Rec. Commission facing some tough budget decisions

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- Turner Lake Complex will be closed most Saturdays in fiscal year 2012 in order to save money, but a youth financial assistance program will remain in place, the Recreation Commission decided at a called meeting Thursday night.

The Recreation Commission had voted Monday to suspend financial aid, again to save money, but changed its mind after Director Tommy Hailey presented a balanced budget that includes the financial aid program Thursday. Hailey and Assistant Director Anthony Avery talked to staff members last week for input on how to generate more revenue versus making cuts to financial aid and employees.

Hailey said he has received numerous calls from concerned parents regarding loss of financial aid. "We've always had the policy we won't turn down any kid from playing as far as finances," he said.

The Recreation Commission allows recipients of financial aid to pay half the registration fee up front and then sell raffle tickets to reimburse the commission for the remaining money. Most financial aid recipients have multiple children and can't afford to pay the registration fee in one lump sum, said Avery.

In fiscal year 2011, the Recreation Commission handed out $18,000 in financial aid and recouped $14,000. The commission agreed losing $4,000 wasn't justification to eliminate the program altogether. Much of the $4,000 was from scholarships, which fully fund participation. Hailey said those will be cut back this year.

Turner Lake Complex will be closed for 39 Saturdays during the fiscal year but will be open during basketball season for practices. The facility will be opened for groups that rent the banquet hall, but they must pay for a staff member to be at the front desk. The park will still be open for the public to enjoy the playground, lake and other outdoor amenities.

The commission approved a $1,702,538 budget. Despite taking on four new facilities, the budget was cut by county commissioners by $100,000. In addition, insurance costs have increased by about $62,000. The increase went into effect last year when the county changed providers, but the Recreation Commission was not notified and members are asking the county to reimburse the additional cost.

"I would hate for a mistake made last year to cost somebody their job this year," Hailey said.

"And it was not our mistake. That's what they need to remember," said Recreation Commission Board Member Kay Strickland.

For now, no jobs will be cut, though three vacant positions will not be filled. One position, special events and marketing, will be consolidated with the facilities manager position.

The Board of Commissioners has directed the commission to make youth sports self-supporting. Hailey said fees do not cover the cost to run youth sports, so other measures must be taken.

Cuts are anticipated to compensation for scoring officials and umpires. Regular staff members are being asked to pick up more responsibilities to eliminate some use of part-time help, such as for basketball practices, but that's a challenge because they are not allowed overtime, Hailey said.

"Sometimes we can't help it. If a ballgame goes 15 or 20 minutes over, we can't cut off the lights and tell everybody to go home," he said.

The recreation staff has recommended holding more tournaments to increase revenues. Tournament participants are required to pay a field rental fee and for the salary of staffers working the event, and the commission gets to keep gate receipts, Hailey said.

Sunday practices will likely be eliminated to cut down on part-time staff costs. Teams can still practice but will use the fields on a first-come, first-served basis without supervision, he said.

"We've spoiled our people in Newton County, providing services they wouldn't get anywhere else," Hailey said, noting staff goes above and beyond to have facilities open on weekends so teams may practice, but that will have to change.

Board Member Carl Wilkins suggested eliminating trophies and awards, which will cost about $18,500. But Hailey said that wouldn't sit well with parents who are paying increased user fees, not to mention disappointing the kids who look forward to getting the trophies each year.

"I think $18,000 is a drop in the bucket considering the goodwill and motivation that does for the kids," Chairman Johnny Presley said.

Soliciting sponsorship of trophies was discussed but Presley said that has been discouraged in the past, as the commission is funded by the county and potential sponsors are already paying taxes for that service. However that policy may have to be reconsidered, he said.

Postseason expenses may also have to be reevaluated, Hailey said. The commission currently pays for hotel rooms and gives each player a $5-a-day food allowance during post season games. Players have been known to do their own fundraising to purchase additional uniforms and play on multiple teams, and they could potentially do fundraising to pay for meal and hotel expenses, he said.

Other options are to change from the Dixie Youth League to Little League, which would decrease postseason all-star games from three to two or to change districts within Dixie Youth, which could also decrease post-season games.

Hailey said he will meet with staff once a week for updates on the athletic budget. He recommended the board revisit the budget in January to determine if additional cuts are needed to survive the budget year.