Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat
Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat

Play ball:How much do city and county spend on recreation?

Published 12:28am Sunday, March 24, 2013

Story by Vershal Hogan, Lindsey Shelton & Rod Guajardo

Jeanie Peabody has fond memories of her children playing at Duncan Park and enjoying all the facilities that once welcomed neighborhood children with open arms.

But Peabody says it’s unlikely future generations will have those same memories if more attention isn’t quickly paid to recreation in Natchez.

“My children enjoyed all of those facilities, and even though they’re grown, it’s still important to me to try and invest in recreation for the future generations of children,” Peabody said. “There has to be a commitment to recreation, or nothing will ever happen.”

Peabody’s fear that no meaningful changes may happen on recreation in Natchez-Adams County have most recently come to a head.

Officials with the City of Natchez and Adams County recently disagreed on whether or not to fund a communitywide recreation director’s position. The discussion became an argument over how much each entity currently pays toward recreation and how the city and county could work together to make an equitable contribution to recreation.

But currently, the amounts spent by each governmental entity on recreation are far from equitable.

City pays much more

When it comes to recreation programs, the City of Natchez budgets nearly 20 times more than does Adams County.

Looking beyond budgets and including in-kind contributions such as utility bills and grounds maintenance, Adams County’s recreation contributions grow somewhat but still only equal approximately 10 percent of what the city spends.

The City of Natchez’s current annual recreation budget includes $911,526 in revenues and $929,877 in expenditures, according to a budget provided by the city clerk’s office.

The revenue budget includes $297,756 appropriated from the general fund and $241,570 in taxes that are dedicated to the recreation fund, or approximately 60 percent of the total.

Adams County’s recreation budget is $50,000, with another $40,508.58 in in-kind contributions toward recreation facilities added through the year.

The Natchez-Adams County Recreation Commission has advocated for the hiring of a joint recreation director. The commission proposed that Adams County pay $45,000 in salary and the City of Natchez provide $15,000 a year for salary, a car and employee benefits.

The county would also turn over its recreation budget to the new joint recreation director, who recreation commission chair Tate Hobdy said would focus on programming, budgeting and doing capital campaigns for a consolidated program.

But some city officials were hesitant to embrace the recreation proposal, saying they felt contributions from the two governments would ultimately be unequal.

City of Natchez golf

Approximately 55 percent of the current city recreation budget — or $513,402 — is allocated for the Duncan Park Golf Course.

Mayor Butch Brown said the golf course generates the most revenue of all of the city’s recreational activities.

The golf course budget increased approximately $50,000 over last year’s budget because the city contracted with Mississippi Management for $66,000 annually to manage the course. The city had previously been paying the company approximately $48,000 only to maintain the course, golf course Superintendent Greg Brooking said.

The city also added a $20,000 contract with a company to trim and remove nuisance trees at the golf course, Brooking said, to maintain the integrity of the course.

The increase in the budget will more than be offset, Brown said, with the recent transfer of some recreation employees to other departments.

Approximately $144,700 is budgeted for full-time salaries, $16,300 for part-time salaries and approximately $51,300 for benefits.

Brooking said the golf course staff includes four full-time groundskeepers for the course, two part-time golf cart employees, two full-time pro shop employees and a part-time administrator.

Approximately $35,000 is budgeted for turf fertilizers, chemicals, sand and other course supplies, $19,000 for gas and oil, $14,000 for operating supplies and $32,000 for repairs and maintenance.

Last fiscal year the golf course generated approximately $319,592 in revenues, according to figures from the city clerk’s office. Most of that came from golf cart rental fees, which totaled $145,678, and green fees, which totaled $132,125.

Driving range fees and concessions generated approximately $18,000 each and merchandise approximately $5,000.

The city has budgeted approximately the same amount of revenue from the golf course this year, approximately 34 percent of the city’s recreation revenues.

Brown and Ward 5 Alderman Mark Fortenbery, who is head of the city recreation committee, said revenues should be up at the end of the fiscal year.

Fortenbery said monthly totals for green fees and cart fees have been up since last October, when Mississippi Golf Management took over management. Fees were up as much as $10,000 in February.

Brooking said the company has tighter reins on the operation of the golf course and has eliminated abuse of golf course services.

Brown said the golf course also restructured its fee system, raising some fees and eliminating other redundant fees. The course also eliminated all memberships except one-year or six-month memberships.

