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February 19, 2014

New agency will oversee rec programs

JOHNSTOWN — Southmont Borough’s withdrawal of support from the Westmont Hilltop Recreation Commission last year has led to the demise of the intergovernmental partnership.

But Westmont Hilltop School District, Westmont, Southmont and Upper Yoder Township are working together to establish a new entity to oversee recreation programs and facilities in the West Hills.

“The municipalities are working very well together,” Upper Yoder Township Solicitor Robert Shahade said. “They have been very harmonious.”

Representatives from Westmont and Southmont boroughs, Upper Yoder and the school district met late last month with their solicitors to plot a new direction for recreation programs, Shahade said. Upper Yoder agreed to take the lead on reorganization and assigned Shahade to draft incorporation documents for a new, independent nonprofit organization.

If approved by all four partners, the new West Hills Recreation Commission Ltd. will be governed by a board of five volunteers. After getting seed money from the current organization and partners, it will rely on user fees, memberships and donations to operate, Shahade said.

“The former commission was a partnership between (the four governmental bodies), funded entirely by the taxpayers,” Shahade said. “Now the municipalities are giving the people the choice. That was the compromise to the dissolution of the commission.”

If the community supports the new commission and its programs, it will thrive, Shahade said. He expects some of the former partners to continue financial support for the non-profit, if the residents embrace the programs.

East Hills Recreation Commission is being used as a model, notes from the January meeting said.

Westmont Borough Council President Don Hall II knows it will be a challenge. Each of the four partners has agreed to provide seed money and the assets of the current commission to give the nonprofit a strong launch.

“That’s the easy part of the decision,” Hall said. “It needs to be run like a business: You are paying for services and you are providing services.

“I hope they are ready to start thinking like a business, as opposed to the situation they are getting out of  now.”

The existing commission operates programs at The Ridge and The Grove, as well as on athletic fields and playgrounds around the district.

Southmont Borough Council President Edward Danyluk stressed that the agreement to form a nonprofit is separate from ownership of The Ridge.

Currently, the same four partners own the Upper Yoder Towship property off Menoher Highway, but Southmont has proposed dissolving that partnership, too, and selling The Ridge. One appraisal has been completed.

Southmont Solicitor Michael A. Carbonara said leaders thought that appraisal may have been high, so two more are being done.

Shahade said the group has not ruled out allowing the new recreation commission to continue operating The Ridge, but that decision remains down the road.

This month, Southmont council voted to hold its share of the current recreation commission’s assets to donate as seed money, if the nonprofit is incorporated by April 23. Southmont is also requiring that the new commission’s board of volunteers include no current commission board members.

That should be no problem, Shahade said.

“I don’t think anybody disputes the fact we need to give the new corporation a fresh start,” he said.

Randy Griffith is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/photogriffer57.

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