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Council: Parks and rec cuts may be needed to keep aquatic center fully open

MIKE OWEN

mowen@ledger-enquirer.com

A task force has been created to help keep the Columbus Aquatic Center fully operational.
A task force has been created to help keep the Columbus Aquatic Center fully operational.

Keeping the Columbus Aquatic Center open for the full 89 hours it has always been open may require cutting back in other Parks and Recreation areas, Columbus Councilors told Parks and Rec Director James Worsley Tuesday night.

Worsley was making a periodic report to council and outlined the struggles his department is going through to keep the facility fully open with only part-time employees. Two of Worsley’s top administrators, Becky Glisson and Holly Browder, have been working 80-hour weeks doing their jobs and also keeping the aquatic center open.

Worsley said he can’t expect them to keep up that pace indefinitely.

“In other words, help is needed, not today, not tomorrow, but actually three months ago. Worsley also said he can’t continue to keep the facility open 89 hours a week with the funding designated for fiscal 2016, which ends in July.

Councilor Skip Henderson responded , saying he expected something different from Worsley’s report.

“I ‘m not sure what I was expecting. I just know that this wasn’t it,” Henderson said.  “I thought we were going to hear some recommendations that you guys are garnering from the committee in terms of trying to identify alternative sources of raising some revenue. Some type of partnership to help do that.”

Late laast year, council suggested that the aquatic center create a group of users, akin to the Columbus Regional Tennis Association and the Columbus Youth Soccer Association. Such a group has been established, but is only a few weeks old.

“I guess what I’m confused about is, we still have the same issues with money,” Henderson said. “I was hoping we would start working our way toward some recommendations from you and from the group. I was hoping to see, ‘Here’s where we have to get. Now let’s try to work out a way to get there.’”

Worsley responded: “The task force just got started. I stated right here at council that it’s going to take some time for a task force to get up and running and bring back some direction as to where this aquatic center should go. But that’s a long-term solution. I’m asking for a short-term solution.”

“I get that,” Henderson said. “I guess what I was looking for was whether or not you think we’re going to have to reduce hours immediately in order to make it work. Because you know what funding is available right now. It’s just not there.”

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said she thought council has been sending mixed signals to Worsley about what they want.

“I’m not in the parks and rec business or in the swimming business, but I can hear two different directions coming from council,” Tomlinson said. “What I hear is that some councilors want you to find a way to do 89 hours and tell us where that money’s coming from. And other councilors are saying, at least from what I’m hearing is, the money is set, the budget is set, you can see what you’ve got, now figure out a way to work with what you’ve got.”

Tomlinson said Worsley needs more specific direction from council because he can’t exceed his budget, and if he stays within his budget, “It’s not going to be 89 hours.”

City Manager Isaiah Hugley stepped in and told council that they would come back with a set of options as to how to proceed and then they can select the option they like the most.

Councilor Judy Thomas said she, too expected something different from Worsley’s report.

“Quite frankly, what I was looking for you to come back to us and say, ‘If you want to do 89 hours, then I’m going to have to move money in my budget from not filling a position in another part of parks and rec and move that over to hire somebody,’” Thomas said.” ‘I’m going to have to not send somebody to to any more training and educational programs for the rest of the year and move that money over. I’m going to have to do this, that and the other, specific kinds of things that can be done.”

“I was looking for you to say … here’s how we’re going to deal with this. And I haven’t heard any of that.”

Councilor Glenn Davis said some cuts may be inevitable.

“You may have to shut some programs down,” Davis said. “I can’t tell you which ones, but you’re going to have to go through and sort them out.

Councilor Mike Baker reiterated that, whatever the solution, it will have to come from Worsley’s budget.

 “Everybody around the table knows the answer is not going to be more funding from the city,” Baker said. “We all know that’s just not going to happen. You may rearrange funding in your own budget, but there’s not going to be any more funding. We all know that; it’s not a secret.  So the decisions, I know, are going to be difficult. But I’m willing to listen to anything to make it work.”

After an earlier report on the dangers presented by the city’s aging garbage truck fleet, and then Worsley’s report, which got a less than warm reaction, Tomlinson offered:

“I think this whole meeting tonight, if it has a theme, it’s just the frustration level of finally hitting the (fiscal) wall … That’s the frustration you hear.

“It’s the type of great leadership we need in difficult times, James,” Tomlinson said, turning to Worsley. “It’s not going to be things you want to recommend. But in order to keep this facility open, something else is going to have to go. And I think that’s what council is asking you. It’s going to be hard for them to look at, frankly. But we’re going to have a lot of those in this (year’s) budget session.”

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