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W-rec-ked by Reversion

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Big change to city Parks & Rec Department coming?

By Mike Forster
and Tom Wilmoth
news@bedfordbulletin.com

    The painful side of reversion showed itself last week, as Bedford City Parks and Recreation employees were informed that their department might cease to exist on July 1.
    While the move means that two city employees will probably lose their jobs, there is much more to it than that.
    The department had been a shrinking entity over the past couple of years.  As recently as 2008, City Parks and Rec had six full-time employees.  Additionally, up to four part-time workers (such as summer interns) were engaged at any one time.
    Since then, the numbers have been whittled down to just two workers, while the offerings from the department have remained relatively stable.
    The department has been without a formal head since 2009, when then-director Randy Nixon departed.  Since then, Assistant City Manager Bart Warner has served as interim director, in addition to his many other duties.
    According to Shawn Duff, one of the impacted employees, Warner told her and Harry “H.T.” Thompson of the probable dissolution of the department on Friday morning.
    According to Warner, the likely plan is to have the town of Bedford’s recreation activities managed under an “association” model, falling under the auspices of the County Parks and Recreation Department, headed up by Michael Stokes.
    Currently, there are 10 such associations across Bedford County:  Big Island, Body Camp, Boonsboro, Forest, Goode, Huddleston, Moneta, Montvale, Stewartsville & Chamblissburg and Thaxton.

    The town of Bedford would be the 11th.
    Such associations are headed up by a single part-time employee, with much of the work taken on by volunteers.
    “I’m pretty certain that’s going to come to pass,” Warner said of the town adopting the association concept. “The exact way that’s going to work has yet to be determined.”
    Warner said he wanted to inform the rec department employees as soon as possible of the probable change, though council won’t formally adopt its upcoming budget until June.
    “We’re working on the budget right now,” he said of city staff. “One option is to go straight with the county’s model—you have an association that is citizen run and citizen governed.”
    But, he said, other alternatives are also being considered. “It’s still kind of up in the air.”
    Warner said, however, there will be some form of a citizen board adopted and volunteers will need to step forward to participate. “We’re going to  need people to serve on that board.”
    Warner expects, at least for the first year of the transition to the new model, for the town to have some involvement in supporting the rec program.
    Council will be presented the staff’s recommended budget on April 23 and a council work session is scheduled for May 2. A public hearing on the budget will be held May 28 and council will likely adopt the budget June 11.
    The current operating budget for the city rec department is $184,685.
    “Regardless of what happens with the budget we are going to be doing things differently and we really need direct participation,” Warner said of the need for volunteers to step in and help.
    He admitted going to an association model would be a big shift.
    “We’re still figuring things out,” he said.
    In 2010 the Bedford City Parks and Recreation tried to institute a volunteer program when its workforce dwindled to two, according to Duff.  She stated that the attempt sputtered out due to low interest.  “It was a complete flop,” she said.
    The following are among the duties that the new association and its volunteers would have to assume, if town residents are to expect the same robust level of recreation activities:
    -all sports programming;
    -sports registrations and verifications;
    -game coordination;
    -rosters and draft execution;
    -coach and volunteer recruitment;
    -game official recruitment and hiring;
    -field scheduling;
    -field preparation;
    -scheduling field care via the Department of Public Works;
    -work order generation;
    -uniform and equipment ordering, payment and distribution;
    -opportunities and programs awareness;
    -pavilion rental coordination; and
    -background checks on official and coach coordination.
    Additionally, continuation of activities such as the cheer camp that Duff personally runs would be imperiled.
    Based on the 2013 city budget, elimination of the department should save approximately $88,500.  The cost for labor in the association model for the size of the Bedford town association would be about $10,000 per year, according to Michael Stokes, director of Bedford County Parks and Recreation.  The new Bedford town association director would report into Stokes’ organization.
    The labor savings associated with the move represents 0.46 percent of the 2013 adopted budget for the city of Bedford.  City Parks and Recreation, with two employees, is tied for having the smallest sized staff (along with Engineering and Information Technology) of the 13 staffed departments in the city. 
    While no formal decision has been made on this issue, the reversion agreement between the city and county specifically identified city parks and recreation as an area that would be converted to county control under the association model.   Section 6.9 of that document reads:  “The city and county agree that a separate ‘area athletic association’ will be created for the provision of youth sports to town residents for as long as the county uses such athletic associations to provide youth athletic programs. The town athletic association shall be funded by the County Parks and Recreation Department in the same manner as all other recreation and athletic associations in the county. The town shall retain ownership of all recreational facilities and parks owned by the city.”
     According to Stokes, the town association would, along with Stewartsville, have the second largest number of participants.  Forest has the greatest number in the county.
     “We expect (the change) to happen on July 1,” said Stokes.  Noting that there is always a plethora of activity in rec sports, Stokes acknowledged that there is no ideal time to make the switch.  
    “We looked at delaying, but there is no clear time to do so,” he said.  “There are still things up in the air, but it’ll work out.”