City won’t raise sports fees for county residents

Published 9:01 pm Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The City of Bainbridge will keep Leisure Services fees the same for both city residents and non-city residents, at least for one more year.

At their meeting on Tuesday night, Bainbridge City Council members expressed frustration that the Decatur County Board of Commissioners wouldn’t contribute toward funding of Leisure Services programs for the second year in a row.

However, the council accepted a suggestion from City Manager Chris Hobby — who was outspoken in his criticism of county government — to keep recreation fees the same for all, instead of charging a higher rate for non-city residents.

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From 2004 to 2012, the City of Bainbridge had been operating under an agreement with Decatur County to charge the same rates to everyone who wanted to participate in softball, baseball, tennis and other programs. However, that agreement expired last summer as county commissioners, facing a continued budget crunch, chose not to include the $60,000 they had been paying to subsidize the equal fees in their annual budget.

Hobby said there had been “a gentleman’s agreement” between himself and County Administrator Gary Breedlove to keep the equal fee schedule in place through 2013, with the understanding that the county would restore its contribution towards recreation in its 2013-2014 fiscal year budget.

The county’s proposed 2013-14 budget does not include funding for recreation, which prompted Hobby to ask the council to consider whether fees should be kept the same.

This past year, the city government spent $1,260,648 to fund Leisure Services activities and associated facility maintainance. The city collected $172,831 in fees — including usage of the city pool and the tennis center — last year, leaving $1,087,817 to be paid from the city’s general fund.

According to Hobby, participation in the youth baseball and softball programs is split almost equally between city residents and non-city residents. However, no residency data was kept at the pool or tennis center. Assuming hypothetically that non-city residents’ participation across all Leisure Services programs was 30 percent of the total, Decatur County commissioners would contribute $327,000 if they wanted to pay a fair portion, Hobby said.

Councilwoman Roslyn Palmer said she did not want to punish children whose parents live outside city limits but noted “they’re kind of being abandoned.”

“We’re the only game in town … the county’s not going to start a recreation program,” Hobby said, of his reccomendation to keep fees level for one more year. “If we price ourselves out, so that a child from Attapulgus can’t play baseball, have we really accomplished anything?”

Councilman Luther Conyers said he did not believe the county government had honored its part of the agreement. He asked Hobby whether it was fair to ask city taxpayers to pick up the full cost of recreation programs offered county-wide.

“Absolutely not,” Hobby said. “Citizens of Bainbridge are not being treated fairly now, though, Mr. Conyers. We’re absorbing the costs of the Industrial Development Authority, recreation, animal control, Humane Society contribution and road maintainance. Time and time again — the void that’s created in the county’s financial situation, the city steps in and fills the gap.

“I don’t know if city residents fully understand how much they’re being totally screwed, but they are. This is just another example of where that’s going to happen.”

Hobby later read from a joint service delivery agreement between the City of Bainbridge and Decatur County commissioners, and stated his belief that the county government was not fulfilling a number of its obgligations in what he understood to be a legally binding document. The service delivery agreement took effect in 2000 and will have to be re-negotiated in 2015.

The city and county governments are currently at odds over the formula for how proceeds from the one-cent Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) should be distributed in coming years. Unlike the one-cent SPLOST tax, which must be renewed by voters every five years, the LOST tax doesn’t expire and its proceeds can be used by local governments to pay for day-to-day operations.