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Village Vision News

Summer park program comes under scrutiny

Thursday, February 17, 2011

On Feb. 7, trustees reviewed the status of the annual summer recreation program after hearing Village Administrator Heather Kimmons summarize a recent discussion she had with the program’s director Angie Woodhall. That discussion followed a Jan. 20 Parks & Recreation Committee meeting during which the program came under fire for its personnel costs and lack of administrative supervision.

In her summary, Kimmons said Woodhall was “...amicable to changes” which would include cutting the staff in half, offering morning only programs, eliminating field trips and tracking the increases or decreases in participation. Yet to be negotiated are personnel costs.

“It’s important to have the program, but there’s room for improvement,” said Mayor Hap Gilbert. Trustee Marilyn Johnson said it is imperative to have Kimmons, as Village administrator, in control of the program and, as a watchdog for taxpayers, decried the fact that “...taxpayers’ money has been misused.” Johnson said she would like to see the current program dissolved and then start new. Trustee Jeff Allsup countered, in an ending suggestion, that Kimmons should work with Woodhall to get the program revamped.

“I have full confidence it can be worked out and brought back to the Board,” Allsup said.

Issues highlighted by the Parks & Recreation committee members are the fluctuating number of children who participated in the seven-week program last year and its perceived high cost of $17,000-$18,000 for personnel, plus additional costs for supplies and transportation for out-of-town field trips.

The committee had been asked to review the program following an earlier Board meeting in which an inquiry came from trustee Larry Reed. At the committee’s Jan. 20 meeting, trustee and chair Eric Morr introduced the topic by saying that “...the Village loses $20,000 every summer on the program.”

Village Administrator Heather Kimmons confirmed that number, adding that “...it’s an emotional issue, but for me it’s more of a dollar and cents issue.” She posed this question to committee members: “Could the money be better spent on something more people could use?” She noted that eight students were hired last summer at an hourly rate of $8.25 with the program director averaging $62 an hour and the assistant director $42 an hour. Kimmons characterized the payments as “...a pretty crazy hourly wage.” Woodhall was paid a total of $5,500 last summer. Kimmons said there has been “...no oversight on the program” and noted she would like to see many changes, including better communication with Woodhall – which led to their recent meeting.

Morr conducted an online survey the day before his committee met, and all 15-17 respondents, including one retiree, were in favor of continuing the program.

Morr also voiced support of Kimmons’ communication goals with Woodhall, but committee member Rob Jacobsen, Woodhall’s father, said his daughter has “...never had any expectations given to her.”

Woodhall was hired as the recreation director in 2003 after serving as a park leader and the assistant director in 2002. Rob Jacobsen told committee members that the Village’s summer programs, including the one for the park and the library, were not designed to be revenue builders for Forsyth and denied that the former was losing money. He said an average of 20 kids a day participated in last year’s recreation program.

Kimmons told the committee members she will keep them informed on the status of the summer recreation program once she “...makes trustees aware of all the red flags I’ve seen ... I need to know, the Village needs to know what’s going on over there. I don’t know what this program’s intended to be.”

Morr concluded that the “...program is in the budget ... [and] it looks solid.”

The committee next meets at 7 p.m., Feb. 17, at Village Hall.

Forsyth’s sales tax base is the source of funding for both the summer recreation park and summer library programs, not a tax levy.

In 2010, the recreation program drew approximately 110 registered families and 150 youth who signed up for various activities, with 780 total participants attending the 36 activities offered, according to Director Angie Woodhall. Head Librarian Jean Campbell said 391 participants signed up in four age categories for the summer library program and 1,429 attended the 23 total programs offered.

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