In 2008, Richland County Council approved a $50 million bond to build new parks.
From the beginning, questions bubbled up over how the recreation commission was going to pay for staffing and equipping one new park and major renovations and expansions at 16 other facilities.
Next week, the council – which approves funding for the agency, but has no other oversight – may start to debate the issue.
The Richland County Recreation Commission has come up with a proposal to borrow money to cover the routine maintenance costs that are now included in its $11.5 million budget. That would free up money for new staff.
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If the council were to allow the agency to borrow $1 million a year, property taxes would go up about $6 for the typical homeowner in unincorporated Richland County.
Kenya Bryant, assistant director of the recreation commission, said the agency is about halfway through its building program and is faced with staffing new parks without additional resources.
“You can’t operate a gym from 2 to 9 p.m., 7 days a week, with just one person,” he said.
Council members were caught off-guard Tuesday night by the proposal, which was sponsored by Councilman Kelvin Washington.
“I’ll be interested in knowing more as it goes along, but that was not on my radar,” Councilman Jim Manning said Wednesday.
Councilman Paul Livingston said he voted against allowing the commission to borrow money to build new parks in part because there wasn’t a funding plan for operating the new parks.
Said Councilman Damon Jeter: “We need to have these talks now. We can’t avoid it. We can’t ignore it.”
He put the issue on next week’s agenda for the administration and finance committee, which he chairs.
That could put the matter on track to be decided before property-tax bills come out in November.
“The general public doesn’t understand that there is a huge need for operational dollars in these parks,” he said. “I would hate to have us spend all this money on renovations and additions, and those parks just not be in use and not properly staffed.”
As one example, Bryant said the budget for the new St. Andrews pool is between $30,000 and $45,000 a year, which includes a staff of 7 to 10 lifeguards.