This week’s city commission meeting on Tuesday night had a few surprises for us Island City political junkies.

Leisure Services was front and center with the appointments of new members to the Recreation Advisory Board and with discussion on the possible acquisition of the Kiwanis Club property as a park facility. 

The large number of applicants seeking appointment to the Recreation Advisory Board demonstrates residents’ interest to serve our city and community.  The Island City is very fortunate to have such vibrant interest amongst our citizenry who look to volunteer, serve on city boards, and seek to be active members in our community.   

Bravo to all who continually step up and look to serve, not just this week for the Recreation Advisory Board, but for all boards and committees as well as neighborhood associations and non-profits throughout our city.  

In the past, long serving board members were pretty much a sure bet on reappointment when their terms were up. Not the case these days, as commissioners bypassed long serving members seeking re-appointment with some bright new energetic faces. This influx of new members to our advisory boards is a good thing for our city.  

Any organization must adapt to change, bring in new membership and be flexible if they are to continue with their mission and their existence.  Perhaps the few remaining members of our local chapter of Kiwanis should take a lesson from our city commission.  

Unfortunately, internal division caused many active members to leave in recent years, leaving behind those unwilling to broaden membership, embrace the diversity of the surrounding community, and to accept new ideas and new leadership. Now faced with dire circumstances, the organization is seeking to play “Let’s Make A Deal” with our city.  

In a recent letter to our mayor, the Kiwanians laid forth a plan that would turn over the parcel of land known as the Kiwanis Club to the city, but with stipulations that would allow them continued use of the club for their meetings, keep possession of one of the outbuildings which I believe is where the bar is located, and get paid a sum of $350,000. Now granted, the $350,000 is so they could carry on with the philanthropic endeavors that are the foundation of Kiwanis International, however, not sure if all the taxpayers of Wilton Manors are looking to endow the interest of the Kiwanis Club.  

Another troubling part of this story is how certain Eastsiders are supporting this deal as a means to have their own community center and additional park space while over the years these same individuals have fought tooth and nail against any development for the long vacant church property off of NE 26th Street and the extension of the TOC-East. Having prevented any development and denying a much needed and continued tax revenue source year after year, these individuals now want to increase the financial burden to our city’s budget year after year with the acquisition of additional recreational facilities that the city does not need.  

Our city recently made a large investment in the expansion for Colohatchee Park. We still haven’t figured out how to repay the loan taken out from the Water and Sewer Fund to purchase land for the expansion at a cost of 1.3 million dollars. Add to that the cost for renovations and upkeep, one can begin to see the high cost of such park expansion plans. The city’s current necessity to carry out significant infrastructure improvements, to maintain existing public facilities, the cost of police and public safety and many more urgent budget demands offer many reasons why this might not be the best time to make a deal on the Kiwanis Club.  

Over the past 10 years we have heard over and over that we must take advantage of purchasing additional park space due to the expected growth in population. Well over the past 10 years that population growth never materialized. We hear the same arguments today, but with recent actions to prevent any serious new development in our city, we are not going to see the growth in numbers to where we will need to make additional purchases of park land.  

Thanks to Commissioner Mike Bracchi and Vice Mayor Paul Rolli for acknowledging this reality in comments concerning the donation of a small parcel of land from Broward County known as Site 92. This free parcel of land, if the city agrees to take ownership from the county, along with the recent land purchases for Colohatchee will offer more than enough park land to cover future population growth estimates for our city.  

Expanding and stretching our limited resources will only weaken our wonderful parks and recreation facilities. Let us maintain and improve what we already have, so that residents can enjoy first class facilities. Walking away from the “deal of the century” might be Leisure Services best option to maintain existing facilities for all to enjoy and to keep life just better here…. 

Sal Torre has been a columnist for the Wilton Manors Gazette since its inception. Sal has served on the Wilton Drive Task Force, Budget Review Advisory Board, and Charter Review Board, among others. Sal is currently President of the Westside Association of Wilton Manors and Secretary for the Friend of the Wilton Manors Library. He is employed with Broward County in the Human Services Division.