“We’re cutting down on expenses that need to be cut down on,” Brooking said. “We don’t want to cut down on money that is preserving the city’s asset of the golf course. Money has to be spent at the golf course to upkeep it.”

Grounds and ball field maintenance

Grounds and ball field maintenance make up 17 percent of the city recreation budget, with $153,996 budgeted for this fiscal year.

Salaries for grounds and ball field maintenance total approximately $56,000. That includes three full-time maintenance workers and one part-time worker. Benefits total approximately $20,000.

The contract for grass cutting for recreation areas and ball fields is $42,800 annually.

The budget also includes $10,000 annually for gasoline and oil, $12,500 for electricity and other expenses.

City of Natchez Tennis

Tennis expenses are approximately 12 percent of the recreation budget, with approximately $110,800 budgeted for this fiscal year.

That includes approximately $66,900 for salaries for tennis pro Henry Harris, the tennis shop manager and one part-time employee.

Employee benefits total approximately $18,400.

Materials, repairs and maintenance, electricity, concessions and other expenses total $25,475.

The city has budgeted for approximately $22,000 in revenues for tennis this year, approximately 2 percent of total revenues.

City of Natchez other facilities

Approximately 10 percent — $89,542 — of the recreation budget is spent at the city’s other parks and facilities, including North Natchez Park, the Martin gym, Concord Avenue Park and others.

That figure includes Recreation Operations Director Wilbert Whittley’s $31,500 salary, as well as $12,325 total for part-time basketball referees. Benefits total approximately $10,380.

The budget also includes $6,750 for league supplies, $7,000 for repairs and maintenance, $6,550 for electricity and various other expenses.

Martin league fees generate approximately $17,800, or approximately 2 percent of total revenues.

The recreation budget also includes an approximately $62,000 fund for parks administration, which included a $39,000 salary plus benefits for recreation co-interim director Salina Edwards. Edwards is now working in the mayor’s office but will be paid from the recreation budget until the end of the current fiscal year, Brown said. She will then be paid from the mayor’s office’s budget, he said, which will free up that money in the recreation budget.

Adams County Recreation

With only $50,000 set aside each year for the county’s recreation program, Adams County’s recreation budget is only approximately 5 percent of what the City of Natchez spends on recreation on an annual basis.

Supervisor David Carter and County Administrator Joe Murray recently worked to determined what costs the county contributed in in-kind contributions toward the recreation program.

The in-kind contributions include employee salaries, utilities, property insurance, and payments on a tractor note.

When those costs were figured in, the county’s recreation expenditures are $90,508.58, Carter said, including approximately $1,000 in revenue the county receives for renting out some of its facilities.

The county has five parks — located in the Lagrange, Kingston, Broadmoor, Pinemount and Providence areas — as well as Chester Willis Field and the Adams County Equine Center on Muddy Fork Road in its recreation inventory.

In 2012, the county spent $19,308.58 in utilities at its parks and recreation facilities. Another $5,000 was expended on property insurance.

One county employee — who is paid $20,000 annually and receives an additional $10,000 worth of benefits — has the responsibility of mowing county parks. Assuming that employee spends a third of his time on recreation — Carter said it is likely closer to 25 percent — that would come to $10,000 in employee salaries and benefits toward recreation.

The tractor note was for a $24,600 tractor with a $5,200 annual payment that was purchased for use in the entire county. Carter said approximately half of the machine’s operating time is toward recreation.

The actual $50,000 budget is split, with $35,000 going toward park upgrades such as repair and painting of bleachers and $15,000 for expenses such as chemicals, tractor parts, mowers and other needs.

Carter said the county is able to work with such a lean recreation budget is by having strong community involvement in its local parks.

The county also often uses inmate labor to make repairs and maintain some facilities, he said.

If the supervisors fund a recreation director at a rate of $45,000 annually — something the board has committed to doing on a pro-rated basis for the current fiscal year — their total recreation contributions would be bumped up to $135,508.58.

Hiring a director?

Fortenbery said the next step toward a consolidated city-county recreation program is hiring the director.

“I think you need a director in place before you can get a big picture going,” he said. “That’s just my opinion.”

And, despite recent debates, Fortenbery said he believes progress toward getting a director in place is moving better now than it has since a non-binding, countywide referendum on recreation was passed 2009.

