Commission outlines recreation funding plan

Published 12:01 am Sunday, May 29, 2011

NATCHEZ — The Natchez-Adams Recreation Commission isn’t oblivious to the biggest objection to a $5.4 million recreation complex.

That’s why, at the last meeting of the three local boards which control the public tax dollars needed to build the complex, the commission presented a plan to fund the construction and maintenance of such recreation.

Recreation Commission Chairman Tate Hobdy outlined the commission’s suggestion that would conquer the biggest hurdle — funding — in the push to build the complex.

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He described the plan as simple and straightforward.

“(The funding plan) gives everybody some responsibly,” Hobdy said.

Since that April meeting, the boards have had a chance to mull over the ideas, and Hobdy and other commission members have appeared at each board’s regular meetings to bring up the topic again.

The plan

The commission suggested the county use a bond issue to pay an estimated $5.45 million for all construction costs of updating existing facilities at Duncan Park and at Natchez High School and building a new complex at the bean field near NHS.

The commission suggested that all three boards share maintenance costs, with the city bearing the brunt of the expense and school board maintaining the proposed swimming pool.

Hobdy proposed the Natchez Board of Aldermen hand over its nearly $1 million recreation budget, along with its recreation personnel to the commission, and that the Adams County Board of Supervisors would hand over its approximately $52,000 annual recreation budget.

The commission would take over responsibly of maintaining existing parks and facilities as well as the new complex.

“And y’all can run the city and county,” Hobdy told the respective boards.

Hobdy further explained three options for the county to afford a bond to pay for the construction of the new facility at the bean field and updates to existing facilities at Duncan Park.

The most viable plan, he said, rather than raise taxes too much or go through the convoluted and lengthy legislative process of funding the construction with sales tax, was to use the money now going to debt that is slated to come off the accounting books in the next five or six years.

According to a debt analysis, the county is on track to retire as much as $10 million in debt by 2016.

Those paid-off debts could free up some room in the county budget to take out a bond to pay for construction of the recreation complex, Board of Supervisors President Darryl Grennell said.

“At one time I was under impression we had debt service that will be going off the books, (so) if we did a bond issue for recreation it would basically be like a wash,” Grennell said.

The $10 million, however, does not include future loans the county might take out, nor does it include a road bond the county recently took out to pay for a $2.4 million asphalt overlay project that is still in the works.

For this fiscal year ending Sept. 30, the county has budgeted to pay $2.24 million, or $711,012 less than the last fiscal year on debt services.

In the 2011-2012 fiscal year, the county will owe $200,000 less, and in 2012-2013 fiscal year, the county will owe $900,000 less.

By 2016, the county should have paid off enough of its long- and short-term debt to owe only $817,000.

Chancery Clerk Tommy O’Beirne said the debt comes from a variety of loans, such as funding for the federal courthouse.

O’Beirne said a payment of approximately $480,000 for five years will be owed on the road bond, unless the county refinances the bond. If the county refinances the bond it will cost the supervisors approximately $200,000 for the next 15 years.

In addition, O’Beirne announced at the board’s last meeting that the county’s tax revenue for car tags this year was $500,000 less than what was budgeted.

Grennell said he thinks the $500,000 loss in car tag revenue should not be part of the equation when it comes to funding recreation.

“My position is I want to go ahead and see us move forward with a recreation complex,” Grennell said.

“As member of board I am willing to take a stand for (taking out) a bond issue (for recreation).”

Even if it means raising taxes somewhat, Grennell said he will support the idea of the county funding the facility’s construction.

“If it has to be underwritten by (increased tax) millage, I’m willing to do it,” Grennell said.

“But I’m one of five votes.”

Cost of maintenance

When Hobdy suggested both the county and city officials hand over their recreation budgets, most board members realized the discrepancy in those budgets.

And some board members have posed questions in recent meetings about how the commission can stretch both the city and county budgets to maintain the existing facility plus the new complex.

Hobdy said if the new complex brings in as much money as the commission hopes and expects, income from the complex will help make up that difference.

“We’ll have additional income and by making (spending) a little more efficient, I think we’ll be able to keep those (maintenance) costs under control,” Hobdy said.

Hobdy said the commission is working on getting more concrete numbers relating to the cost of maintenance, but he estimates it will cost 10 percent of the cost of construction to maintain the complex, or approximately $545,000 a year.

He projects income for the first years to be approximately $300,000, although the commission is working on getting more firm numbers for that projection, as well.

“The golf course pulls in (approximately) $250,000, and I feel confident (the new complex can make) at least that if not certainly more,” Hobdy said.

This year the city had a recreation budget of $900,000.

The city’s current recreation budget shows $330,000, or just over one third of its recreation budget is funded by income generated at its recreation facilities. The rest of the expenses are paid with tax dollars.

Of the revenue in the city’s recreation budget, $225,000 came from ad valorem taxes. The city collects two tax mills specifically for recreation, the maximum legally allowed, City Clerk Donnie Holloway said.

The recreation budget also shows the city allocated $297,000 from its general fund to recreation.

The golf course was budgeted to produce a total income of $293,000 from green fees, driving range fees, golf concessions, sold golf merchandise and cart rental fees.

The city also budgeted an income of $11,000 from Martin League fees, $15,000 from tennis, $7,000 from tennis concessions and $5,000 from tennis merchandise sold.

Holloway said the city’s recreation department employs 18 people, with the majority of them being employees with the golf course. The city employs two people to oversee the department, a director and an administrative assistant.

Hobdy said the commission would use the personnel already in place in the city and shift positions around to staff the maintenance of the new and existing complexes. Eventually, the complex might make enough of its own income to hire more people, Hobdy said.

Grennell said the county has had a recreation budget in the $50,000 range ever since he has been on the board for the past 14 years.

The county has a recreation board that handles the recreation budget. He said approximately $50,000 is divided between recreation equipment, maintenance of its six parks and partial funding for local Dixie Youth and T.M. Jennings Little League youth baseball programs.

Grennell said he likes the commission’s willingness to oversee all parks in Adams County, both inside and outside the city limits.

He said he supports the commission’s recommendation for funding, so long as it makes clear that the county has done its part to pay for recreation after it funds the construction.

“Ten years from now, I don’t want the city and school board to come asking for money to operate — no. I want the county to build it and let city and school board work out operations and maintenance,” Grennell said.

Cost of the pool

The Natchez-Adams School board would supply a conservative estimate of $80,000 a year to maintain the swimming pool, which will be located on school property. The school board is legally restricted to spend money on school property.

Hobdy said the commission also estimated the pool could generate approximately $25,000 to $30,000 in income to help offset maintenance costs.

It is unclear whether the school board would receive the income generated by the pool or if it would stay in the recreation budget.

Next step

The commission will try to set up a meeting with all three boards near the end of June, Hobdy said. The supervisors requested the boards meet again after the new county administrator, Joe Murray, has a chance to look over the budget and analyze funding options. Murray started working Monday as administrator.

Hobdy said the school board requested at its last meeting someone from the commission meet with NASD administration to discuss pool costs. Hobdy said he would like that meeting to take place before all three boards meet again.

He said the commission is also working to arrive at more concrete numbers to describe revenue and expense estimates of the proposed new complex, as requested by the supervisors.

The other minor challenge is getting the 16 board members and mayor in a room again to make some decisions based on the recommendations presented, after each has had some time to mull them over.

“The challenge is trying to find a date when all three (boards) can meet,” Hobdy said.

Hobdy said although the next meeting is not slated until next month, he feels like recreation is still on track.

“Stagnation is certainly my largest fear, but I don’t feel like we’re at that point yet,” Hobdy said.