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Hall commissioners approve in-house parks plan
Reserve fund, increased fees will keep department running
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And the parks will go on.

Hall County's Board of Commissioners voted on Thursday to dip into the county's reserve funds to keep the Parks and Leisure Services department in business for the rest of the year.

The department will look different, though. Its headquarters on Rainey Street will close. Fees for rentals of the Chicopee Agricultural Center and rooms at community centers will rise.

Groups that once had free access to the agricultural center will now have to pay, though Assistant County Administrator Marty Nix said those groups will still be offered reduced rates.

An acting director will be appointed from within the department's current ranks to "stabilize the organization and assess staffing, programs, energy consumption and overall operations" of the department, Nix said.

Two full-time positions will be eliminated, one of which is vacant, and some part-time staff members will have their hours reduced.

County officials say they will make public today a full list of the new fee structure for the department.

"The programs will be in-tact," Nix said. "The sports programs will be intact, with slight user fee increases, and everything will remain the same. We will just be
streamlined and more efficient."

But other than a four-page presentation that showed budget numbers and general bullet points of the plan, county officials provided no detailed plan for the future of the department Thursday.

Commissioners approved the plan with little questioning of staff Thursday. Many had already discussed the plan with staff in meetings over the last week.

Commissioners Billy Powell and Craig Lutz did ask accounting procedures for the department to be changed in the next six months so county officials can scrutinize the costs of each program and community center.

Nix said the changes will be part of the new plan for the department.

The plan approved Thursday includes a number of cost-saving measures.

To save on printing costs, Nix said the department will now create electronic brochures and email them to possible program participants.

Staff will now be housed at the Mulberry Creek and East Hall community centers as the Rainey Street office closes.

County officials have begun talks with Gainesville school officials about selling them the 2-acre property situated in front of Gainesville High School, according to Commissioner Billy Powell.

The approval for the new recreation plan comes a day after the YMCA withdrew a proposal to help run the department.

The nonprofit was slated to present its plan Thursday to take over aspects of the department but withdrew its proposal after commissioners said they were considering another plan to keep operating the department in-house.

The YMCA backed out, issuing a statement that the nonprofit never wished to compete with the county, only to step in where it was needed.

"This process has been roughly an $890,000 savings to this county," Commissioner Ashley Bell said. "If we had not had this conversation and we had not set a deadline for Sept. 1 for us to figure out a way of doing this better, smarter and be more innovative, then we would be costing this county $890,000 to continue to do things the way we used to do it."

Commissioners cut the recreation agency's funding from approximately $2.8 million to $1.3 million during budget discussions in June.

Then commissioners said the funding would get the department through the month of August and leave some start-up funds for a new incarnation of the department.

Commissioners sought proposals from three nonprofits — the YMCA, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County and Veterans Outreach — to take over aspects of the department.

Most talk centered on privatization efforts, though county officials always had the option of keeping the department in-house with increased revenues, and Thursday's decision came nearly three weeks ahead of the Sept. 1 funding deadline.

The finalized plan, with increased revenues and use of reserve funds, bumps the department's appropriation up to $1.97 million.

"I think we're going to be better and stronger going forward," Powell said.