County seeks to raise funds with vehicle fee at Clear Creek

Published 11:57 am Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A $40,000-plus deficit foreseen for Warren County Parks and Recreation in fiscal 2015 has officials considering charging by the vehicle for playing golf, soccer and other outdoor activities at Clear Creek golf course.

The debts are a combination of steeper leases on the soccer complex and 16th Section land owned by the Vicksburg Warren School District, higher health and liability insurance premiums and pay raises in the works for the course’s 15 full- and part-time employees, members of the parks and recreation commission told county supervisors Monday during budget talks.

“You charge $5 a car and you’ve made a whole lot of money,” District 1 commissioner Dale McDuff said, referring to the volume of vehicles from golf and soccer traffic, plus regular traffic from the Bovina course’s 200 or so members.

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The five-member panel appointed by county supervisors is expected to vote on such a proposal when it next meets, at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 19 in the Board of Supervisors meeting room on the third floor of the courthouse.

An impromptu list of spending items and projected debts for the coming year showed $40,405.04 shortfall, with increases in health insurance making up about 40 percent of it. No hike is expected in the county’s allocation to the commission for basic operating costs, an amount that has remained at $220,000.

The commission oversees the golf course, built in 1978, soccer fields, baseball fields and a pavilion rented out for events. Though a per-car fee could generate the needed revenue by four visits a year by each person with a current membership, the topic doesn’t figure to be a slam-dunk if it comes up for a vote Tuesday. Central to the opposing opinion was its effect on youth soccer activities, which start around the same time the fiscal year starts Oct. 1.

“We can’t just throw it on them all of a sudden,” parks and rec chairman L.T. Walker said, referring to parents who volunteer time for youth soccer. “You’re going to have a lot of complaints from the soccer moms. They complain to us about us helping them in certain ways. And then you’re going to charge them a fee on top of their volunteer work out there.”

Parks officials had no update on its financials for the current fiscal year. The commission told supervisors it collected $41,471.23 in fiscal 2013 from fees paid to support the golf course, a number outpaced nearly twofold by $82,698.99 in expenses facility-wide.

Golfers pay a $14 cart fee and a $3 trail fee to play at Clear Creek. Memberships are sold for various time spans; yearly plans are $500.

Sources of revenue to fill the county’s funding gap on parks and rec centered on the gaming fund, where the commission receives its money for basic operations. A third version of an operating budget under review by county supervisors shows a $15.4 million spending plan, with a 2.52-mill increase in property taxes for the public school system. Another .95 of a mill will pump up the general fund to pay for 5 percent raises for all county employees. A smaller millage increase, of .02, will help the Warren County-Vicksburg Library board match a state grant for basic operations.

Commissioners and supervisors who favored a vehicle fee to defray costs at the facility indicated the charge will be taken with some opposition, regardless of how far in advance officials can notify members.

“On my light bill, they don’t call me and tell me it’s going up,” McDuff said. “They just send it to me. If they want to start raising cane, let them start.”

Applying the proposed fee or any other additional surcharge to the school system had support from the majority of the commission and county board. That included District 4 commissioner Joe Loviza, also the district’s school board member, who said after the meeting he’s committed to ensuring harmony between the school board and the parks panel.

“It’s a win-win for the schools to support recreation,” Loviza said during the meeting, adding “if they’re going to charge you, I’m in favor of charging them.”

A list of long-term capital projects within the budget update totaled $1.05 million. Most expensive was a renovation of the back nine holes, pegged at $700,000. The front nine was refurbished in 2004 with the help of a capital improvements loan.

Monday’s talks came amid an effort to evaluate recreation in Vicksburg and Warren County — including a concept to combine the city’s and county’s recreation functions. The effort is still in the talking phase on an 11-member ad hoc committee named in May by the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen.