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Turner Lake to shut most Saturdays
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Turner Lake Complex will be closed 39 Saturdays next year, and financial aid may no longer be available for youth sports as the Newton County Recreation Commission tries to make ends meet.

County commissioners voted to cut recreation's budget by $100,000 in fiscal year 2012, and the department is facing added expenses from operating five facilities that were not in last year's budget.

Those new facilities are Denny Dobbs and Fairview parks, Cousins Gym, Nelson Heights Community Center and a house next to the Turner Lake Complex that the department is using for offices. The added cost of the facilities, excluding the house, is more than $81,000.

The commission is responsible for 21 parks, playgrounds and various community facilities and will have a budget of $1.7 million.

Recreation Director Tommy Hailey on Monday presented his board with three options: Whether to lay off two, three, or no employees.

After an hour of discussion, the board gave Hailey permission to lay off up to two workers if needed, which would save about $92,532. However, if the commission will have to pay $17,000 in unemployment costs per employee, the savings may not be worth it, some board members said. The county may absorb those costs for the commission, but Hailey did not get confirmation.

If the county allows it, Hailey may retain all of his employees and re-evaluate the budget midyear to see if cuts need to be made. The commission is already planning to leave three budgeted positions vacant (special events, programs coordinator and administrative technician) at a savings of $149,027.

Closing Turner Lake Complex for 39 Saturdays would save $15,500. The complex would remain open during basketball season.

Eliminating financial aid for youth sports would save $4,000. The $4,000 savings is not as important as mitigating future financial risk. The commission gives out about $18,000 worth of financial aid, and then gives those athletes fundraising tickets to sell to pay back the financial aid. Although $14,000 was paid back this year, that might not always happen.

Hailey said the commission is also dealing with an extra $62,450 in insurance costs, which may not be fully reimbursed by the county.

Recreation Commission Chairman Johnny Pressley said the commission simply couldn't afford to fund financial aid next year. Hailey said recreation will also be cutting back on paid scorekeepers and officials, which will save some costs. Postseason all-star teams may also be reduced.

Hailey said he didn't want to increase youth fees, even though the programs lose money, because raising fees would reduce participation. Fees were increased this year and participation dropped in most sports.

The commission will also explore cutting back on part-time help, by possibly privatizing maintenance of parks, which would cost about $40,000 for all of the smaller, satellite parks.

All departments have been requested to submit their final budgets to the chairman's office by July 1.