Community centers in Hall County instituted new fees Thursday in an attempt to gain a level of self-sufficiency.
"Our department was on the verge of being extinct," said Mike Little, acting director for Hall County Parks and Leisure Services.
An $11.5 million shortfall in the county's general operating fund resulted in big changes for the department, which was at risk of being shut down altogether or being privatized. Earlier this summer, the department's budget was dropped to $1.7 million from $3.1 million.
Mulberry Creek Community Center facility manager, Marci Summer, said she thinks the new fee structure has been needed for a long time.
"If we are able to generate revenue we're able to defend ourselves when a budget crisis does occur," Summer said.
Fees include a $1-a-day pass to use the walking track or game room and $2 to play basketball but also include monthly and annual passes. For out-of-county users it's $2 to use the track and game room and $4 to play basketball. Fees at the East Hall Community Center at 3911 P. Davidson Road mirror those at Mulberry, located at 4491 JM Turk Road in Flowery Branch.
Summer said she believes tax dollars shouldn't be the sole provider of operational costs and added user fees are standard practice in other communities.
"We want to ease taxpayer burden as much as possible," she said.
It costs about $300,000 a year to operate each community center. With more than 80,000 users a year, the revenue earned by fees could add up to more than half the operational cost.
"It should get us in the neighborhood. We're not trying to be at 100 percent," Summer said. "We'll just see how close this can get us."
Corey Horne of Flowery Branch uses the gym at Mulberry Creek Community Center to play basketball with his friends. He said a few of his friends aren't happy about being charged to use the facility, but he thinks it's necessary.
"You can't pay light bills and water bills without money. That's what I tell people who are like ‘Why are they charging?' " Horne said. "That's what they should have been doing in the first place."
Stacy Smith of Gainesville uses the fitness room at Mulberry Creek to exercise. She said she thinks the new fee is more than reasonable.
"I don't think it's much to pay for the benefits. We love the park and would rather see it charged than closed," Smith said.
The department also had to close some parks and move their administrative offices from a building on Rainey Street. Several facilities will also be implementing shorter hours of operation and a moderate increase in user fees.
Little said his department is now "business as usual" and is gearing up for fall with several new programs. He said morale is high despite the heavier work load as employees are performing the duties of positions that have been cut.
"We're just trying to reorganize and do as much and more as we have in the past with much less," Little said.