Is the county paying its fair share for recreation?

In a triumph that took years in the making, the city approved the most funding from the county for East Hendry County Recreation it has ever received. The county agreed to pay $120,000 to help offset the cost of out-of-city users of the city’s parks and recreation programs, as well as $55,000 to use for programs in the East Hendry County Recreation area, including Harlem and Hookers Point.

City commissioners approved the new funding at their regular meeting held Monday, Sept. 21 with a 4-1 vote.

But not all commissioners were enthusiastic about the dollar amount or the fact that county commissioners on the East Hendry County Recreation Board have insinuated the funding is possibly only guaranteed for three to five fiscal years.

Since the county raises about $340,000 from assessments levied for recreation in the East Rec areas, at least one city commissioner is ready to do away with the East Rec agreement if the city isn’t paid its fair share.

“I didn’t support this item because the county has been grossly underfunding our rec department for a long time,” began Commissioner Julio Rodriguez at Monday’s meeting. “The county has been dancing around this thing for three years. I would almost recommend doing away with East Rec, because I think it’s broken. … 40 percent of recreation users are from the county and we’re paying for it.”

The city has asked the county for $300,000 to subsidize county residents who use its parks, programs and buildings, as they make up about 40 percent of the users. Since East Rec was formed a couple years ago, the county started out paying the city about $87,500 for those users. The dollar amount has increased to $120,000 for fiscal year 2015/16.

Commissioner Rodriguez blames an old $180,000 debt which the county continues to pay off using those recreation assessments as the reason the city is not receiving more for its services.

But the county wasn’t the only entity brought into the limelight for underfunding recreation services paid for by the city. The Hendry County School Board has exclusive use of baseball, softball and soccer field which the city maintains.

Apart from in-kind services, the city does not get reimbursed for the maintenance of those fields, which includes mowing, striping and maintaining the lighting.

Commissioner Rodriguez said it’s time for the city to give the maintenance back over to the school board.
Mayor Phillip Roland said he and City Manager Al Perry paid a visit to the school board at its last regular meeting and asked them to maintain those fields. It remains to be seen whether or not the school board will acquiesce.

“Until we play hardball with the county and school board, they’re never going to give us what we deserve for the tax payers,” said Commissioner Rodriguez.

The other four commissioners were not quite ready to give up on the hard work put in to the East Hendry County Recreation agreement, however. And whether or not the $120,000 was enough to cover city taxpayer costs for recreation, they did not want to walk away from the largest amount the county was ever willing to pay the city.

Commissioner Mali Gardner made a motion to approve the recreation funding agreement for East Rec, with the stipulation that the city would take steps to notify the county within 90 days if it were not happy with the agreement down the road.

Commissioners voted 4-1 in favor of the motion, with Commissioner Rodriguez voting against.

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