In less than two weeks, the Columbus-Lowndes Recreational Authority will cease to exist in its current form.
On Oct. 1, the city of Columbus and Lowndes County will split from an inter-local agreement that has governed the recreational body. The split has been more than a year in the making, since supervisors sought a recreational survey last summer that ultimately recommended the county break away from the agreement.
Last September, Lowndes County supervisors formally voted to split from CLRA.
In the meantime, the city and county have prepared to operate independent recreation departments.
Roger Short, acting director of the Lowndes County Recreation Department, said the county is finishing up some last-minute housekeeping tasks, such as transferring utilities at the facilities that will fall under county control, reformatting lease agreements and creating facility use policies.
The county owns Lowndes County Soccer Complex in downtown Columbus, and will take over maintenance and care for the facility, though the city will continue to oversee programming.
The county will also take over the Crawford’s park, community center and gym; and community centers at Plum Grove, Artesia, Caledonia, Anderson Grove, Steens and New Hope.
Short also said he’s aiming to have a new playground installed in New Hope by Oct. 1.
Columbus’ recreation department will oversee Propst Park, the CLRA/Cook Soccer Complex, Lee Park, East Columbus Gym, Northaven Woods Park, Hank Aaron Park, Sim Scott Park, Townsend Park, the Charles Brown basketball pavilion and Dean Acres Park.
Short said the first year of operating independently will serve as a transitional year for the county. Because of that, he said, the county recreation department hasn’t yet nailed down plans for future expansions or new facilities.
He said that same transitional period will apply for people who use the parks, for equipment rentals, participating in recreational programs and other needs.
“It’s going to be a feeling-out process,” Short said. “We realize that at this point, because people are used to contacting CLRA for everything, they’re going to have to get accustomed to contacting the county for county for county recreation needs. And of course they’ll have to get used to contacting the city for those city recreation needs.”
CLRA Director Greg Lewis, who will oversee just the Columbus Recreation Authority, said city recreation will largely continue as it has.
“As far as I’m concerned, we’re continuing to do what we do,” he said. “The name will change, but we will just continue to operate under the city. We opened up soccer (last week). We have our afterschool programs just like we normally would.”
Though the departments are splitting, Short said he expects city and county recreation to work closely together. He said the soccer complex, with the city overseeing programming while the county operates the facility, is an example of that cooperation.
“Greg and I have already been in conversations and meetings and we’re going to cooperate with one another,” Short said. “Like with van usage — there’s two new vans. The county’s going to take one van and (the city) will have a van. We’ve already discussed if we’re in a situation where they need to vans, all they’ve got to do is contact us and we’ll make both vans available for them.”
The county recreation department will have a budget of about $500,000.
Lowndes County is also giving Columbus $250,000 in recreation funding for Fiscal Year 2018 — $200,000 to help fund the city recreation and $50,000 for the Field of Dreams. The Field of Dreams is a planned baseball facility for special needs athletes at Propst Park.
The city recreation department will also receive $699,693 in city funding. In total, with projected concessions, sports program and building rental revenues added in, the city recreation department has a projected budget of $984,193 for FY 18, compared to $1.38 million for FY 17.
Short said he plans to keep all the staff that currently works at the community centers and will bring on one maintenance worker from CLRA.
Lewis said his staff will largely remain the same, except for the maintenance worker transferring to the county and the elimination of an employee to do payroll because the city already handles payroll.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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