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Rate hike may loom for center
Community Center wont be profitable
Since its opening in 2009, the Ceres Community Center has amassed an operational deficiency of about $1 million, which has been burdened on the General Fund. City officials never expect the center to operate at a profit but they do believe that rate increases may reduce the strain on the city budget. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/ Courier file photo

Since it opened in 2009, the Ceres Community Center has been a financial drain on the city's General Fund. The city knew that, based on other cities' experiences with similar centers, going in. Last week members of the Ceres City Council and city staff met to talk about ways the operation could be less of a drain on city coffers.
The council instructed city staff to look at possible rental rate hikes.

A 2008 study projected that the city would be funding Community Center operations to the tune of $72,000 per year. However, City Manager Toby Wells said the city has spent a grand total of about $1 million to operate the center over eight years, or about $125,000 annually.

Wells explained that the dilemma in determining the center's actual costs depends on accounting methods that comingle some recreation programs that may not be Community Center costs. He said the city has a more accurate accounting for the actual janitorial costs whereby before the city estimated those costs based on building square foot.

City Recreation Manager Traci Farris provided a four-year snapshot of revenues from the use of the center's three large rooms. Over the last four years, the Large Assembly Room saw 129 pay rentals and 37 internal rentals, or city or courtesy rentals. The Small Assembly Room saw 75 pay rentals and 60 internal uses while the Medium Assembly Room saw 45 paid rentals and 128 internal uses. Farris said rental revenue for the 2013-14 fiscal year was $91,792 and for 2014-15 was $124,680.

Farris said the city looked at similar facilities in three communities to compare rental structures with competing venues like the Modesto Centre Plaza. The city looked at rates being charged at the Joseph Nelson Community Center in Suisan and the Bianchi Community Center in Oakdale.

"Our fee structure is significantly lower than the area's competitors that we feel would draw our customer base," she told the council.

Rates have not been raised since the center opened.

"I really feel with a small rate increase we can still remain competitive in this area," said Farris.

She also wants to simplify rates and explaining things by giving renters of the Large Assembly Room use of the kitchen, which is now optional. Farris also advocates rounding up numbers, something endorsed by Mayor Chris Vierra.

"If I were to come and rent it now I could have the option of not taking the kitchen?" asked Mayor Vierra. "In my opinion you rent the whole facility. If you don't want to use the kitchen, you don't use the kitchen but you're still paying for it."

Wells said the city might also evaluate rates at the city-owned Ceres American Legion Memorial Building, which is considered the lower cost option for those who cannot afford the Ceres Community Center. Revenues from the Legion Hall are about $29,000 annually with expenses running $43,000 annually.

Other competitors are the Whitmore Mansion, Tuolumne River Lodge and River Oaks Golf Course & Event Center.

"There's definitely some competition for space here in town," said Wells. "There's no lack of meeting space in our general area."

Wells told the council that "the concept that this would be a self-sustaining facility was never anticipated. This facility was built as a community amenity with the idea that this is something for our residents to enjoy and we will work diligently to try to offset those costs the best we can."

Ceres resident Wes Stamper said raising rates of the Community Center would create a "spillover back over to the Legion Hall."

Mayor Vierra said the city should look at rates at both facilities but may ultimately ask "do we have one too many facilities for rental and maybe we divest ourselves of one and focus on the other one instead of having just two and we're just having to rob Peter to pay Paul."

Vice Mayor Mike Kline wondered if the city could offer discounts for those people who may wish to rent a room that hasn't been books days in advance. He said some businesses look for meeting places other than meeting rooms at local hotels. Wells said the large assembly room is booked nearly every weekend but "the real flexibility really is in the classrooms and meeting rooms."

The classrooms are rentable at a rate of $36 per hour. The Large Assembly Room costs $1,450 per day at the commercial non-Ceres resident rate while the Small Assembly Room costs $900.

Councilman Bret Durossette mentioned possibly seeing if community groups could be enticed to help support the center with sponsorships, or hold a fundraiser.

"If done properly, I think you could make $50,000 to $100,000," said Durossette.