Close the Carolina Forest Recreation Center?
Cut services for senior citizens?
No more youth programs like baseball and soccer?
Tell me it isn’t true.
Unfortunately, those are some of the options presented at a recent budget retreat for Horry County Council to balance next year’s budget.
Council voted for a $524 million budget at its April 5 meeting but there’s not enough money in the spending document to sustain the county’s recreation programs.
County staff said it may be necessary to close the Carolina Forest Recreation Center and make severe cuts to youth programs and senior services.
Furthermore, about a third of the county’s recreational facilities may need to be closed if council can’t fully fund the department.
That would mean closing 46 facilities, 22 fields, seven boat landings and seven parks. The county would also lay off six full-time workers, 31 part-time employees and cut all senior and outdoor programs. Ballparks and facilities from the North Strand to Green Sea would be impacted.
Council shares a good deal of blame in the financial crisis facing the recreation department.
The county has been building and expanding recreation facilities for many years knowing that funding was not adequate to sustain their operation.
The problem has been compounded by unwise decisions to move money out of the recreation department to fund Coast RTA, the public bus service, and the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp., the county’s industrial recruitment arm.
The county moved some of the debt payments out of the recreation account to offset the impact, but they never restored the recreation tax rate to its previous level.
Money for recreation comes from a countywide tax.
At its budget retreat, council seemed adamant about not raising taxes, a commendable stand.
Councilman Gary Loftus urged staff to come up with different strategies other than a tax increase to pay for pressing needs, such as county recreation.
Building and operating recreational complexes is an expensive proposition. For example, county staff says it takes about $900,000 a year to operate the Carolina Forest Recreation Center. The center brings in $275,000 in revenue.
That may sound like a losing proposition, but keep in mind the recreation department also gets tax dollars to help run the center.
As the county grows, the demand for even more recreational opportunities is bound to increase.
That’s why county council must come to grips with providing adequate funding, not only for facilities, but also for the many services provided by the recreation department.
Hundreds of children participate in the county’s youth sports programs, learning valuable life lessons and enjoying healthy exercise.
Many seniors enjoy programs offered by the county to provide opportunities to remain healthy and out of expensive health care facilities.
Go to any of the county’s recreational facilities and you will see people exercising, playing games and maintaining an active lifestyle.
Frankly, I think recreation is one of the more important services provided by the county.
I also can’t imagine the county shutting down boat landings, which give people access to the wonderful rivers in Horry County. Certainly it can’t cost a lot of money to keep the boat landings open.
While I salute county council for trying to hold the line on tax increases, I urge them to lean on county staff to find enough fat in the budget to keep all of the recreational opportunities available for residents to enjoy.