It'll cost more, but Fleischmann Park after-school program will continue next year

School-age children will reign over Fleischmann Park again next school year.

Naples City Council on Wednesday decided to keep a popular after-school program for the 2009-10 school year.

“What better use of government than to nurture our youth?” asked Councilwoman Penny Taylor. “I don’t know if its the responsibility, but it’s highly respected. Why would you eliminate a program like that?”

The 4-3 decision means that parents can continue to send their children to the park for programs, but may have to pay significantly more for the service.

Councilwoman Dee Sulick and Councilmen John Sorey and Bill Willkomm cast the dissenting votes. The three council members cited a growing budget deficit and similar program at Lake Park Elementary School as reasons for voting against the program.

“With every line item on our budget there is a constituency,” Sulick said. “I don’t see the city being in the business of after-school programs.”

The program costs the city about $50,000 a year to run, and council earlier this year asked city officials to see whether parents would be interested paying higher fees to keep the program revenue neutral.

The program currently costs $180 a month, or $45 a week, for the first child, and $162 a month per each additional child.

For the program to become revenue neutral next year, the city would need to increase the cost by more than $70. That rate, though, assumes the same amount of children attend next year as did this year, said community services director Dave Lykins.

The proposed rates would increase the fees to $252 a month, or $62.50 a week, for the first child, and $227 a week for each additional child.

Kelsey Ward said Wednesday she’d be willing to do whatever it takes to ensure her 8-year-old son Jonathan could continue at Fleischmann Park.

“The difference between the Fleischmann Park program (and the Lake Park program) is the difference between whether you would put your teenager in a Yugo or a Honda,” Ward said to council.

Ward said the program worked for her son because it allowed him to work on homework and gave him time to play with friends. The Fleischmann Park program, she said, also gives him a chance to get out of school, rather than being in the same place all day.

Ward said she was elated council opted to keep the program, but said she understood the city is “caught between a rock and a hard place” when deciding what to cut.

Lykins told council the program wasn’t on the chopping block because it was unpopular, but because his staff had been told to look at programs that are duplicated.

While the program will be funded for the upcoming fiscal year, Mayor Bill Barnett said Thursday council will reevaluate the program in November.

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