Carter — who serves as the county’s liaison to the recreation commission and was a member of the now-dissolved county recreation board before his election — said the county is committed to hiring a recreation director.

“We are ready to move forward on this,” Carter said. “We want to see this thing happen.”

Having a director in place will help with the process of consolidating the two programs, he said.

But Brown said some of the aldermen do not want to hire a recreation director and turn the city’s recreation budget over to a third party to be budgeted, thus losing oversight of the money.

As of now, Brown said, the city and the county are working out the specifics of hiring a director.

Inactivity exodus

As city and county leaders continue to mull how they might work together on recreation, for some parents, time has run out.

It wasn’t an easy decision for Leigh Anne Mason to take her daughter, Shelby, out of Natchez softball leagues and cross the river to compete in the Vidalia league. But it was one that Mason had to make for her daughter’s sake.

“I hated to jump on the bandwagon and go across the river, but we stayed with Natchez as long as could before going to Vidalia,” Mason said. “In Natchez, 11-year-olds to 18-year-olds play together, and they do that because they don’t have enough kids for more leagues.

“We just felt like there was more competition because of the age groups, and the chances to go to All-Star games.”

Mason, who also serves on the Natchez-Adams County Recreation Commission, said while she hates to see more and more players going to play ball in Vidalia, it’s something that will continue to happen unless changes are made in Natchez.

“I’m kind of the softball voice on the recreation commission, and we’ve played ball from Orlando to Joplin, Mo., and our facilities here are terrible,” Mason said. “They do the best that they can do with what they have, but it’s time for some upgrades.

“And it’s not just softball — baseball, tennis, everything needs an upgrade.”

Having witnessed first hand the economic opportunities from athletic tournaments, Mason said recreation upgrades would be an investment for the city.

“There are tournaments in softball, baseball and soccer almost every weekend, and if you had the right person reaching out to these tournaments people would come here,” Mason said.

“I think it’s time for Natchez to step up and make things better, not only for our kids here, but also for the kids who could be coming in from out of town.”

 

 

  • Anonymous

    Grounds and ballfield maintenace 76,000 salary and benefits and they dont even cut the grass? We contract it for 42,000. What do these 3 people do? 3 people with vehicles, fuel and oil is extra to keep up 6 ballfields and 5 or 6 city parks. Apparantly the aldermans friends are paid to pick up trash.
    Operations director, 42,000 salary and benefits. What does he do? Run the basketball league for 3 months out of year?
    62,000 for administration? OMG
    110,000 for tennis? Most citys build the courts and then rent them to a management group for 1 dollar a year. Then the tennis pro is motivated to run an upscale program because his salary depends on it and his crew keeps the grounds in good shape. A good pro would come for zero dollars if he could have control and collect the fees. Our problem is nobody ever pays their fees.
    Sounds like the county runs just as much as the city if you take away the golf course and tennis. Yet the county does it for less than 100,000. Why not let the city pay their rec budget to the county for the recreation? Much like the county pays the city for fire protection. Looks like we would get more bang for our buck. The city has lost control of this.
    The mayor even stated his board is scared to loose control. Why? They realize the funds being wasted for politacal favors.
    We must GET A DIRECTOR and put these funds and the director under control of an independant board such as the EDA was done with Natchez Inc. We have seen the results. There is enough waste here to advance our facilities with proper management. Maybe not build a complex like some want but we could definitely improve our present ones.

  • WakeUpNatchez

    I would love a more detailed explanation of the $76,000 budgeted for grounds and ball fields. What ball fields are they referring to? The fields at Duncan Park haven’t been properly maintained since Preacher Brown worked em. The coaches try their best to get em ready, including using their own tractors and tools, because the Dixie Youth board can’t figure out who has the right keys. If someone is actually being paid to maintain these grounds, sign me up also! I would love to get paid to sit under a beautiful shade tree and catch a nap, then ease down to the golf shop and sit for a couple hours, take my lunch, then catch another nap before going home for the day!

  • Anonymous

    You left out the golf supt. salary when a management company has been hired to run the course?

