TAMPA — A majority of Hillsborough commissioners made clear Thursday that they have no intention of ending summer and after-school recreation at county parks.
If anything, some of the programs should expand to slim lengthy waiting lists at some recreation centers.
"I'm not going to support eliminating these programs," said commission Chairman Ken Hagan.
Now commissioners just have to figure out a way to pay for them. County Administrator Pat Bean was asked Thursday to draft some suggestions.
Bean and her staff unveiled a budget this week that included eliminating summer recreation programs starting next year. The proposal would have ended camps, swim trips and other activities at county parks.
Additionally, the county's Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department recently released a master plan suggesting the elimination of after-school recreation programs. Bean did not include that in her budget proposal, though she has left open that option.
The proposals come in response, in part, to a voter-approved property tax reductions that will sap $117-million from what the county had planned to spend on community services next year.
Both suggestions have spawned e-mails and phone calls by the hundreds to county commissioners from parents decrying the idea. They are by far the hot-button topics in this year's talks, which also include trimming firefighter ranks and shrinking the code enforcement staff.
Many of the county's recreation programs are free or low cost. Some parents use them for de facto day care, and some have years-long waiting lists.
"I think we need to be looking at ways of expanding summer and after-school programs," said Commissioner Mark Sharpe.
Commissioners made the parks programs their first "flag," or budget proposal from Bean that they want her to change.
Bean's budget would forgo hiring 175 temporary parks workers and camp counselors in 2009, an $852,929 savings, as well as eliminating other enrichment programs that cost $192,500.
While not yet eliminating after-school offerings, she would turn 41 full-time parks employees associated with the program into part-time workers, at a savings of $1.4-million.
Her proposal suggests working with private groups, such as the YMCA, or the school district to continue the programs. It also suggests the possibility of charging fees where they are not imposed now, or increasing fees in other cases.
Commissioners said they'd consider looking at new fees, if that's what it takes, which would be a departure from the past position of the board. However, most of them said that should be a secondary option.
Hagan said he would not support asking someone else to take over the program.
"Most every parent I've spoken to, they don't want these programs outsourced," Hagan said.
Bill Varian can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3387.