Groups step up to help keep parks, programs running

Several options for restoring some of the parks and recreation programs that are not currently funded in next year’s budget are still on the table, Parks and Recreation Director Michael Golden said Friday.

About $1.9 million in budget cuts were proposed for the Parks and Recreation Department in fiscal 2011. Those cuts included eliminating adult athletic programs, half of senior and adult education programs, historical programs, and outdoor adventure/nature programs.

At the Board of Supervisors March 24 public hearing on the budget, a number of people spoke against the cuts, especially the elimination of the outdoor, nature and historical programs.
“A 100 percent cut of the outdoor program is crazy talk,” said Stacy Rogers, a police officer whose wife, who is a teacher, takes her students to the outdoor programs. “I hope that you find a way not to eliminate the program entirely.”

At the April 1 budget and audit committee meeting, a list of proposed budget amendments and options was presented. The proposed amendments to the parks and recreation budget would restore some funding for some of the threatened programs, raise revenue through new and increased fees and cut expenses by reducing some programs. Among the proposed amendments were restoring a portion of the outdoor programs, funding for the operation of Rockwood Nature Center, funding for historical programs and funding for senior programs.

The department, according to information presented April 1, could save: $75,000 by outsourcing turf management duties and reducing maintenance standards at other youth sports facilities; a net $12,000 by eliminating two youth summer camps; a net $45,000 by reducing the number of youth sports camps and programs.

The department could generate another $150,000 in revenue by charging a $5 user fee for youth sports. Increasing various existing fees would raise another $28,500.

On Friday, Golden said, as far as he knew, the proposals made at the budget and audit meeting were still on the table. The adults sports groups are “pretty much” going to take over the maintenance of the soccer and softball fields, he said, and he’s going to meet with the Friends of Rockwood Nature Center this week.

The Chesterfield Historical Society, which is particularly concerned about sights near the courthouse, such as Magnolia Grange, Castlewood and the County Museum, has agreed to pay $32,000 in each of the next two years toward the salaries of the personnel needed to keep those sites open, Golden said. The funds were offered as a match to the county’s funds, which would be needed to pay the rest of the roughly $80,000 in salaries annually, he said.

“I think that helps influence having some of those funds come back,” he said of the matching pledge.

The Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission “ranked everything from top to bottom,” Golden said, and its priorities are restoring some of the outdoor, adventure and historical programs. The proposed cuts have prompted a healthy discussion, he said, and the calls and e-mails the PRAC and department have received “certainly had a lot of good things to say” about the programs.

“I get the impression the county administration and board have heard that, and I’m hoping that some of these programs will be restored as a result of that public discussion,” he said. From his perspective, he said, most of the budget discussion is over at this point. “It’s just a matter of what they’re able to do with the budget come Wednesday [April 14] night.”

Various groups have stepped up, he said, and the budget challenge has brought the community together. Though the proposed cuts largely avoided youth-focused programs, the adult programs are actually family programs, Golden said. On a nature walk, for example, half of the participants could be children, and parents sometimes bring their children along to adult softball games, he said. Golden recalled that a major part of his family’s life was spending time at parks while his children played sports.

“It’s fitness, it’s education, it’s teamwork,” he said. “It’s an important part of the community fabric. I think that came out in the discussion.”

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