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Rec funding in Wyoming is not equitable; not fair

Sep 17, 2013 - By Craig Blumenshine, Staf Writer

Wyoming's model for funding public recreation districts is all about geography and you only need to look in Fremont County to understand that, as far as recreation districts are concerned, there are "haves" and "have nots".

It's all about a map.

Shoshoni is a "have." Riverton is a "have not."

State law allows school boards to assess up to 1 mill in property taxes on the assessed valuation of a school district for recreational facilities and systems of public recreation.

Across our county, school boards annually choose to assess the maximum 1 mill. In Riverton last year, the District 25 Recreation Board received $202,645 or about $78 per student in its district.

Compare that to District 24 (Shoshoni) which received $382,589 last year. If you use students enrolled in a school district as a common comparator, Shoshoni's recreation district receives 15 times more per student than Riverton's district.

It was just a few years ago that Shoshoni's recreation mill generated more than $620,000 (more than $2,000 per student). Gillette's school district assesses less than its full mill and still generates millions of dollars annually for recreation.

Dubois receives about $412 per student, Lander $191 per student, Wind River about $83 per student, and Wyoming Indian less than $10 per student.

It's all about a map.

What if that map used to dole out recreation money was the Fremont County map instead of a map of our eight school districts? And what if the districts were funded at a 1-mill rate on the valuation of the entire county? Local school boards could continue to appoint recreation boards to disburse and account for those funds.

Assuming that school district enrollment again was the common comparator, every recreation board would be funded at a rate of $178 per student in its district using last year's assessment data.

In Riverton, that would mean that the District 25 recreation board would have received $460,473, or a positive difference of $257,829.

By contrast, Shoshoni's recreation board would have netted $57,292, or $325,297 less than it received last year.

It's all about a map.

In Riverton, you may think that funding recreation based on a countywide map would be more fair. If you live in Shoshoni, where there are three full-time recreation employees providing good services to the community, you most certainly would think otherwise.

When Riverton's school board looks at ways to continue to provide hundreds of thousands of general fund dollars annually to subsidize the Riverton Aquatic Center, even though its funding model is drastically different from decades ago, when the RAC was built, it becomes clear that recreation funding is an important issue. It's especially the case since the Legislature has mandated a 16:1 student-teacher ratio for lower grades and District 25 is using money that could be used for teachers to keep the pool open and available to the community.

District 25 receives just $36,000 annually from the District 25 recreation board to support RAC funding.

Riverton citizens have watched a group of kids work their hearts out to raise funds to build a new skate park and, it seems, the Riverton City Council has been appreciative of their efforts. But limited resources needed to assist the group are parsed between other deserving recreation entities.

One thing is certain. The current method of funding recreation districts in Wyoming is not equitable. And, you can argue, it also is not fair. Local leaders should make it a priority to work together with the Legislature to equalize how recreation is funded in Wyoming.

Have a great sports week. Go Big Red!

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