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Posted: July 2, 2010 12:01 a.m.

Turner Lake facility to remain open on Sat.; fees will increase

A variety of recreation fees, including those for youth sports, will be increasing July 1, but Turner Lake Complex will remain open on Saturdays, the recreation commission board of directors officially decided Monday.

The commission had discussed the several changes at a June 2 called meeting as it sought ways to cover a $154,870 budget deficit for FY2011. The budget approved by the Newton County Board of Commissioners resulted in a $94,870 cut to the commission’s appropriations, on top of an estimated $60,000 in additional expenses created by the expected openings of Denny Dobbs Park, old Cousins Gym and the public park in Fairview Estates. 

The 5 percent cut comes on top of last year’s 20 percent budget reduction, which left the commission with a $1.89 million budget.

The commission’s board members decided to cut expenses and raise revenues. The additional revenues will come from $10 to $25 increases for all of its youth sports programs, increases to its daily Turner Lake Complex gym use rates and increases to facility rental fees.

The youth programs were targeted for increases, because most of them have operated at losses for years. According to a study conducted by recreation employees, even Newton’s increased rates would still be very competitive compared to other counties. Increases for football and cheerleading will not take effect until the 2011 season, because 2010 rates have already been advertised.

To save on expenses the board decided to reduce the hours of operation at the Turner Lake community facility, closing it at 6 p.m. on most weekdays, instead of the traditional 8 p.m. closing time. The recreation commission offers 10 different youth programs servicing 2,811 participants, including three baseball, three softball, two basketball, a football and a cheerleading program.

The board also had planned to close the facility on Saturdays, but Recreation Director Tommy Hailey said he had received a lot of negative feedback regarding that option. He said the board decided the increased fees should be able to cover the cost of keeping the facility open. In addition, he said whenever the facility is rented out by a group for an event, a front desk worker and the use of utilities are required anyway, so the savings would have been minimal.

"It was a no brainer to keep it open," Hailey said. "Some kids have been playing basketball here for 10 years. They’re used to looking forward to playing on Saturday. If we close it down, they would be on the streets and could get into trouble."

The commission avoided cutting personnel, and instead cut the hourly pay of all part-time hourly employees by $1 to save $14,579. The only exceptions were made to ensure that no employees fell below minimum wage. The board determined layoffs would have been largely ineffective, because if a $30,000 employee was cut, $17,000 of that would have to go back to paying unemployment. The only cut was to a vacant position, a program manager valued at $44,364.

The cuts and fee increases were expected to cover nearly the entire deficit, with the remainder being taken out of the commission’s fund balance.

In other recreation commission news, the board also officially approved signing an agreement with Washington Street Community Center, which will run programming at the new Nelson Heights Community Center. Hailey said a grand opening was expected for August.

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