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Financial aid back on for youth sports
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Financial aid will still be available to youth athletes next fiscal year, after the Newton County Recreation Commission reversed course Thursday.

The commission originally adopted a budget Monday that cut out financial aid, but during the vote only two of the six board members could clearly be heard to vote in favor of the budget, with one member clearly opposed. Votes were taken by saying "yea" and "nay."

As it turns out, some other members were a little confused about the motion and weren't prepared to vote. In addition, members received negative feedback from the community about cutting financial aid.

The board reconvened at a called meeting Thursday night and went over potential budget cuts again. Recreation Director Tommy Hailey said his youth sports staff reexamined their budgets and found a way to make all youth sports pay for themselves, including financial aid costs. Previously, youth sports had to be subsidized.

The board only lost $4,000 by offering financial aid to 134 youth athletes last year. Financial aid recipients have to pay half of their costs up front and then receive fundraising tickets to sell in order to make up the other half of their costs.

About $18,000 in financial aid was given out last year and all money was paid back except $4,000. Hailey said Friday that all youth participants are given raffle tickets to sell and can essentially play for free if they make enough proceeds.

Recreation Assistant Director Anthony Avery said financial assistance is most often needed by families with multiple children who can't make their sports payments all at once.

Based on the new information, the board voted unanimously to approve a $1.7 million budget with financial aid programs included. This time board Chairman Johnny Pressley asked board members to vote by raising their hands, and he said future votes will be taken by raised hands to avoid confusion.

Turner Lake Complex will still close for 39 Saturdays next year, nearly all Saturdays except for those during basketball season. The park itself will remain open.

Avery said youth sports will be able to pay for themselves by:
- cutting pay for scorekeepers and officials
- cutting back on part-time help
- eliminating meal money and hotel expenses for traveling teams
- possibly cutting back on all-star teams
- contracting to sell concessions at Denny Dobbs Park and basketball games
- cutting out supervised Sunday practices for sports teams
- recruiting and hosting more football and baseball tournaments

The recreation commission makes money on tournaments by both charging field rental fees and by making money off concessions. The commission contracts with a company to provide concessions, but it still receives a share of the profits.
Avery said the commission was in no position to operate concessions itself as it didn't have money to buy equipment and supplies.

The board discussed cutting out trophies to save $18,550, but Hailey said receiving trophies is one of the greatest joys for children, and most board members agreed. Board member Ronnie Brannen said the board already raised youth sports fees last year and cutting trophies would be forcing parents to pay more for less.

No employees will yet have to be cut, but the budget doesn't leave much room for unexpected costs. Hailey said his staff will monitor the budget weekly, and if costs exceed the budget, the board may have to vote to cut employees later in the year.

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