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YMCA bids to run Hall parks department
Commissioners committed to a solution
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Getting up to speed

By: Times_Newsroom

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Hall county officials now say they are working on a Plan B option for the future operation of the county's parks department.

The Board of Commissioners will review a proposal Tuesday from the YMCA to take over operations of the county's Parks and Leisure Services Department.

The YMCA submitted its proposal to the county late Thursday; it was not immediately available to The Times.

But Commissioner Ashley Bell says county staff and commissioners are working on a back-up plan for county recreation services.

"We're not trying to compete with the YMCA, but we do want to have a Plan B. We think they've been working hard at coming up with a great plan," Bell said. "But at the same time, one of the great things I've seen out of this privatization process is it has forced the government to compete with the private sector and it's been able to show us great savings."

Commissioners are supposed to meet with employees of the county administration one-by-one today to discuss the YMCA's proposal and the alternatives.

The final product is still uncertain.

"It could be a dual something with the Y and the county; maybe no Y, maybe all Y," Commissioner Scott Gibbs said.

Gibbs said commissioners were trying to figure out "if we can salvage any of what we have."

"I think we have great people, if we can just figure out a way to afford our people," Gibbs said.

Though there were no specifics on either plan available Thursday, Administrator Randy Knighton said the county's alternative was not final and would not comment on it.

Bell said the county's plan may involve cutting back services.

"I think it's only prudent that, you know, we scale back and try to focus on the areas where we deliver the most services to the most people," Bell said.

Commissioners say they are also finding ways to make the Chicopee Agricultural Center and the Allen Creek Soccer Complex profitable.

Gibbs said both could be in the black with "some minor tweaking." It could mean that groups that currently use the ag center for free might have to pay in the future.

"There's only so much free stuff you can give away," Gibbs said. "(It might mean) there's a fee schedule established where it's fair and equitable for everybody."

Bell said changes in established user fees will also help the department become more self-sustaining.

"The county's version will show a combination of fee increases, also savings through efficiencies, savings through consolidating and asking people to wear a couple of more hats," Bell said. "That's going to be common practice in Hall County for a while."

None of the commissioners said he had seen the YMCA's proposal when contacted by The Times Thursday.

The nonprofit's Chief Executive Officer Rich Gallagher declined commenting on the proposal until all commissioners had a chance to see it.

Commissioner Craig Lutz said the YMCA is mostly interested in taking over county community centers and indoor sports.

Organizing outdoor sports, he said, might be left to booster clubs, though the county could have a staff member responsible for renting baseball fields to various organizations and scheduling maintenance of those fields.

No matter what happens, Bell said there will be money to get park and recreation services through the fall.

And whether they choose the YMCA or not, having the private sector option on the table at the least makes the government reconsider its own efficiency, Bell said.

"We can show a private option and give our staff a chance to meet or beat that private option, and if they can do that, then we definitely would be willing to entertain keeping the park and rec under county control," Bell said.

And commissioners say they are committed to a solution.

"The last thing I want to do is close the parks," Gibbs said. "...Can we be everything to everybody? No, but if we can provide a quality service with a reasonable price, then I think that's what we've got to do."