At their budget retreat last Saturday, James City County supervisors discussed various ways to plug a huge budget gap, including possibly changing or privatizing the parks and recreation department and changing or eliminating recycling services.
Parks and Recreation
Parks and Recreation Director John Carnifax discussed the idea of privatizing three county properties: Little Creek Reservoir Park, Legacy Hall and the Williamsburg/James City Community Center. The county will likely begin a request for proposal process by February just to see if there’s any interest in these locations from the private sector, though supervisors won’t make any decisions until later.
Little Creek Park (off Forge Road in Toano) brought in about $31,000 in fiscal year 2009, and expenditures were over $95,000, meaning a loss of about $64,300 for the county. The park offers fishing and boating, as well as shelter rental and a play area for children.
“From a business perspective, there’s not much there I’d look at as a positive,” said Chairman Jim Kennedy.
Any contract with an outside agency to take over the location would need to specify county access to the park, honor an agreement with Newport News Waterworks, and define which entity will maintain the capital infrastructure of the park, Carnifax said.
Legacy Hall in New Town brought in a profit of $11,000 and hosted 83 meetings (though 15 of those were government meetings and were free of charge). This location is the only one of the three discussed that is turning a profit, Carnifax told the board. He also said the location would have gotten an extra $9,000 if governments had been charged for their meetings.
The community center garnered the most discussion of the three locations. About 409,400 people used the center in 2009, compared to 454,000 in 2008 (likely due to competition from the new YMCA). It cost the county $2.18 million in FY09 to operate the center and revenues were only about $888,600, adding up to a $1.3 million loss.
Carnifax said an adult membership is $200, compared to $626 that the YMCA charges an adult (though the Y offers a sliding scale based on income). Other similar parks and recreation facilities in the state chare anywhere from $66 to $504, Carnifax said, so raising the fee would still keep the cost competitive.
His rough guess was that doubling the current fee might cover the current loss.
Meeting rooms are free for local groups and residents, and the schools use the pool lanes for free, too. If the county had charged the groups meeting at the center last year, it would have added up to about $572,000, Carnifax said.
County Administrator Sandy Wanner pointed out that James City County is “one of the highest recovering rec centers in the state” and that citizens have invested substantially in the facility, worth about $8 million.
Supervisors generally agreed that citizens rely on and expect to be able to use the center for free, but they discussed the idea of raising the fee and maybe charging fees for certain groups to use the location.
Some important conditions on any contract with another entity offering a bid on the center would include: the hospital lease would have to be either kept or bought out; the center would need to remain the primary location for various county programs and also the Historic Triangle Senior Center; and the center would need to remain the primary emergency shelter for the county.
Aside from beginning the RFP process, Carnifax is also working on analyzing all the different fiscal options for the parks and recreation department as the county begins the budget process.
General Services Manager John Horne presented supervisors with various options on the current recycling program and a proposal for a curbside trash pickup program.
There are currently about 22,000 eligible households that get recycling pickup, which the county pays for with tax dollars. The county is part of a regional contract with a recycling company that’s arranged through the Virginia Peninsula Public Service Authority. About 80 to 85 percent of those who are eligible use the service, Horne said.
In FY10, Horne estimates recycling service will cost about $738,000, and in FY11 about $781,000. The contract (which runs through 2014) doesn’t allow many changes, probably only cancellation, Horne believes (the county attorney will look into whether there are options to modify the contract).
To save money, supervisors could consider adding an optional curbside trash pickup for regular trash, he told them. By charging a fee of between $16 and $18 to those residents who choose to use this, the county could put some of those funds toward paying for recycling.
Supervisors also discussed charging a $3 fee (without offering a new trash service), which is how much Horne estimates the county pays for each household now.
Supervisors Bruce Goodson, John McGlennon and Jim Icenhour all seemed to like the idea of keeping the recycling program. Goodson said participation will likely go down if the county no longer offers the service, and McGlennon pointed out that schools and parks (like recycling) are paid for by more taxpayers than actually use it, but it’s still a service many appreciate.
Supervisor Mary Jones said she didn’t feel comfortable with starting up a whole new trash pickup service in the current poor economic time, though no supervisor seemed too eager to support cutting the service completely.