 65, came out of retirement to take over the Aquatics Center job.

He worked for the City of San Jose Recreation Department in a variety of capacities for 30 years, most recently as manager of a pair of community centers. He said he plans to make the Aquatics Center job a short-term assignment.

“I’m probably good until September,” Busse said. “The center is going to be running a deficit this fiscal year, a bigger deficit than was planned from what I understand. They want to see if there are ways we can change things to make them work better.”

A Recreation Supervisor’s salary range is from $61,560 to $76,860 per year. City officials said they didn’t know exactly what Himelson or Busse earned last year when the Times called Monday.

The Aquatics Center is still undergoing a $600,000 capital improvement project, which includes additional crowd control measures, a second water slide and more parking.

Dile said she was asked to take over the department’s top job after the council’s review. She has been with the city for 14 years, most recently serving as a special assistant to the City Manager.

“The City Manager and the council are looking at the Recreation Department and its facilities closely, and evaluating how best to deliver those services,” she said. “Our programs are growing and changing, and we are adding facilities. I’m really looking forward to the challenge.”

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