One concerned parent, speaking on behalf of many others, pleaded to the Sampson County Board of Commissioners this week to spare the Parks and Recreation Department.
The department is in the crosshairs leading up to financial deliberations, with one commissioner suggesting during a pre-budget session last month that the entirety of the recreation budget could be better utilized elsewhere. The proposal was quickly opposed by another commissioner, and parents across the county responded in a similar manner, sending emails to the board sharing their thoughts in recent weeks.
One of the many emails came from Amanda Bradshaw, who faced commissioners during its recent regular meeting. She thanked the board for the opportunity to speak, which she said she was doing on behalf of the county’s Parks and Recreation Department, and the parents and children involved in the those programs.
“This program provides structure, it also teaches respect and self-discipline,” Bradshaw noted. “It helps educate (children) on the fundamentals of sports and allows them to be a part of something positive in a world full of negativity. Although I’m not educated on the budget in its entirety, I know this program costs the county a lot of money.”
The department’s budget request totals $655,737 for 2015-16, of which $610,952 is supported by taxpayers.
The county is facing a $3.5 million shortfall in 2015-16 should all departmental requests be approved, leaving decisions as to where the budget ax should fall. The proposal to eliminate county recreation was made by Commissioner Clark Wooten, and met with opposition by Commissioner Harry Parker, who said he was “totally against” the suggestion.
“I said it from the word ‘go’ and I say it again: as far as I’m concerned, we can close the recreation department,” Wooten remarked. “That’s top on my list. That’s $600,000 that I think can be spent better in other ways.”
Parker said he did not believe that was a good idea, saying county citizens, especially those in Sampson’s southern end, would be left in the lurch.
“Recreation is a very important issue for children, and in my district I can’t go along with that. That’s all we have down there — Roseboro, Harrells, Union, Salemburg, Mount Pleasant, Ivanhoe, Kerr Station, Delway — that’s all we have going for our kids and for the community,” Parker said last month. “They depend on this recreation department. Some things you can’t skimp on. That’s one thing in my district, and surrounding towns and communities, that is an asset.”
Wooten said there would likely have to be a compromise.
“It can’t be my way and it can’t be Commissioner Parker’s way,” he said. “We have to come together.”
Bradshaw suggested a few options that would assist in keeping the recreation department afloat, raising the registration fee per child “a couple dollars,” allowing the districts to fund raise and seeking sponsorships for the department’s programs.
“I know without a doubt that it would be a huge mistake to cut it from the budget and/or do away with it,” she told the board. “I propose that we take a step back and look at how we can keep it and possibly how we can fund it a little bit differently.”
For their part, Rec officials said the department “is continuing to experience growth” in its athletic programs as well as heavy usage of parks and facilities.
“We are looking at different avenues to help with revenue and capital outlay items that we need without looking at an increase in the budget,” a statement from the department, submitted to commissioners along with all other departmental requests, read.
The department is “aggressively fostering relationships” with several local businesses, including Nissan of Clinton, Ford of Clinton and James Trading Co., as well as a few individuals to help with some extra financial expenses, rec officials said. Similar relationships have been built with organizations like Dixie Youth, U.S. Specialty Sports Association and the Southern Softball Association of America, all in an effort to bring more adult and youth athletic tournaments to the county’s parks.
“Our department is not seeking any capital outlay money or any extra dollars in the form of an increase in our budget,” the statement read. “We are confident that we can manage and efficiently work within the constraints of our existing budget and continue to deliver a recreation program to the residents of Sampson County that they have come to expect.”
That product is now in danger of being eliminated completely. Bradshaw said she and others do not want to see that happen.
“I would like to volunteer myself to help in any way to see this program thrive and stay in place,” she asserted. “I realize that the program needs to be restructured a little, and that is understandable. Please allow myself and other dedicated parents within the county to help in any way we can.”
Bradshaw said she gave out commissioners’ email addresses following last month’s pre-budget session and this week thanked them for taking the time to respond to the emails.
“Thank you for listening to their voices,” she said. “This program means a lot to the children in our county.”
The proposed budget will be released June 1.