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Statesboro-Bulloch Parks & Rec scores state title
Value within in the community tips the scale
Sammy Garcia, 5, of the Statesboro Floor Covers Reds, front, decides to switch from offense to defense by outracing his Olive Branch Landscaping Braves opponents Beckham Jarrard, 4, center, and Cameron Crawford, 6, right, to the ball from third base after a hit by a teammate during a t-ball game as the Bulloch County Parks and Recreation Department kicked off baseball and soccer season with its annual Swing into Spring event in 2013. The Georgia Recreation and Parks Association is calling the Statesboro-Bulloch County Parks and Recreation Department the GRPAs Agency of the Year among counties with 50,001 to 80,000 people. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/file

Call it home of Splash in the Boro and Mill Creek Regional Park — and seven other parks. Call it caretaker of the S&S Greenway trail. Call it provider of after-school programs and summer jobs, of baseball, basketball and cheerleading, football, soccer and track, but also of Sit Fit, bingo and horseback riding lessons, and seasonal events such as the Firecracker Fest.

The Georgia Recreation and Parks Association is calling the Statesboro-Bulloch County Parks and Recreation Department the GRPA’s Agency of the Year among counties with 50,001 to 80,000 people.

“It’s really the value that a department has within their community that has a heavy weight with the committee when they’re reviewing them,” said GRPA Executive Director Jimmy Gisi.

The 50,001-80,000 bracket is one of five population categories for the association’s awards. Departments are not automatically considered, but have to submit an application. Statesboro-Bulloch was one of six departments that competed in the bracket.

A committee of 15 to 20 recreation professionals from around the state reviewed the applications and scored them. The committee, Gisi said, considers “the total picture of the department,” including the professionalism of staff, new and innovative programs offered, and participation trends.

This is the first time the department has received this award since 2004, said Mike Rollins, who has been Statesboro-Bulloch Parks and Recreation’s director for almost 30 years.

“You’re always pleased to be recognized by your peers, and especially when you’re trying to do work in the community, and I think it’s just a credit to our staff that we have acquired over the years and the work they do,” Rollins said. “We’ve got a lot of experienced people that really are dedicated to what they do, and it shows up, obviously, whenever you get awards like this.”

Other ranking staff members include Recreation Manager Sherrie Zeigler, Parks and Grounds Manager Tony Morgan, Facilities Manager Ed Nelson, Aquatics Division Manager Steve Brown and Marketing Coordinator Broni Gainous. Rollins started to mention how long some of them have been with the department, but then said he was reluctant to name names, preferring to credit all 40 full-time staff members.

They are assisted by hundreds of part-time and seasonal employees. Rollins said the total over the course of a year could be 400 to 500.

When asked how many people are served, he said the full number would be nearly impossible to tally.

Hundreds who may never sign up for programs take walks on the greenway, he said.  Thousands turn out for the Firecracker Fest Independence Day Celebration, and Rollins said there may have been 4,000 at this year’s Trick or Treat at Mill Creek Park.

Rollins mentioned some lesser-known programs such as golf lessons and wrestling and also noted that the department offers activities for people with disabilities.

“We don’t hang our hat a lot on numbers,” he said. “We want to be able to serve as many people as we can, and so we try to offer really a lot of diversity in terms of our programs and services.”


Partly self-funded

But Rollins does mention some other numbers as important. Not counting the Splash in the Boro waterpark, which was built to be self-supporting and has built a reserve, the department generates about 40 percent of its revenue from fees and concessions. This is a high percentage of self-support for a department this size, Rollins said.

County taxes provide a little less than 60 percent of the department’s operating costs, excluding the waterpark. The Bulloch County Board of Commissioners’ annual allocation to Parks & Recreation is between $2.2 million and $2.4 million. The total operating budget of the department, on its non-aquatic side, is about $4.2 million.

Splash, again with no tax support for its operating expenses, has a budget of a little over $2 million.

 “I think — especially in the difficult times that our community has faced economically over the past five years because of the budgetary issues that the county has been under — our staff has really done an exceptional job of managing with basically the same resources we had in 2009,” Rollins said.

Meanwhile, the population has been growing, and Rollins said expenses have been increasing.

“We’ve been able to really maintain our existing level of service to citizens with no reductions, and that’s a lot to be said,” he concluded.

The department holds an annual sponsorship event, where businesses sign up to sponsor some of the activities.

Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch confirmed the budget numbers and said, “It is true that they have been frugal over the last several years.”


County’s congrats

He also provided the department a congratulatory statement on behalf of the commissioners.

“The Board of Commissioners is very proud of the achievements of the Statesboro-Bulloch Parks and Recreation Department, and the complimentary value in the county’s menu of essential public services,” Couch said. “This year’s agency award is yet another form of recognition for the department’s long legacy of service excellence to the citizens.

“The department plays a key role in improving and maintaining the quality of life in our community by maintaining the environment, improving the health and human development of our residents, and spurring economic activity,” he said.

The award was presented at the GRPA’s annual conference, held in Dalton in early November.

The GRPA’s membership includes 205 agencies, with about 1,200 employees, from around Georgia. Member agencies include YMCAs and Boys & Girls Clubs and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, as well as city and county departments, Gisi said.

Other agencies of the year are Columbus Parks and Recreation, in the 150,001 and over category; Valdosta-Lowndes County Parks and Recreation, 80,001 – 150,000; Dalton Parks and Recreation, 20,001 -50,000; and Rabun County Parks and Recreation, under 20,000.

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.


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