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Rec dept. laying off 7 people

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- The Newton County Recreation Commission has laid off seven part-time employees due to an inability to meet increased operations costs.

Today will be the final day for the employees, most of whom maintain county parks and facilities, said Recreation Commission Director Tommy Hailey. The layoffs will result in a savings of between $35,000 and $40,000 from now through June 30, the end of this budget year, he said. In addition to maintenance staff, clerical positions and a website coordinator were also eliminated. One of the seven employees accepted an offer to retire in lieu of being laid off.

"The problem we have is we had these additional facilities added to us. With the cutbacks we've got, we've got to come up with a game plan of how we're going to service this stuff," Hailey said, adding that the lay offs were a difficult decision, especially given that they come during the

holidays.

The Recreation Commission budget has been slashed by more than $200,000 in the past two years, but responsibilities of the department have increased. Several new facilities are now under the Recreation Commission's oversight, including Wolverine Field at the old Cousins school, Denny Dobbs Park and Nelson Heights Community Center. The neighborhood park in Fairview Estates set to open next spring will also be maintained by the Recreation Commission, along with Cousins Gym, which will soon be opened.

"The fact is, when you take budget cuts on the pretense of existing facilities you've got, you figure out how to make ends meet," Hailey said. "When you add additional stuff it just adds to the problem you've already got."

The layoffs have cut the Recreation Commission's part-time staff in half, meaning it will be even more of a challenge to maintain facilities and parks, Hailey said.

"We're more than just an 8 to 5 operation. We work more hours and are open more hours than a normal facility," he said, noting that many recreation activities take place at night.

The Recreation Commission has about 20 full-time employees, with one currently on family leave. A full-time position was eliminated at the beginning of the budget year.

"If we have more budget cuts mid-year, and I hope we don't, we'll have no choice but to lay off full-time employees," he said.

As to who will perform the duties of the positions that have been cut, "We're just going to do the best we can. Nobody is above doing anything," Hailey said.

Initially the Recreation Commission proposed closing Turner Lake Complex on Saturdays to save money and avoid layoffs, but public backlash caused the board to rethink that. Fees to play sports and rent facilities were increased, but ultimately, it wasn't enough to save jobs.

"We've gone up on fees and there's been a backlash from the community on that. It's a catch-22 situation," Hailey said.