Rec Department axed

Published 11:12 am Monday, July 24, 2017

AHOSKIE – The first casualties of Ahoskie’s effort to overcome a budget crisis is the town’s Recreation Department.

Earlier this week, newly hired Town Manager Kerry McDuffie laid off the Recreation Department’s two full-time employees, to include Rec Director Tina Pritchard, and 10 part-time employees.

The two full-time employees will receive a three-month severance package from the town.

The move also shut down the Ahoskie Community Center, located on Peachtree Street, the home of the Recreation Department offices, as well as a fitness and weight room. A sign on the door directs those with questions to contact the Ahoskie Town Hall.

McDuffie said the closure of the Recreation Department was necessary as he searches for ways to fill a $475,000 budget deficit.

“We have to cut our expenditures so they do not exceed our revenues,” McDuffie explained during an interview on Thursday afternoon. “Our new budget (FY 2017-18) is balanced, but that business model is not going to work because we had to cut out capital expenses. It was either cut or raise taxes, and the (town) Council has made it clear they do not want to raise taxes.”

The cuts to the Recreation Department budget saves over $200,000 annually in salary costs and benefits.

When asked about the health/wellness/athletic programs conducted by the Rec Department, McDuffie said the slate has been wiped clean.

“It’s gone; we’ve done away with everything in the Recreation Department,” he noted, adding that the town’s Public Works Department will take over all maintenance and upkeep of the public parks in Ahoskie.

Meanwhile, a summer camp that was operated by the Rec Department is closed effective immediately. McDuffie said 10 children were enrolled and that New Ahoskie Baptist Church has graciously accepted those children in their summer program.

“We were losing money operating that camp,” McDuffie explained. “The same thing for the fitness and weight room at Community Center. We had six people paying $10 per month to use the weight room and we were paying a staff member $8 an hour to keep it open 20-to-25 hours a week. We were paying out roughly $700 a month to keep the weight room open and in return were receiving $60.

“I understand that the Recreation Department is not a money-making deal, but we have to have more than six people using the weight room or 10 children in the summer camp to justify the costs we were incurring,” he added.

However, those cuts come at a bigger cost than the monetary end.

“We know we need a place for the children to go; a place for them to be involved,” McDuffie stressed.

To that end, McDuffie is attempting to organize a meeting on Monday (July 24) at 4 p.m. with those interested in volunteering to keep the town gym open. That meeting will be at the gym, located on West Main Street across from the Ahoskie Rural Volunteer Fire Department.

“If we don’t find a place for these kids to do something positive, then they’ll go out on their own and find something to do and it may not be positive,” he stressed.

McDuffie added that he has already been contacted by several individuals who have expressed interest in becoming volunteers for recreational youth activities.

“We want to put together a schedule, to include hours of operation, at the gym,” he said. “We need the volunteers to make this work.”

In the long term, with the absence of a full-time Recreation Department staff, McDuffie was asked of the impact this will have on the traditional youth baseball and softball programs, typically played from April through June.

“Next month I have a meeting scheduled with YMCA where those officials and I will discuss them possibly coming here to Ahoskie,” he replied, referencing the national organization that, as part of their overall mission, hosts recreational and competitive programming to create a healthy outlet for children to gain new skills, develop a sense of team and connect with positive role models.

“They operate 2,700 recreation centers nationwide; they have the policies, procedures, and successful business models to succeed in towns like ours,” McDuffie continued.

When asked if the town would consider leasing or selling the Community Center to the YMCA, if that organization would agree to locate in Ahoskie, McDuffie said he was “open to that idea.”

If that does indeed take place, the YMCA has full control over its operational and athletic/recreational programming. Those wishing to participate can choose to join the YMCA and/or pay a fee to that organization in order to enjoy their services.

As far as the remaining Recreation Department budget (which totaled $931,555 for FY 2017-18), McDuffie said it will be used to cover the costs of the three-month severance package as well as other items. Among those is $225,000 for the town’s “Splash (water) Park” at the Ahoskie Creek Recreation Complex, $200,000 in debt service payments, repairs to the lighting and air conditioning at the Ahoskie Public Library, the town’s expenses with the annual Heritage Day celebration (coming in September), and the purchase of a 15-passenger van that the town will use to transport low-level security prisoners that will perform odd jobs around town.

He added that nearly one month of operations had subtracted from the Recreation Department’s budget prior to the decision he made to close it.

“The actual savings we will realize from closing our Recreation Department will be roughly $275,000; that gets us a start on the $475,000 we need to trim from our annual budget,” McDuffie concluded.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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