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Computer lab will stay put
The City Council is unwilling to pull the plug on the computer lab at the Ceres Community Center as a way to shore up a budget deficit.

The council is staring at a "significant deficit" in the budget being drafted for the 2012-13 budget and looking at ways to make deeper spending cuts. However, councilmen said closing the 13-station computer lab is not worth the potential savings of $28,000. The council made the determination at a Study Session held last month.

The council was cool to the idea, mostly because of the heavy use enjoyed by residents but because the savings was not immediate. Most of the savings would have stemmed from removing equipment from a replacement schedule and selling off the equipment and furniture.

"This strategy will also eliminate seemingly valuable resources from our community," noted a staff report written to the council by Ceres Police Lt. Rick Collins, who is supervisor of the center.

Although an asset to the Ceres community, the 25,623-square-foot Community Center has realized its expected drain on the city's general fund. The center runs at a $100,000 deficit, with $35,000 of that in information technology support costs for the computer lab operated at the center.

The lab, which is open 30 hours each week, offers 13 computers to residents free of charge. The city reported 7,010 users, or 300 people per month, on computers between July 2010 and March 14, 2012. The only money generated by the computers were in the form of fees for those taking special computer education classes.

The council has the option of imposing fees on computer users to help pay for the program. A survey of 54 lab users showed that 38 were willing to pay $2.50 per hour with 10 saying they wouldn't. Implementing a fee could net the city an estimated $40,000 per year.

The computer lab is available 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Fridays. Collins said he has seen people lined up before the lab opens to get first crack at a computer session.

Collins said the Community Center is still heavily used for private party rentals with few weekends left available for booking this year.

"We're always looking for ideas to generate revenues," said Collins. "If we could attract more businesses to use our facility that would help out."

Save Mart's corporation is a frequent user of the large assembly room.

From the outset of the center's opening on June 16, 2009, city officials expected the center to be a drain on the city's general fund to the tune of $128,261 the first year, $110,516 the second year and $100,000 the third year. To cover those short-term deficits, the city crafted a plan to free up $374,000 in Ceres Redevelopment Agency funds by "selling" the historic Daniel Whitmore home to the CRA.

The state has since abolished redevelopment agencies in California.