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Interlocal recreation agreement on shaky ground

Article Date: 
30 November, 2012 (All day)

The interlocal agreement among the city, county, and school board that governs recreation programs in the county is in place, but on shaky ground.
The interlocal agreement has been a topic of discussion lately on Morgan City Council, Morgan County School Board, and Morgan County Council agendas.  Each entity has its own misgivings that could change the agreement in the future.
The issue at the forefront is the recreation board’s request for a 10 percent increase in funding from all entities.
“The costs are outweighing what we are bringing in,” Morgan County Councilman Robert Kilmer said.  He said participation fees have increased yearly in every sport for the last three years.  Some sports have increased to a $110 fee per participant.  “It is becoming cost prohibitive for families to participate.”
The agreement among all three entities began in the 1980s, and participation fees have only increased in the last three years, Kilmer said.
“The recreation program is going to have to do something.  It is providing a ton of services on a shoestring and with a lot of volunteers,” Morgan County School Board Chairman Joey Skinner said.  “I see the reasons for an increase.  It is valid, nothing frivolous.”
All three entities contribute toward the total $50,000 given to the recreation program each year.  The county agreed to pay another $2,000, a 10 percent increase.  The city also agreed to paying 10 percent more, but with one major caveat.
City officials said they would continue with their part of the funding for now, but would like the recreation board to explore new funding options before the agreement is up for renewal on July 1.  City officials suggested the county have a line item tax that goes directly to the recreation board.
“That would make us the bad guys collecting all the tax,” Morgan County Councilman Ned Mecham said.  “We would collect the school board’s portion also.”
How the city benefits from interlocal agreements has stumped Morgan City Mayor Jim Egbert.
“We scratch our heads when it comes to interlocal agreements,” he said.  “City residents pay county taxes, as well as city taxes.  City residents are also taxed for schools.  What additional benefits do city residents get from paying a city (recreation) tax?  It is like triple taxation.”
The school board agreed to the interlocal agreement, but held back on contributing an extra 10 percent.
“When push comes to shove, we are running out of money here,” said Morgan County School Board member Jody Hipwell.  “I don’t see the need for the increase.”
Hipwell said the school district is already contributing a lot to the county recreation program.
“We are the fiscal agent for the recreation board.  We provide a majority of the venues for them, the fields,” she said.  “We provide an awful lot for that program.  To have to pay more money to them is not right.” 
Despite the city’s suggestion to revamp how the recreation board is funded in the future, Mecham said he would rather see things stay status quo.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Mecham said.  “I want to have it the same way.”
Mayor Egbert doesn’t agree.
“We are running a 2012 recreation department on 1943 taxes,” he said.  “The recreation program is running hand to mouth lately.  If we are going to have a good rec program, we need to fund it correctly.”