  • Anonymous

    C’mon Kevin, you didn’t leave us room to comment on your rewards article. If you had that information, you could easily forecast a sales tax increase needed to fund the rec. complex which would let everyone in the county share the load, not just homeowners with houses worth over homestead exemption. “Everyone” would then include all those dollars spent here by the visiting teams, thus more toward “self-funding”.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry to see people “jump ship” and go to Vidalia but totally understand……it’s about the kids and what is best for them. My family had many hours of fun watching girls softball in the early 90′s as our daughter grew up. If money and labor are part of the problem then let me beat the same “old drum” I have for years…. There are 3.5 million (and growing) in uncollected court fines, a couple of million in garbage fees, and soon many thousands in litter fines. If the county board would support my efforts to collect some of the money I could offer able-bodied indigents a chance to pay the money owed to Adams County and Mississippi on a work release program. This of course would mean their workforce at Justice Court would have to be directed to work with the Judges. Now it’s all “smoke and mirrors” and political pandering to make it look like something is being done. Last week I scheduled “contempt hearings”set on the Justice Court docket 7 weeks ago. This was to give the staff ample time to have me 40 or so cases (hopefully local citizens) to appear before me on why their fines have not been paid. Guess how many I got? ZERO…..NADA!! Two weeks ago same thing!! Once I asked why….was told “We’ll get round too it!” Ugh….excuse me but why should I come in special and waste my time and offer to work extra with “no” compensation. Now people are talking about hiring a recreation director with car and benefits making probably 25 percent more than me!! Forget that!! I hope you will agree we need upgrades in recreation…..but not at the expense of property taxpayers. I want to be part of the solution and continue to offer my time…..but that is soon gonna come to an end!! So you don’t think I am all “sour grapes”….we have some fine employees at Justice Court they just need leadership and not excuses!!

  • http://www.natchezdemocrat.com khakirat

    Well, here we go again and even a front page headlines and pictures that are killing these local leaders over the rec. center in Vidalia built at no charge to the citizens is amazing and its blistering their hides!!! I’ve heard and been reading the comments about a lot of Adams county people are signing their kids in Dixie Youth across the river and I can understand these parents feeling for myself and others tried to get a rec. center over 30 years ago when the local economy was hitting on all cylinders but the BOA & BOS all told us for years it wasn’t in their budget!! So, with the present economy as it is I see no way with a broke city and county monies there is no way for a director , rec. center or nothing unless the money bags or business as plants and casinos as that of Vicksburg to take care of the whole ball of wax as staff salaries and etc.!! Going back when I was 7 yrs old and up to 17 yrs old my father and other fathers that had sons playing baseball in the Civitan or Dixie Youth Fields in the 50′s with the help ,labor, and money coming from oil people and the community as the Duncan Park ball fields with bleachers, consessions and backstops and what ever needed was was built by 75% from our father spending hours working!! To be honest I have a special meaning when I go to these ballfields at Duncan park as well as Liberty Park seeing what our father built and are still there!! My 2 sons and 1 daughter played on the same fields I played ball on but going to play in state play offs thr out the state they had telephones in the dugouts and fans cooling people in the bleachers with a roof over them which was nice!! My feeling is that the fathers may need to get together and geterdone if they want a rec. center!! OSG is correct about the sales tax so everyone has to pay for property taxpayers are beat up in Adam county and are looking for tax decrease and not increases!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • http://www.natchezdemocrat.com khakirat

    You have got to be out of your mind for where you going to get the money and resources much less the insurance!! I feel a lot of this hiring and salary people need to go back to the volunteering and not pay as we grew up in at Duncan Park!! Parents keep the fields in order and the civic clubs ran the concessions and gave back to the teams and fields!! People then as raising our own paid all the fees needed to play with out hand outs but if there was some one as I knew that couldn’t afford fees are equipment to play the fathers would pass the hat and it was keep secret!!! Talking about the fire protection all my neighbors in the country are counting on the BOS on having our two firestations in action in the North and South parts of the county so we aren’t obligated to the City!!! Also, we don’t want to be taxed by a rec. complex for we need the firestations more to save lives and homes that is more important!!! People need to learn to pay their own bills as that of the 2 million dollars of uncollected trash bill just as it should be paid on the ball fields and school lunch rooms!!!!

  • http://www.natchezdemocrat.com khakirat

    Same difference as the convention center a endless money pit that the city taxpayers will never get paid!!!

  • http://www.natchezdemocrat.com khakirat

    I salute you on your comment and as a taxpayer thank you!! But I still don’t know what the mystery on why the BOS aren’t taking care of business on this as well as the uncollected trash fines that the ND needs to educated us on why all this money hasn’t been collected from the past going back to 1996 huh’??!!!!! Do people run their businesses in Adams county like this?? I DONT THINK SO??? Why haven’t they fired that bunch (County court clerks ) that not doing their jobs and hire a new crew?? Help us out ND!!!

