Horry County Council is considering a proposal to privatize all of its recreation centers. In other words, these not-for-profit places for recreation will be run by companies that will want to make a profit.

While I’m not convinced the county should have ever gotten into the recreation business, it seems a bit shortsighted at this point to abandon operating these centers for recreation.

The focus of a recent county council committee meeting revolved around hiring a firm to run some or all of the county’s recreation centers on the North Strand, South Strand and in Carolina Forest.

The county would retain ownership of the buildings, but the upkeep and programs would be the responsibility of the tenant.

“The reason we talked about doing this is because we couldn’t afford to do parks and recreation like we’ve been doing,” said Councilman Johnny Vaught, adding that any private company hired for the project must provide at least the same level of service the county already offers. “Whoever proposes to take over this and run it, if they’re not proposing to do exactly the same thing we did — maintain the same programs and the same hours and the same stuff — then we’re not talking apples and apples.”

Others on the committee echoed Vaught’s thoughts.

Unfortunately, fees at the county’s recreation centers have never generated enough income to operate them.

Nevertheless, these centers are used by many citizens. Activities range from exercise classes to organized sports for children and adults. After-school programs and summer programs also operate out of the county’s recreation centers.

In my mind, the health benefits alone make a good argument for keeping these centers open.

Generally, I think private business is more efficient than government. For example, the state hired an outside company to take over the S.C. Department of Tranportation’s licensing division a few years ago. This has worked well.

I’m not sure the county would be equally successful if it attempted to let a private company run the recreation centers.

Fees and memberships would almost certainly have to be increased and this would deprive many of healthy recreational opportunities.

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Steve Robertson is owner and publisher of the Waccamaw Publishers family of community newspapers

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