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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.