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County to seek bids for park operation

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By Calen McKinney

The operation of Veterans Memorial Park could soon be in new hands.

Magistrates discussed the future of the park at Tuesday night's regular Fiscal Court meeting.

On behalf of the Court's Planning, Parks and Recreation Committee, which met Monday night, Magistrate Ed Gorin told the Court about the Committee's discussion of the park's operation and budget.

The meeting stemmed from a County budget discussion in October. During that discussion, Taylor County Judge/Executive Eddie Rogers recommended several cuts to the County's budget to save money.

There was a question as to whether any money could be saved by changing the operation of Veterans Memorial Park.

At last month's Court meeting, Gorin asked if the Planning, Parks and Recreation Committee could meet to discuss potential changes.

Gorin, who is a member of the Committee, told magistrates Tuesday night that the County could save about $44,000 a year if the park did not have a director, and about $21,000 if the park had only a part-time director.

In all, the park's budget totals about $60,000. County Treasurer Melissa Williams told magistrates that leagues and tournaments at the park generally only produce about $3,000 in income each year.

He said three recommendations came from discussion at the Committee's meeting Monday night, which are to either lease operation of the park to an individual or group, turn over operation to a committee or to employ a part-time employee to work only during the summer baseball and softball season.

Magistrate Richard Phillips, who is also a member of the Committee, said former Veterans Memorial Park Director Mark Pike met with the Committee on Monday night and expressed concern that an individual or group may not be willing to take over operation of the park. Pike did not attend Tuesday's meeting.

Phillips said Tuesday night that if the Court chooses to hire a part-time park employee, Pike could be considered for that position. He said there was no concern as to Pike's performance as park director.

"This is a budgetary issue at the point," he said. "It has nothing to do with Mark's performance."

Phillips questioned at Monday night's meeting whether the use of park justifies spending the more than $44,000 the County could save for other expenses.

Pike said he thought it did.

"We've got the actual taxpayers playing," he said.

After several minutes of back and forth discussion, Rogers told the Committee members that they needed to reach a recommendation to take to the Court.

"I don't have time for all this bull," he said.

Pike said he believes there needs to a person working at the park to oversee the upkeep of the fields and mowing.

" ... I have a little more experience than you have," he told Rogers.

On Tuesday night, Phillips said the Court has several options as to the direction of the park, and that's why the Committee wanted to give magistrates several choices to discuss.

Overall, Gorin said, the County's budget concerns require that something be done.

"The bottom line is, we're trying to save money and we've got to," he said.

Magistrate John Gaines said he understands that the park provides an entertainment service to the community.

"If the park costs about $60,000 to operate and only brings in $3,000, the return's not good," he said.

A way to learn whether there is interest in an individual or group interested in operating the park, Rogers said, is to advertise.

Phillips said he believes that if the park is leased, the County should continue to pay the cost of operating lights and mowing. The cost to operate the lights is about $1,000 per month, and Phillips said he believes an individual won't likely take on that responsibility.

Rogers said the mowing of the park could be done by inmates from the Taylor County Detention Center.

Gaines made a motion to advertise for bids and see if an individual or group has any interest in operating the park. He said the advertisement should include that the County will be responsible for the operation of the lights and mowing. Gorin seconded the motion, which was unanimously approved.

- Staff Writer Calen McKinney can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 235 or by e-mail at reporter@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.