PERRY — A crowd of more than 80 people filled City Council chambers Monday night to discuss proposed cuts to the city’s recreation programs.
Some left after promising to help out as department officials pitched a bare bones department — where employee hours are cut while they take on more responsibilities, and parents are sought to help officiate and run concession stands.
“There’s not going to be any more of that drive by, drop your baby off,” said Recreation Department Director Rick Kilgore. “Those days are over.”
The larger-than-normal audience fired suggestions at city officials that ranged from finding sponsorship avenues for the individual sports programs to seeking more in-kind services from parents and former participants. During the meeting, Kilgore presented ideas from a called meeting of the recreation department’s commission that sought to lower expenditures without losing any programs.
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The outpour was in response to concerns with a “minimum” budget presented to the council by City Manager Lee Gilmour at the council’s last meeting. Among other things, the basic budget would eliminate several sports programs from the recreation department, as well as close the Creekwood Park pool and the James P. Worrall Community Center, where senior activities originate. Under the basic budget, the department would receive $291,500.
“These are only suggestions,” Gilmour told the crowd. They didn’t seem to listen, continuing to offer solutions to keep the programs.
Some in the audience brought elementary school-age children with them. Others wheeled in strollers — filled with potential future recreation department participants. Kilgore said his abbreviated plan sought to keep activities for children ages 3 to 14.
“Those kids are at a fork in the road,” he said of the 14-year-olds, who may not see a place for themselves on high school teams by then. “We don’t want them to go south on us.”
Terrill Griger said he attended the meeting to make sure children like his 9-year-old daughter, Brooke, continue having something worthwhile in which they can participate.
“It’s been beneficial to her because instead of sitting in the house and doing nothing, she’s been able to get out and play soccer,” said Griger, 42, whose family lives just outside of Perry in Houston County.
Kilgore said his committee discussed reconfiguring work hours for some employees to ensure office hours continue during business hours and when sports are being played. The recreation staff also would become responsible for watering, cutting grass and striping the fields. Parents, especially those whose children receive indigent funds as a means to waive their participation fees, should gear up for some sort of volunteer posts during the season, he said.
“The thing is we have to think outside the box,” Kilgore said. “We’re going to have to show we’re able to stand on our own.”
The city lost nearly $970,000 during the 2009 fiscal year but is expected to break even for 2010, Perry Mayor Jimmy Faircloth said.
Officials also heard from officials with the Convention and Visitors Bureau, as well as the Perry Chamber of Commerce, the Perry-Houston County Airport and the Downtown Development Authority about recommended cuts to their proposed budgets.
Davis Cosey with the Downtown Development Authority said money for his group — which, he says, focuses on projects seeking to beautify the city’s downtown area — should be a priority for the council.
“Do I really have to make a case for having an attractive downtown?” Cosey asked the council. “We’re trying to attract businesses here.”
Members of the public will have another chance May 18 to voice their concerns during the planning phase of the city’s annual budget, expected to be adopted by July 1, when the new fiscal year begins.