City Commission allocates $344,000 for West River Community Center

The WRCC in Dickinson will receive over $344,000 to cover operating expenses after the center experienced a deficit caused by a pandemic-related decrease in memberships and rising inflation.

City Commission Meeting
City Commission members listen to monthly reports, and project proposals, and allocate funds to West River Community Center to aid in operating expenses at a commission meeting on Tuesday, February 23.
Allison Engstrom / The Dickinson Press

DICKINSON - Dickinson's West River Community Center received a $344,819 grant to cover pandemic-related membership losses and high inflation. The grant was approved at Tuesday's city commission meeting, which also covered reports from the Dickinson Fire and Police Departments and debated improvements to the Legacy Square parking lot, leading to tensions over unfinished portions due to the owner being uncontactable.

In a unanimous 5-0 vote, the disbursement of funds for the Community Center, which were stated to be appropriated for operating expenses at the facility, will alleviate and offset a current deficit of $344,819. Ben Rae, executive director of the WRCC, said the deficit was a result of decreased membership during the pandemic coupled with rising inflation.

Deputy City Administrator, Linda Carlson, recommended funding the money through the balance of the half-percent sales tax to maintain the community center.

“The pandemic has made things difficult on the operational side because we took quite a hit on memberships during that time period, and while we continue to increase, it hasn't gone back to the level it was pre-pandemic,” Rae said.

Rae stated that although the pandemic has had a negative impact on revenue, membership sales have increased by 3% this February as compared to the same period last year.


According to Rae, since the community center is now two decades old, various areas will require updates in the future. He cited as examples the pool, which he said needs maintenance this year, but also other projects distinct from traditional operational funding.

Rae attributed the center's deficit to both decreased memberships and a 20% increase in utilities due to record-high inflation. He noted that public community centers like West River often struggle to balance their budgets and that the center has traditionally done well in that regard, although he cautioned that this may not always be the case.

“...though the community center here has traditionally done an amazing job of making that happen so sometimes that has set a little bit of unrealistic expectations and while we will work to close that gap I can't commit that that will be the case all the time,” Rae said to the council.

Repairs, maintenance, expansion and updates are among the few areas that Mayor Scott Decker expects to have a conversation on in regard to the center and funds later down the road.

“As the community grows the center is going to have to grow too,” Mayor Decker said.


Police Chief Joe Cianni presents the Dickinson Police Department monthly report to commission members.<br/>
Allison Engstrom / The Dickinson Press

After approving the funding request for the West River Community Center, the city commission turned its attention to the monthly reports for January from the Dickinson Police and Fire Departments.

The Dickinson Fire Department reported a 37% increase in calls for service last month, responding to a total of 173 calls. Of these calls, 73% were emergency medical calls, with the remaining calls comprising false alarms, hazardous conditions and fire calls.

The department's response times ranged from 5 minutes and 56 seconds to 6 minutes and 20 seconds between the two stations, with Fire Chief Jeremy Presnell attributing delays to weather, road conditions and distance.


Despite the busy call volume, the department completed just under 22,000 hours of training last month, covering a range of categories from HAZMAT to EMS and officer training, according to Presnell.

In the monthly report from the Dickinson Police Department, the chief announced a 10% increase in calls for service with a total of 2,213 calls received last month. Despite the uptick, Chief Joe Cianni notes that accidents are going down while traffic numbers are increasing, thanks to the department's enforcement efforts and the recent addition of new recruits and staffing.

In terms of arrests, alcohol-related incidents topped the list, followed by drug-related incidents, violent crimes and thefts. The department also responded to 121 behavioral health calls, with 90 of them being welfare checks.

On the training front, DPD completed a total of 252 hours, which included master taser recertification and 911 leadership.

After updating the council on the latest calls for service and training at the Dickinson Police Department, attention turned to the department's community relations efforts.

The department focused on community relations by providing reasonable suspicion training to resident advisors at DSU, closing out the DHS law enforcement path class, delivering lectures to 200 eighth graders on constitutional rights, and initiating DARE classes for all fifth-grade students.


Following the reports, attention turned to a heated discussion regarding proposed improvements to the Legacy Square parking lot, city staff parking and more.

Discussion centered on concrete removal, paving, street light installation and landscaping, which will cost an estimated $384,000 according to City Engineer Josh Skluzacek, raised concerns among the commission about a project completion deadline and the city's inability to contact the owner of the southern portion of the lot needed for the parking.


The issue is one that has persisted for years, according to Mayor Decker.

“I have sent multiple emails, certified letters and we are just not getting a response from the entity that owns that particular parcel, unfortunately,” City Attorney Christina Wenko explained.

“It's hard for me to fathom that we are going to spend $400,000 plus on this thing and we're not going to get a whole new parking lot,” Commissioner Jason Fridrich said.

Commissioner John Odermann agreed, noting his concerns that the community would blame the city for an incomplete job.

Decker countered his point, highlighting the city’s responsibility with taxpayer funds and his hesitation to drive up the costs any further. He suggested eliminating landscaping to help cut costs and to maintain enough parking spaces, though both Fridrich and Odermann argued that it would be hypocritical for the city to not follow their own requirements.

“I think we have to set an example as the city that if we are going to have that in our code then we should follow our city code,” Odermann argued.

“It’s beyond me what we’re spending $400,000 on,” Mayor Decker responded.

Ultimately the commission tabled the discussion to give the landowner two more weeks to respond.


Allison is a news reporter from Phoenix, Arizona where she earned a degree in journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. After college, she worked as a middle school writing teacher in the valley. She has made her way around the U.S. driving from Arizona to Minnesota and eventually finding herself here in Dickinson. She has a passion for storytelling and enjoys covering community news.
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