Decision delayed on car fee, parks and rec debt

Published 10:44 am Thursday, August 21, 2014


A packed room listens to the Vicksburg Soccer Organization’s John Turner discuss the organization and its spending with the Warren County Parks and Recreation Commission Tuesday evening during a meeting at the Warren County Courthouse.

Warren County Parks and Recreation commissioners came away from a contentious meeting Tuesday without a quick solution to closing a projected $40,000-plus deficit for fiscal 2015.

A packed house of soccer moms, golfers and others spoke to the five-member panel that oversees county-owned Clear Creek Golf Course in Bovina on a plan floated in budget meetings last week to charge $5 a vehicle for all users of the facility starting Oct. 1. The plan, though tentative, was loosely discussed without any consideration during two hours of open-session discussion.

In fact, chairman L.T. Walker disavowed the plan commissioners favored aloud before county supervisors a week ago in a rambling, one-page letter that was read at the start of the meeting.

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“There was never a plan to charge a fee to all cars at either the soccer complex or the golf course,” Walker said. “We have made no decisions to make any kind of changes to anything.”

The letter, which was submitted Wednesday as a letter to the editor of The Vicksburg Post, said published reports last week were “inflammatory” and done in “ill will” despite the fee proposal being made in a public session of the Board of Supervisors. The letter stated The Post misquoted a commissioner, but when Walker was asked to clarify the inaccuracies he did not provide specifics. The letter runs as written in its entirety on page A4.

Last week, the five-member parks panel appointed by the county board outlined a $40,405.04 shortfall forecast next fiscal year prompted by a number of increased business costs. Those include steeper leases on the soccer complex adjacent to the golf course on 16th Section land owned by the Vicksburg Warren School District, higher health insurance premiums and pay raises planned for the course’s 15 full- and part-time employees.

Walker went to great pains to tell an overflow crowd of about 40 people in the county courthouse that spilled into the hallways that the proposal was a suggestion and not a commandment.

“The conclusion is we will be funded for this year,” he said. “But, next year, we’ll have to find some means of making sure this here deficit does not happen again.”

No hike is expected in the county’s allocations to the commission for basic operating costs. The panel that oversees the golf course, soccer fields, baseball fields and a pavilion receives $220,000 from the county’s general fund and another $116,000 from the fund that holds revenue-based taxes paid by Vicksburg’s four casinos.

Parents of school-age children who play youth sports and recreational sports enthusiasts were out in force to bend commissioners’ ears on the proposed fee.

“A decision made in haste or without all the facts and numbers may not be the best decision for all involved,” said Rodney McHann, president of the Clear Creek Golf Association. “We, as members and players of the Clear Creek Golf Course, only ask for what is fair to all recreational complex users.”

Dawn Farthing, an executive board member with Vicksburg Soccer Organization, requested more transparency between the board and the recreational organizations.

“We’re looking at the money allocated to us in soccer and we’re charged 30 percent of the equipment cost, and we only have about 10 percent of the acreage that the golf course has,” Farthing said.

“We want to be on the same team, and I was thinking one practical step is that, maybe once a month, we could get an email report. I would like to get more dialogue, especially since $75,000 a year in taxpayer money is going toward this,” she said.

Farthing and fellow VSO member Chelsea Whitten highlighted what their organization is forced to pay for out of pocket at the meeting.

“We have to buy all our paint, all our goals and all our nets. It’s not chump change,” Farthing said. “It’s a lot to ask a 100 percent volunteer board to put on a good recreational program and then say, ‘How can y’all get us more money?’”

Whitten pointed out that the VSO’s light bill does not differ between its highest light usage and when the field lights were not used at all.

“Basic math tells you, something is not right there,” she said.

Whitten also condemned county workers who have torn up VSO equipment, forcing the organization to buy more.

“We’re also having to fork out a lot of money replacing goals, nets, corner posts and flags because the guys who cut the grass insist on moving the goals with the tractor instead of getting off, and that just tears the goals up,” Whitten said. “We just spent $2,000 replacing goals but that could have gone to something else.”

The board commended those who spoke and vowed to help offset costs and formulate a plan to fix the Parks and Recreation deficit.

Walker did not set a timetable for a resolution to the budget shortfall but was hopeful one could be reached before the start of the fiscal year.

“We’re still trying to find something to be good on both sides so there won’t be any hardships on the soccer association or the kids,” he said. “We’re trying to find some type of middle ground and that’s what we’re working with now, trying to find that middle ground.”


By Cory Gunkel and Danny Barrett Jr.