Officials set ‘good faith’ rec. funds

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Ward Two Alderman Terry Bates lobbied Monday for $50,000 to betaken from the city recreation department’s budget and be set asideas a “good faith show” that children on the east side of town willbe cared for.

While the alderman was unsuccessful in pulling funds from therecreation budget, his fellow board members agreed on putting$100,000 in the general fund budget to go toward an east sideprogram that the community would actually be involved in.

Supporters of the community outcry have demanded the board showthey care about the people of the community by funding a swimmingpool or a community center. They feel the activities offered by therecreation department are not suitable for their children.

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Mayor Bob Massengill and Ward Four Alderwoman Shirley Estes toldthe board that, after some research, they had found a grant theycould apply for to help fund three spray parks that would bepositioned at City Park, Bicentennial Park, and the proposed BethelPark.

The $100,000, among other things, could possibly be used asmatching funds in the grant for the spray parks. City officials aretrying to organize a trip to see a spray park in action, but Batesmaintained the funds are needed elsewhere.

“What we need to do is earmark $50,000 toward a gym,” saidBates. “Our going to look at a spray park is not going to sayanything to the east side of town.”

Another idea proposed was looking into a senior citizens’center, where seniors from the community could go for classes suchas sewing, cooking and computer classes, but could also tutor andmentor young people. Board members pointed out that the seniorcenter could include a gym and other possible recreationfacilities.

“A senior citizens’ center would help a broad section of thecommunity,” said Massengill, who pointed out that city and countyofficials had gone to Washington D.C. three times and had asked forfunds for a community center.

Bates said his constituents have problems with recreationdepartment programs. However, the only one that seems to be havingenrollment issues is the A.L. Lott baseball program.

Studies show that baseball is dying out in inner-citycommunities all over the country. This year in Brookhaven, thechildren who did sign up for the Lott program – which did not formbecause of a lack of participation – were incorporated into theDixie Youth baseball program so that they would be able toplay.

The community’s lack of involvement in the A.L. Lott program,for which there were two organizational meetings and scholarshipsoffered has become a focal point of leaders among the blackcommunity. While recreation department officials and board memberspoint to strong participation in other sports such as football andbasketball, east side community leaders use the lack of a baseballprogram as an argument for why the community needs a swimmingpool.

Bates warned the board that the swimming pool campaign could bereaching a fever pitch.

“I want to tell this board that it’s a time bomb in this citywaiting to go off and I’d hate to see it happen,” he said. “I don’twant to seem like I’m fussing, but every year we’re hearing thesame complaints from the same segment of peoples, and we try totell them what’s the problem.”

Bates said he felt citing liabilities and costs of a communitypool was not going to hold pool supporters at bay any more.

“Liability. Everything is a liability,” he said. “But the firedepartment has liabilities, the police department has liabilities,the street department has liabilities.”

Bates said he felt as though the city had let its people downwhen they closed the city pools more than a decade ago.

Estes pointed out that the swimming pool situation is not uniqueto Brookhaven.

“That’s not just here, it’s the whole country,” she said.

“It’s not just the pool that was in the A.L. Lott area. Bothcity pools are gone for the same reason. I wish there weresolutions, because we are honestly trying to come up withsolutions.”

Alderman at large Les Bumgarner warned Bates that perhaps thereshould be some flexibility in both sides of the argument to avoidmassive conflict down the road. He pointed out that the recreationdepartment was set up with a board of trustees just like thehospital and other organizations to keep the city from having toomuch of a hand it it.

“If we all found something like this that we are just bound anddetermined to do, we will destroy everything,” said Bumgarner. “Youhave been on this for at least 10 years. Everyone’s trying to getalong and be understanding.”

Massengill agreed.

“It was set up with a board to keep it from becoming political.The main reason there is separation is so that we don’t try to runit,” said Massengill.

Ward Five Alderman D.W. Maxwell told Bates he felt the communityneeded to help with solutions as well as simply bringingcomplaints. He pointed out that they were able to say they wanted apool but they had not posed any possible solutions for funding orliability issues or staffing a public pool.

“We need to know what we can do to solve the problem from thecommunity that has the problem,” he said. “How are we going toaddress it as a city when no other city is going into the poolbusiness? I’d like to hear your ideas.”

Massengill pointed out that the board might not come to aconclusion in one night for the ever-mushrooming swimming poolissue.

“We’re going to disagree, but we’re all here to serve the cityof Brookhaven,” he said. “We have got to work as harmoniously as wecan.”

Ward One Alderman Dorsey Cameron said he just didn’t want to seeany empty promises made.

“We asked for a swimming pool for 10 years and nothing happened.We asked for a community center for 10 years and nothing happened,”he said. “We can do this $100,000 for a senior center or a spraypark, but I’d hate to see us make a start and not do it.”

Massengill and Estes both said the city would make a commitmentto come up with a grant proposal that would address the issues athand.