Sports commentary: Time for you to make a stand

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Proposal to eliminate city's P&R group up for debate

By Mike Forster

  Democracy is simple:  You can step up now or you can step up later.

We should see our democratic processes in play over the next couple of weeks.  Specifically, we'll see how they work relative to the Bedford City Parks and Recreation Department.

Last week, the Bedford Bulletin published a story that told of the potential dismantling of the Parks and Rec group.

City council will consider a budget that does away with Parks and Rec as we know it.  Per the reversion agreement, the city department will revert to the "association model" used throughout the county.  That model  depends significantly on volunteerism, whereas the current city department is run by paid employees.  The association model has one part-time employee per locality, serving as director of that area's association.

As with any issue, there are two sides here.  Let me be perfectly clear:  Both sides have merit.  Everyone involved appears to have the best interests of Bedford (the county and the city/town) front and center.  Nobody is the bad guy.

The side of the coin that desires Bedford city/town to keep what it has makes sense.  The city has over 700 participants (out of about 6,200 residents) over the course of the year.  

Parks and Rec has beautiful facilities, particularly at Liberty Lake Park.  Excellent and diverse programs are offered throughout the calendar.

Additionally, it is unclear from just where the volunteers will come.  Demographically, Bedford City varies significantly from Bedford County.

Estimated median household income in Bedford City is $31,276.  That's quite a bit lower than the state median average of $59,330.  It also varies significantly with Bedford County's median household income of $52,119.

What that means is that there are a lot more people in the city who are earning a lot less money than are those in the county.

I don't have the scientific data to back up this assertion, but my common sense tells me that there is likely a positive correlation between income and volunteerism.

That is, those that have more money have more time to give to such things as children's recreation programs.

Thus, it might not be fair to try to fit the county's "association model" on the city because of the vast difference in the two area's economic  demographics.

There is real concern among the people of Bedford City that a loss in the robustness of their Parks and Rec department might be associated with a world of criminal and social ills.  In other words, many volunteers will have to step up to meet the challenge.

On the other hand, those that are proposing the change to Parks and Rec have some good points.

Reversion is more than just a method by which the county and city get a bunch of extra moolah from the state, though that is a big factor.

The idea is to generate financial efficiencies by consolidating and, in some cases, eliminating functions that are redundant.  After all, the state's economic incentive only lasts 15 years. 

The fact is, other municipalities have undergone reversion.  They, too, received the largesse of the state.  

I did a spot of research on one of them:  South Boston, which reverted to town status by becoming part of Halifax County.

For 15 years, the area received significant funds from the state for having undergone reversion.  Concurrently, the county assumed hardly any of the town's functions.

Today, it's hard to call Halifax County a success.

Those spearheading Bedford's reversion have sought out ways to make the viability of the move a long-term success.  One of the ways is to consolidate Parks and Recreation functions, along with others, including economic development, tourism and operation of the central library. 

Absent such moves, at some point, we'll have to stand up and pay for such things.

No matter which side you favor, there is good news.  If nothing else, local elected officials have always responded to the voices of their constituencies.  

Bedford residents have the chance to have those voices heard:  There's an open forum on the budget May 28.  Remember another key thing about democracies:  Budgets trump reversion agreements.  

You can stand up at that meeting, or you can stand up somewhere down the road.

Either way, citizens of Bedford will need to stand up.


Correction.  In last week's article we should have identified one of the Parks and Rec employee as Shawn Boyer.  

To her credit, she didn't complain about  it.  Nevertheless, it is still an error.  Our apologies.