  • Anonymous

    Before natchez takes a nose dive in building some monster of a complex just to compete with vidalia, it needs to use the assets it has and get rid of the ‘good ol’boy’ mind set that runs the youth leagues around here. When it comes to things like youth baseball, there are too many different leagues. Just like the rest of natchez, it’s divided.
    Natchez has resources a lot of other communities don’t have.. I’ve lived in a number of different places, and none of them have a place like that duncan park.. ball fields, tennis courts, golf course… It’s just too bad, someone with some vision can’t step up and make use of it’s potential.

  • Anonymous

    It’s worth noting that your criticism is directed at the city, who provides all the recreation for the entire county and not a word of criticism for the county who provides nothing ! It is infinitely more cost effective not to have a program than it is to endeavor to do so. The county already knows this, that’s why it doesn’t have a recreation program. The county knows that recreation is an enrichment to the community and not a money maker !

  • Anonymous

    I agree we do not need a huge complex right now nor the taxes. If you read, i am just saying get a control on what is there. Put these funds in the hands of a commission to utilize in a positive manor rather than the wasting of dollars on friends of alderman.

  • http://www.natchezdemocrat.com khakirat

    If you read of government consolidation thru out the world in economics it gives too much temptation for politicians to take public moneys!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    You would hand over control to a commission that has failed to provide a business plan ? Even after spending $33,000 on hiring an expert that came back with nothing. The commission has never come up with anything other than we want to spend your money !

  • Anonymous

    I would be willing to bet that the clerks that are not doing their jobs are also on the list for uncollected monies. I would also bet that the overwhelming percentage of the people that owe the fines are the same able bodied deadbeats that are sucking the money out of the Welfare system. If the “guvment” would require able bodied Welfare recipients work for the money we would all be better off. They could be used to clean the roads, maintain the recreation facilities and do the upkeep on County and City buildings for a start. I know some of the people on Welfare would rather work for the money they don’t like to take “handouts”.

  • Anonymous

    Attaboy2…..thanks for the comment, but, you are in the “right church but wrong pew”!! Many county employees including the clerks are hardworking but slack off due to leadership. Also, many, including some top management, have had financial problems over the years. These include bankruptcies, unpaid hospital bills, evictions from low housing (not paying rent), and buying products such as cars, furniture, and appliances which they could not afford. Judgements against many of these employees were delayed, back-burnered or sometimes even dismissed. Why that happens I don’t know. But in fairness to most county workers, as I stated earlier, work hard and pay their bills. I know of nobody who owe criminal fines or garbage bills. There are some though who drive “fine rides” and have beat local businessmen and hospitals out of goods and services. Those employees lack moral fiber and may be teaching those traits to the next generation of deadbeats.

  • Anonymous

    Come next election………………..

  • Anonymous

    What fathers?

  • Anonymous

    All of this and no spreadsheet has ever been shown to the public on the income/outgo of this proposed complex. Why didn’t the article discuss that?

  • http://www.natchezdemocrat.com khakirat

    County doesn’t need to be in the recreation business!!!

  • Anonymous

    OSG, I don’t believe there is a spreadsheet, only the 42 page “Economic Impact Assessment” prepared by
    OAN Events and Sports Marketing (OANMarketing dot com) for Lose & Assoc., Inc. (LoseAssoc dot com) to submit to the
    “Natchez-Adams County Recreation Commission”

  • http://www.natchezdemocrat.com khakirat

    My Father and other baseball players fathers that was probably a 100 besides the welders that built all the fields at Duncan Park that most of all the oil industry gave oilfield tubing and pipe for backstops, welders and equipment and etc!!

  • http://www.natchezdemocrat.com khakirat

    This is old history or subject for they are scared to show this and what it would cost for it would be in the tens of millions probably not even counting the liability insurance which would be high as a Georgia pine!!!

  • Anonymous

    Those fathers dont exist today.

  • http://www.natchezdemocrat.com khakirat

    Thats a big 10-4!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Anonymous

    The paper never had any interest in any spreadsheets.

  • http://www.natchezdemocrat.com khakirat

    I heard That!!!! And make the front page headlines of the ND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!