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Bulloch rec tries to balance services with budget

City/county recreation department faces tough choices

    Note: This is the second of a three-day series looking more in depth at Bulloch County’s proposed budget and a possible tax increase.

 

            Mike Rollins, director of the Statesboro-Bulloch County Parks and Recreation Department, spoke candidly about his department's recommended budget of $3.7 million for the coming fiscal year.

            "The Parks and Recreation Department provides a tremendous number of programs for the residents of Bulloch County as well as maintaining over 58 facilities located throughout the county," Rollins said. "I would like for residents to see the level of service that they receive from their parks and recreation department."

            Operations division manager Chad Avret offered statistics to back up Rollins’ assertion. During the past fiscal year the department operated 30 programs, such as youth baseball and soccer, which involved more than 600 activities and 22,000 registered participants.

            Rollins and all department heads defended their budget requests Thursday to county commissioners as part of the budget process. Faced with rising expenses and a millage rate that won’t meet those expenses, Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch has proposed an increase in the county tax rate from 8.63 mils to 10.38 mils – about a $70 hike per $100,000 of taxable property value.

Coupled with an estimated average 20-percent increase in property valuations this year, the county’s proposal has brought many concerns from the public questioning the need for such a large tax increase. A public hearing on the budget is set for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

            The parks and recreation department budget proposal from Rollins and Couch does not include any money to operate Splash in the Boro.

            "Splash has a separate operating budget," Rollins said. "Its revenues cover its operation and in fact have exceeded operational costs since opening. Splash is able to maintain itself and requires no additional monies to subsidize its operation."

            Rollins said he realizes most people think that Splash is a "drain" on the parks and recreation department when in fact it is not. He also said that program participation fees and sponsorships contribute $1.4 million to the department's budget.

            "It is proposed that the county provide $2.32 million of our budget with revenues from program participants and sponsorships making up the rest," Rollins said.

            Couch said Bulloch citizens are at a crossroads of sorts when it comes to properly funding the county’s recreation assets.

            "We have a wonderful parks and recreation department, so much so that there really isn't a comparable one in any of the surrounding counties, and some would argue in the state of Georgia for a county of our size," Couch said. "We have wonderful facilities such as Mill Creek that were voted on and approved by the taxpayers.

            "To me, if you vote to approve and build something as wonderful and beautiful as Mill Creek, then we need to support and take care of what we have," he said. "This is a very reasonable budget for the level of service that the recreation department provides, and it allows us to take care of some maintenance that we have 'let go' the past two to three years."

            Couch pointed out that for the last four years, the county's contribution to the parks and recreation budget has remained in the $1.9 million range and not increasing it could result in a major deterioration of Mill Creek.

            "The last several years, we have really reigned in the budget of the recreation department and I am satisfied after careful analysis that this budget provides the level of services that the citizens of Bulloch County have come to expect," he said. "Part of reigning in that budget in the past meant eliminating some of the maintenance activities that we were doing, particularly at Mill Creek."

            "We need to reinstitute those to maintain and return the fields to their original quality," Couch said. "At some point, I am afraid it is going to become a safety issue for those playing athletics on those fields."

            Rollins said cuts to his budget will result in employee layoffs and the discontinuation of a number of programs.

            Rollins said a 20-percent cut in the rec department’s general fund appropriation would result in the following programs/activities being eliminated: Special events and activities such as the July 4th celebration, rural youth sports, and senior programs. He also said a full-time maintenance position as well as some administrative positions would be eliminated.

            "We have cut this budget back as far as we can," Rollins said. "None of the employees have a county vehicle any longer, including myself. We attend very little training and go to very few conferences. We are constantly looking for new ways to raise money through sponsorships and the like.

            "In fact we have several hundred volunteers that help us with programs each year, and I know that our citizens would like for those volunteers to be screened and trained to work with children. That is a significant part of what we do."


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