Thursday, May 29, 2008
Recreation dominates city meeting
By SUE WATSON
The Holly Springs Parks and Recreation Department has set a five-week summer camp for children ages 11-15 at the Eddie L. Smith Multi-Purpose Building.
Recreation director Ken McMullen and the mayor and board of aldermen hashed out some of the details for registration at the May 20 board meeting.
The camp will accept 100 children on a first-come, first-serve basis. The registration fee was set at $40 per child with no refunds if a camper drops out.
The camp meets each weekday from 8 a.m.-12 p.m. No food will be served but snacks may be provided on Fridays, McMullen said.
Aldermen asked the fee schedule to be set at $40 per child to recover expenses. That computes to about $1.50 a day per child.
Various activities are planned, including some outdoor activities at Spring Hollow Park adjacent to the Multi-Purpose Building on North Memphis Street.
Aldermen Tim Liddy, Nancy Hutchens and Russell Johnson argued for setting the fee high enough to pay staffers’ salaries.
Liddy argued that parents would have to pay much more for their child to attend day care.
“This is an option instead,” he said. “You won’t get day care for that.”
Johnson wanted as many children as possible to benefit from the activities but for the camp to pay its way.
“This is a draft (plan),” Mayor Andre’ DeBerry explained.
“It would solve problems of children with nothing to do,” McMullen added.
Aldermen were concerned that the camp did not strap the city financially.
“If you have less than 100 members, you would cut back on staff, right?” Liddy asked. “You need a camp director in addition to staff. I agree with Russell; it may be too cheap.”
He noted that a recent three-day soccer camp charged players $40.
DeBerry suggested the planned lunches on Friday be eliminated and instead snacks be provided if local businesses would pitch in to help defray costs. He said snacks would be less costly and messy to clean up - another cost which could be eliminated.
“Maybe Wal-Mart and the groceries would help,” DeBerry said.
He noted that McMullen should ask adults in the community and parents to also volunteer some time to help with the camp as is done by the ball programs in Potts Camp and Byhalia.
Alderman Naylond Hayes suggested the camp could be held at the football stadium, but DeBerry voiced concerns about safety and keeping track of the youngsters.
“It is easier to keep up with them in the building,” he said.
Johnson believes more than 100 local youth will enroll in the camp.
But Hutchens suggested the camp can only accommodate about 100 and registration should be cropped at that number.
Johnson motioned the summer camp program be adopted with changes discussed and the motion passed unanimously.
Alderman Hutchens then voiced concerns that have been brought to her attention regarding the condition of the ball fields at Coopwood Park.
“I just keep getting bombarded by people talking about our fields and that our (game) schedules are not met,” she said.
Rob Hurdle, supervisor of Buildings and Grounds, explained his department was getting behind on grass cutting at the fields at times and some of his grass cutters have not shown up for work.
“Fire them,” said Liddy.
“I think it looks bad to have to cancel games here and the teams drive to Potts Camp and Byhalia and play,” Hutchens said.
“It’s not Ken’s fault,” Hurdle said.
Hutchens continued, “When it’s ball season time, you get enough help and if they don’t show up for work or have a valid doctor’s excuse, you get somebody that will. When it’s ball time, it’s ball time.”
Hurdle said his hands have been tied.
“I’ve about pulled my hair out,” he said.
Liddy suggested if the fields were not ready by noon for afternoon play, then someone should notify the teams.
“I just think we have manpower, but we are not using it,” Hutchens said.
DeBerry suggested more volunteerism is needed at the parks as the towns of Byhalia and Potts Camp have volunteer manpower for the games.
“They want AutoZone Park,” he said. “We have to realize youth sports programs in most cities are undergirded by volunteers.”
He said he was already short by two workers at Building and Grounds and to move another one over to look after the park would make matters worse.
“Why not hire someone?” Hutchens asked.
“The baseball fields need someone on a constant basis,” DeBerry said. “And Building and Grounds has to address the cemeteries, walks, thoroughfares.
“You may get volunteers, but you have to have equipment out there,” said Hutchens.
