By Doug Comer
Harrison County Parks and Recreation Commission met last week to discuss future events, enrichments, expenditures, revenue ideas, and to seek a contingency plan if the Memorandum of Understanding between the County Commission and the Parks Commission cannot get finalized.
During a frustrating Parks December meeting, it was told that the County Commission would possibly look into altering the final draft of both the MOU and lease agreements and give the department a 6-month test run to see if the parks department could operate autonomously. Director Mike Book, who has been with Parks and Rec for over four decades, said that business operations are same as usual while both commissions continue to discuss how things will operate.
“We have primarily put a majority of our focus on parks and recreation,” Book said. “We have dinosaurs coming next month, and we have been working hard on getting things prepared for that. To help, we have provided both commissions with information requested to help finalize this process. I am confident that both parties will find a way to make this all work out.”
During the December meeting, tension grew as the Parks Commission disagreed on the recent change in the M.O.U. Almost a year’s worth of work has been put into this and reviewed by counsel on both sides in lieu of coming to a mutual acceptance of the documents. Concerns on the Parks side included payroll, maintenance of the grounds, and added staff hires that could drain the $900,000 budget provided through the Vital Service Levy fund.
The Parks Commission suggested that the department would still be under the county’s payroll, insurance, and human resource umbrella while the maintenance department would continue the upkeep of the recreation properties owned by Harrison County.
Both items are major concerns to Book. “Right now, we have a staff of five full time employees. And if we would have to provide our own human resource service, we would have to hire an HR (human resource) person, possibly outsource our own payroll system, and most importantly seek out insurance for the department. To add, if we were to handle the grounds, we would have to get equipment, gas, and the manpower to handle the job during the cutting season or seek to outsource the work.
“Upon receiving bids to outsource the groundwork, one would be looking at close to $40,000 annually just to mow the areas,” Book added. Quite possibly, the biggest obstacle between both has been communication. Not enough information has been relayed to each other as there is really no clear perception of what was expected of both commissions other than the words on the M.O.U and the lease agreements.
During the December meeting, it was evident that there was a gap in the bridge because most of the talks showed frustration on both sides concerning the details of what was wanted and what was given.
One thing that everyone unanimously agreed upon was that no matter where everyone stands on the issue, the kids have to be the top priority since the trickledown effect could possibly cut programming and reduce the number of recreational activities provided by parks and recreation.
Also, as noted in last week’s meeting, the added discussion and the reality of lost programs has closed the bridge considerably.
“It appears that everyone’s vision is consistent now,” Book said. “Based on this past meeting, it looks like things could be finalized in the coming months. The main focus covers the future for the kids and the programs that are provided by the department.”