Danville examines Parks & Rec funding, viability of fitness center

Published 9:31 am Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Editor’s note: This is the third of several stories detailing Danville City Commission’s recent agency funding meeting, which lasted close to five hours on Thursday. Check future issues of The Advocate-Messenger for more stories.

Danville City Commission had plenty of questions about funding for Danville-Boyle County Parks and Recreation during its review last week of Parks & Rec’s $283,100 request for fiscal year 2018-19.

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City officials spent close to a fifth of their four-and-a-half-hour agency-funding meeting questioning Parks & Rec Director John Drake about his budget, including a couple tense exchanges between Drake and City Commissioner Denise Terry.

Mayor Mike Perros indicated toward the end of the discussions that the tension and questions may be the result of a problematic balance between Danville and the Boyle County Fiscal Court — the two main funders of the Parks & Rec agency.

While both governments provide funding for Parks & Rec, Boyle County wants to see its funding spent on Millennium Park, not on parks owned exclusively by the city, officials at the meeting acknowledged.

“I think all of this is nipping at the heels of a bigger issue here. If I read the mission statement, it says that the Danville-Boyle County Parks & Recreation Department ‘has oversight responsibilities for all programs and activities related to the Parks & Recreation Department. Well, what is the Parks & Recreation Department?” Perros asked. “If it’s a department relegated solely to Millennium, then I think we have a bigger issue to deal with. If it’s a Parks & Rec that is saying that they can’t get to the other parks, then we have the same issue to deal with. So I think that while, in 1998, Parks & Rec was directed to get both governments to make a large, substantial purchase of ground for a major facility, I’m not certain the same type of stucture is efficient today.”

Questioning Drake

After some milder questioning concerning capital improvements spending outside of Parks & Rec’s budget, changes in staffing at the Bunny Davis Fitness Center and planning for having fewer gyms available from school districts, Terry asked Drake why capital improvements had not been made at the aging fitness center.

“I can’t answer that; that’s your all’s facility,” Drake answered. “We put money in every year to put additional fitness center equipment in there. And by the time we get to that part of the year we don’t have the money … Right now we are good to take care of the facilities we have.”

Drake said he had a list “several years ago” of ways to improve the fitness center that totaled $140,000.

“But it was just a list. We passed it out and it’s still a list,” he said. “And that number now would probably be $160,000, $175,000.”

Drake said the carpet in the fitness center has been in the facility since before the city purchased the center. The city was able to replace the windows in the building shortly after purchasing the building, he said.

“But clearly there are many improvements (needed) if it’s going to continue to be a fitness center,” he said.

Drake said the fitness center cannot be maintained just on revenues from membership fees alone; it requires subsidies from the local governments just to maintain it, let alone upgrading it.

Ben Kleppinger/ben.kleppinger@amnews.com
Danville City Commissioner Denise Terry participates in last week’s agency funding presentations meeting.

“… So your answer is the city has failed to make capital improvements to the facility? Is that what I heard you say?” Terry asked.

“Well, the (city) is the owner of the facility,” Drake responded.

“Right, but you’re the manager,” Terry said.

“I don’t understand the question,” Drake said.

“If there needs to be improvements made to the facility, the city needs to know what that is,” Terry said.

“OK, we can bring that list back,” Drake said.

“Why is that list not being addressed? Because the money and time is being spent on Millennium Park?” Terry asked.

“I can’t answer that,” Drake said. “… It seems like the priority has not been the Bunny Davis Center.”

“… The cost is going up, the facility has not been improved, but you’re the manager of that facility,” Terry said.

“So if you’re throwing a rock at me, I don’t really know where to dodge it from,” Drake said, eliciting a chuckle from City Commissioner J.H. Atkins.

“I’m not throwing a rock, I’m just trying to clarify where the money is going and why, and what happens when we can’t open the pool someday,” Terry said.

Drake said the funding the city and county provide goes “to pay the utilities; it’s going to pay a skeleton staff; it’s going to pay just the basic needs of existing, very, very rustic pool and fitness area. It’s a 38-year-old building.”

After further comments, City Manager Ron Scott said the Bunny Davis Center was “old when we purchased it” and maintenance and repair costs are piling up.

“We’ve seen in our community over the past two or three years particularly, the opening of private (fitness) centers that have stepped in to meet the demand for facilities to provide aerobic and those type of activities,” Scott said. “So I think the private sector has stepped in … I think that might relieve us of the obligation to have a fitness center, as long as there are centers in the community that provide that.”

Atkins later thanked Drake for his work.

“The bottom line is that we need to, as a commission and as a fiscal court, accept the fact that we’re not funding Parks & Rec the way — with the level of support we need to be,” Atkins said. “The things that you’re talking about that are 30+ years old shouldn’t even be in our facility anymore … regardless of what the financial condition is of the city, we can’t fault you and your staff for what you’re not doing. You do an outstanding job with what you have, what we give you. And I want to thank you publicly for that and put the burden back on us that what you don’t have — excuse my French — what you ain’t got is on us.”

“Which is what my point really was,” Terry said. “If it’s costing us too much to maintain what we have, then we need to do something else.”

Terry said she thinks the commission needs to hear from Drake “more than once a year.”

“I don’t think we get that, which is why I’m asking why are these capital improvements only being made on Millennium or mostly on Millennium, when there’s a great need for new equipment, there’s a great need for a new fitness facility, there’s a great need for better equipment in your facility,” she said. “… I’m not throwing a rock at you, John, but if we don’t hear from you and know what you need, then we can’t help you, and that is why we are here.”