Sunday, November 06, 2016

Three Candidates For Board Of Commissioners Slot Express Strong Support For County’s Parks And Recreation Department

One Says Funds Available

Oconee County Parks and Recreation Director John Gentry told the Board of Commissioners on Aug. 30 that the county is at a decision point regarding the future of the operation of its parks.

The commissioners must decide if the Parks and Recreation Department should continue both to manage facilities and to manage youth and adult programs, or if the department should play a lesser role, perhaps only managing facilities.

Lisa Davol, deputy director of the Parks and Recreation Department, made exactly the same argument to the Citizen Advisory Committee on Recreational Affairs at its meeting in Sept. 20.

The Board of Commissioners has taken no action on the request from Gentry for guidance on the future of his programs, making it likely that the new Commission in January will have to address the question.

All three candidates running for the open seat on the Board of Commissioners on the ballot on Tuesday say they support the programs run by the Parks and Recreation Department, but Ben Bridges was the only one who was unequivocal in saying the county should provide Gentry the funds he has requested.

Gentry’s Appeal

Gentry made his pitch to the Commission after it turned down his request earlier this year for three full-time positions in the department.

Gentry asked for two additional program coordinators and a park services field supervisor as part of the current fiscal year budget.

If the county is to continue managing programs, Gentry told the commissioners in August, they need to provide additional full-time programming staff, as the existing staff already is overextended.

Davol laid out the same set of arguments to the Recreation Affairs Committee, basically asking them to be advocates for the Parks and Recreation Department to the Commission.

Three Interviews

In interviews I conducted with candidates Bridges, Chuck Horton and Marcus Wiedower in late September, I asked each to indicate how he would respond to Gentry.

Should the county provide him more staff or tell him to cut back on services? I asked.

I also asked how the candidate proposed to pay for the extra staff requested by Gentry.

Bridges said the county should find the money for Gentry, who, he said, operates a “world class” set of facilities and programs.

“I guarantee you somewhere down the line we can find the money,” Bridges said.

More Complex Responses

Horton said the county needs to look at increased revenue as a result of growth in the tax base, unused funds in other departments, and even increased taxes as a way to fund programs such as those of the Parks and Recreation Department.

“All these things have to be on the table,” he said.

Wiedower said there needs to be a balance in Parks and Recreation funding between county funding and the fees paid by those who use the programs, and the county should consider increasing the fees to generate more revenue.

“I don’t think it all needs to be handed to me,” Wiedower said. “If my child wants to play on a much nicer surface, I can pitch in as well on the pay-to-play side of things.”

Video Of Answers

The exact responses of the three candidates are in the video below.

OCO: Three Candidates On Parks from Lee Becker on Vimeo.

All three of the candidates are seeking to fill the unexpired term of Post II on the Board of Commissioners. All will be listed on the ballot as Republicans.

Complete videos of the entire hour-long interviews I did with the three candidates are available on an Election Channel I created on the Oconee County Observations Vimeo site.

The Election Channel also contains complete videos of the two forums held for the Nov. 8 election.

Turnout in early voting has been heavy, with 42.3 percent of the county’s 27,845 registered voters already having cast a ballot.

Voting on Tuesday will be from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the county’s 13 precinct voting stations.

Recreational Affairs Video

The complete video of the Sept. 20 meeting of the Citizen Advisory Committee on Recreational Affairs is below.

The meeting took place at the Community Center in Veterans Park on Hog Mountain Road.

Leslie Hunsinger is the Committee chair and presided at the meeting.

OCO: Rec Affairs 9 20 2016 from Lee Becker on Vimeo.


Anonymous said...

There should be an audit for program participants that are not residents of Oconee County and they should not be allowed in the programs or they should pay the FULL calculated costs.

Xardox said...

Parks and Recreation is over-extended and barely keeping up with demand and maintenance. If the "world class" facility is to be keep in place, the county will have to come off the hip or have those who actually use it pay for it.
It has gone well beyond just keeping the lights on.
A thorny issue. It's gonna get ugly.

Anonymous said...

OCPRD generates a substantial part of its operating budget through fees. More so than many of our neighboring counties. Raising fees as the sole means to pay for improvements and additional staff will result in programs being overpriced, forcing some families out and making others look for other alternatives on which to spend their disposable income.

We have invested heavily in facilities and staff, and they have given us an award winning parks and rec program that is among the assets that contribute to our high standard of living. This investment also allows OCPRD to generate over $1 million in fees, that help pay expenses and minimize the share of the budget borne by the County.

But we are now chipping away at the value of this asset by under funding staff, maintenance and improvements. We're not taking care of what we've got nor are we're taking steps to meet the growing needs for facilities.

Let's not hide behind blaming this on out of county participants. Last weekend saw hundreds of softball players, coaches and college scouts playing on our fields when they would have otherwise been underutilized and they paid to be here. Those out of county tags you see on a Thursday night are the Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who are coming to see their family members play. Hopefully they all go out to eat after the game and spend some more money before heading back home.

Anonymous said...

Everyone realizes family members from wherever are in attendance to route for their child, grandchild, niece or nephew. The statement was program participants should pay the FULL COST since they or their parents do not pay county taxes.

rightway1974 said...

There are ALOT of out of county people using our parks and sending their kids to Oconee county schools. Kick them out or make them pay. Im tired of the abuse of our schools and facilities by non residents.