“We need someone responsible (for the fields) before and between games instead of volunteers and pay them a little something,” Hayes said.
DeBerry said the city has been looking for good workers to hire but recent applications have not shown prospects.
“We say we need people from his (Hurdle’s) staff, but we were looking at the last meeting to bring someone else on board,” Johnson said.
“No, I was suggesting taking a part-time employee and increasing his hours to let him do this,” DeBerry said.
Hutchens wondered if anyone was assigned to see about field conditions during the day before afternoon games.
“You have one person rotating around the fields and getting the fields ready,” DeBerry said, “somebody who knows what to do and to take responsibility. We still have Building and Grounds cut the fields, then go back to the rights-of way.”
Hutchens noted the summer baseball season ends in June.
DeBerry added that the city is still short two or three people in Building and Grounds.
“I agree we need more volunteers,” Liddy reiterated. “In Byhalia, they do it by all volunteers or it wouldn’t be done.”
DeBerry noted the recreation department has a director, administrative assistant and one support staff.
Johnson reminded the board that other employees at the recreation department had been moved to other departments.
“Ken needs flexible staffing,” he said, who could work some time in the morning and then late in the day when games are scheduled.
“We have asked this man (McMullen) to do a lot with minimum staff and with not enough staff,” said DeBerry.
Johnson said five men are working from 8 to 5, but staffers are needed who can work a flexible schedule.
“They need to be there when Ken needs people,” he said. “I see it as a major problem.”
“But we also need to look at the makeup of the staff,” DeBerry said.
“We moved some of his (McMullen's) people to Building and Grounds and also some of the work load,” Johnson said.
“We may need to bring the staff back,” DeBerry said.
Liddy revisited some concerns of the past and the present, saying planning on a season-to-season basis is weak in the recreation department.
“Weeks before the pool was to open it was not ready,” he said. “Then the park is not ready and the football field was not ready and now the grass is growing too fast (for Building and Grounds to keep up).”
DeBerry said he hopes for a new crop of applicants.
City attorney Ki Jones suggested the city pay overtime to Building and Grounds workers as a possible solution to the seasonal problem at the parks.
“We do have overtime when we need to,” DeBerry said.
“Does Rob have the discretion to offer overtime to his crew?” Jones asked.
“We look to see if there is a real need,” said DeBerry.
With the ball field situation set aside, Hayes revisited the pool problem - that it would be closed now for a third season without either being repaired and put to use or demolished.
“What about demolition of the pool?” Liddy asked.
DeBerry said the pool should not be demolished until any environmental concerns had been addressed.
Liddy proposed the concrete be removed then the area filled in.
DeBerry said the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality should be consulted first.
“I would like to do it right,” he said.
Hayes jumped in.
“I have some really strong issues about demolishing the pool or covering it up,” he said. “It seems we are willing to spend thousands of dollars to demolish the pool but won’t spend $1,700 to repair it and hire workers.
“We are willing to have it demolished rather than fix it so kids will have something to do during the summer. I have big issues with that.”
DeBerry said an estimate to repair the pool came close to $60,000 and insurance providers required four life guards.
“We could not find lifeguards,” he said.
“We can’t wait until the Friday before the pool opens to advertise for lifeguards,” Hayes said. “We could have found life guards, if we had started looking in time. We could have repaired the pool if we had started in time.”
Pool season historically begins Memorial Day weekend each year.
DeBerry reminded Hayes that the entire board has toured the pool and “the board was at total disgust at the shape of the pool and the breaks and cracks.”
“That’s no issue,” said Hayes. “We repaired the motor (water circulator) and could open that pool if we wanted to.”
“We didn’t have liability issues then when we swam in the ditches in the Meadows,” said DeBerry.
Hayes insisted an insurance provider could be found and the pool could be reopened.
“There is no reason why we should not open that pool unless you just do not want to open it,” he said. “We need to give those kids something to do. If we do not, they are going to find something to do that we might not like.”
The next meeting of the mayor and board of aldermen is scheduled for Tuesday, June 3 at 5:30 p.m. at city hall.
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