Rocky Fork Enterprise

Parks and rec programs face cuts if revenues aren't generated

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ERIC GEORGE/THISWEEKNEWS
Programs such as the summer concert series, Creepside and Holiday Lights! may be canceled this year due to budget cuts.
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Gahanna's parks and recreation programs and personnel are poised to take a big hit if additional revenues aren't generated in the city.

Mayor Becky Stinchcomb and finance director Jennifer Teal made recommendations to Gahanna City Council on June 24 to move the city toward financial sustainability without dipping into city reserves.

Stinchcomb also recommended a 1-percent income tax rate increase be placed back on the ballot in November. The same issue failed by 122 votes in May.

Without new revenue and targeted for closure in 2015 are the city's swimming pools, the Ohio Herb Education Center and the Gahanna Senior Center. Parks and Recreation Department jobs on the line are 85 seasonal pool employees, two seasonal employees at the herb center, a full-time senior center position, a full-time recreation superintendent and supervisor and two part-time front-desk parks employees.

Parks and recreation director Tony Collins told ThisWeek his team has time to reach out to potential partners and sponsors for programs.

"New revenue strategies will be explored, and more fees for services will be implemented," he said. "We will be the best city we can."

The city canceled this year's July 4th Freedom Festival and fireworks, and Teal said a sponsor would be needed to cover all city expenses for this year's Creepside, Service Expo and Holiday Lights! parade.

Other recreation programming set for elimination or reduction this year include Party in Your Park, Music in the Park, Youth Council, Movie Night, Create and Play, Outdoor Adventure, the Grandparents Series, after-school environmental programs, holiday house new builds, a Get Moving team and Winter Wonderland.

Collins said he understands residents' frustration regarding the elimination and reduction of parks and recreation programs and services, but it has no reflection on the city and its concern for the community or its commitment to residents and youth.

"The city of Gahanna team is dedicated to providing the best service to the residents of Gahanna and are as equally disappointed and frustrated with the reductions that will be necessary to responsibly manage the city going forward," he said. "The Department of Parks and Recreation is responsible for operating within our financial constraints. The department is one of many service providers for the city, including the police department and service department that must operate within the financial means we have available."

Collins said funding for parks and recreation services and programs are an investment into the community.

"Communities with high quality of life improve their sustainability by investing in parks and recreation," he said. " Unfortunately, our financial forecast is forcing us to reduce or eliminate those investments."

Council is considering a recommendation to extend an agreement with Pros Consulting in an effort to include a cost-of-services study for parks and recreation and to supplementally appropriate $10,000 from the general fund.

Parks and rec is updating its comprehensive master plan to guide the department for the next three to five years.

The master plan helps to establish priorities for the future operation of parks, recreation facilities, programs and services within the city, Collins said.

"Projected funding challenges will increase the need for an understanding of the cost of services even beyond current levels," he said. "As we move forward, all services, including park, facility and trail maintenance provided by the department, need to be analyzed. Services offered by the department that have been traditionally subsidized by the general fund may need to generate revenue to support their costs."

Collins said Gahanna leaders would continue to find innovative ways to provide service to Gahanna residents in the future.

"We invite citizen participation and input as we move forward though these challenging times," he said.

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