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Rec budget deficit could lead to higher youth sports fees
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With three new facilities set to open in FY2011 and a 5 percent budget cut courtesy of the county, the Newton County Recreation Commission is considering raising fees $10 to $25 for all of its youth sports programs.

At a called work session Wednesday night, the commission discussed several measures to deal with a $154,870 budget deficit.
The deficit is the result of the Board of Commissioners cutting the rec commission’s budget by $94,870 and the added estimated costs of $35,000 for maintenance of Denny Dobbs Park and $25,000 for the old Cousins Gym. Both facilities are set to open sometime in FY2011. The public park in Fairview Estates, built as part of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, is also expected to add some costs.

The cuts come on top of last year’s 20 percent budget reduction. The commission requested to keep its $1.89 million budget this year but received an additional 5 percent cut.

One possibility to increase revenue, raised by the Board of Commissioners, is to have each rec program pay for itself through fees. While adult sports programs do pay for themselves, youth sports programs have historically lost money and been subsidized through county appropriations.

Last year, the youth spring baseball and softball programs cost a combined $22,000 more to operate than fees brought in, football and cheerleading cost $9,800 more and basketball cost $6,000 more.

The rec commission has 10 different youth programs servicing 2,811 participants, including three baseball, three softball, two basketball, a football and a cheerleading program.

Current fees range from $65 per child for wee league baseball and softball to $125 for regular baseball, softball and football. The total fees collected in FY2009 was $286,255.

Under the proposal being considered by the rec commission, the least expensive programs would go up by $10 and the most expensive programs went up by either $15 or $25 per child. These revised fees would increase total fee collections by $32,420.

The football and cheerleading rates have already been advertised so they would not go into effect until next year’s season and are not included in the above figure.

Compared to programs in other counties, even Newton’s increased rates would still be very competitive.

In order to make the up the remaining deficit, the commission also proposed to close Turner Lake community facility on Saturdays and to close the facility at 6 p.m. most weekdays as opposed to the current 8 p.m. This was expected to save $8,708 in utility costs and $20,384 in salaries.

The commission also proposed raising the daily user rates at Turner Lake. Currently, adults pay $2 for a daily pass, and children, aged 8 to 17, and seniors pay $1. By raising each of those rates by $1, Recreation Commission Director Tommy Hailey estimated they could raise an additional $10,000.

The commission wanted to do everything possible to avoid cutting personnel, and instead proposed to cut the hourly pay of all part-time hourly employees by $1. The only exceptions would be that no one would be allowed to fall below minimum wage. This would save $14,579.

“Do we bite the bullet and lay people off, or do we try to micromanage?” Hailey asked the board, framing the decision. “It’s a catch-22. If we go up on fees, we’re trying to prevent laying anybody off, but if we see activity go down (because of the higher prices), then we won’t need as many employees.”

However, Hailey and the board decided they would try to avoid any layoffs for at least another year. The other problem with layoffs is that for a $30,000 employee, $17,000 of that could have to go back to paying unemployment. The only cut was to a vacant position, a program manager valued at $44,364.

Despite all of these cuts, the rec commission was still around $20,000 short of its $1.8 million budget goal. Board member Danny Stone asked if the commission could cover the rest of the deficit with the fund balance and Hailey said they could. The fund balance at the beginning of the year was $200,000 but some of that money was used this year to pay for trail system repairs and purchasing the house immediately adjacent to Turner Lake Complex.

Finally, the commission is proposing raising the rental rate by $25 for the Turner Lake pavilion to $175, and raising the hourly rate at the Conyers Street gym. That older building has very high utility rates and fees will help offset those. Once Denny Dobbs Park is open that pavilion will be rented for $175.

One future problem will be if the commission needs to build any capital projects. Those large costs would have to be funded by individual programs. Also any SPLOST projects would be unwise to build if the county can’t pay maintenance.

“If we knew we would be in this situation, we never would have opened Denny Dobbs Park,” Hailey said. “There’s no reason to build a facility if you can’t open it.

The rec commission board will vote on these proposals at their official meeting June 28 at 6 p.m. at Turner Lake.

See current prices compared to increased rates at