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Funding of complex reaches a resolution

Posted on October 25, 2016

By Tia Lyons
El Dorado News Times

EL DORADO — City and county officials hashed out issues Monday regarding the El Dorado-Union County Recreation Complex and reached a consensus on how to move forward in funding the facility.

In a frank, straightforward discussion, El Dorado city officials and members of the complex board of directors asked Union County Judge Mike Loftin and the Union County Quorum Court to lay out their concerns about operations at the complex and the reasoning behind their decision last week to cap the county’s 50/50 contribution to the facility’s 2017 operating budget.

Mayor Frank Hash requested the meeting, saying that he wanted to “get everything out on the table and find out exactly what the issues are.”

Participants walked away from the table with county officials asking the complex board of directors to come back with a plan to hire a director/manager to oversee operations at the facility and help boost revenue there.

Both sides agreed that the complex is not a money-maker and that its board of directors have worked to keep expenditures under budget.

“But there’s potential out there to help offset the budget more,” Loftin said.

During meetings last week, the quorum court Finance Committee and the full court agreed to cork the county’s 2017 contribution at $94,300, minus half of the revenue that comes into the facility.

The city and county share pro rata expenses at the complex each year.

County off icials explained previously that they’re not curbing the county’s portion of the budget. Rather, they will not pay any future budget overages that may occur at the complex.

On Monday, JP Johnny Burson said the matter should be taken before the El Dorado Works Board, which facilitates the city’s one-cent sales tax for economic development.

Complex board members, Hash and Robert Edmonds, El Dorado director of public works, said the EWB — and the former El Dorado Economic Development Board — have previously committed economic development dollars to help cover projects at the complex.

Most recently, the EWB and the El Dorado City Council approved $185,000 from the tax to combine with a $50,400 matching state grant to install electricity and lights for the two newest ballfields, both located on the south end of the complex.

Edmonds and Hash said the equipment has been ordered and is expected to arrive next week.

“I feel like the works board is in this up to their eyeballs now,” Hash said.

“We’re talking about a lot of money now,” JP Johnny Burson said, adding later that he was concerned that overhead costs will continue to rise for the county as the recreation complex grows.

Edmonds reminded JPs of a $1.6 million master plan that was drafted for the facility in 2014.

He explained that the complex board plans to apply for another state grant and go back to the EWB to ask for help in implementing the remaining components of the plan, including restrooms, concessions, dugouts, etc. for the two existing fields and additional fields that can be used for softball and baseball.

County officials cited the need for a manager/director at the complex.

The complex has been without a manager since former director Tobin Fulmer resigned in December 2013 to take another job.

“We’ve been talking about a complex director for three years now,” said complex board member Stacy Scroggins.

Edmonds and Hash noted that two groundskeepers, Mark Conway and Perry Franklin, along with concessionaire John Duran, have been overseeing the complex.

County officials said a director could organize and draw more tournaments to the facility and manage the concession stand.

“I think you’d be shocked with the income that concession stand could make if the city and county took it over,” said El Dorado Alderman Michael Rice.

“The concession stand is a negative to that budget. It costs more to run power to it than we get out of it,” Loftin said.

Loftin and other county officials have previously expressed displeasure with the rental agreement between the complex and Duran.

Duran is charged a $1,600 annual rental fee, an amount that was reached after considerable discussion that began two years ago when the complex board agreed to a reduced rental rate for Duran and his staff to supervise the facility during Conway and Franklin’s off-hours, particularly in the evenings when games and practices typically take place.

“Initially, there was not enough play out there to get anyone to have a concession stand, so we gave him a favorable situation,” Scroggins said.

Burson said the concession stand has been one of the concerns that has been raised repeatedly by the quorum court, and JPs have wanted the complex board to “talk about it.”

Hammond said the board was not aware of the problem, noting that JP Cecil Polk previously served on the board and did not bring the issue to board members.

Hash urged board members to call him if they need to communicate an issue about the complex.

“If we get a director, would y’all look at going beyond your budget to cover his salary?” Alderman and complex board member Dianne Hammond asked. “We’re talking about a base (salary) and an incentive for tournaments.”

Added Hash, “We’re not talking about $60,000, but more like $30,000.”

The mayor said that when the position was advertised months ago, one application was submitted.

He said the candidate included a plan to issue address some the same issues that have been cited by county officials, including the concession stand.

Hash said the complex board and city and county officials need to review the plan to see if it’s feasible.

Rice discussed the need to expand the fields in order to accommodate large, weekend tournaments that last Friday through Sunday.

“It takes that long to get through all of those teams, so that you’re not out there with 11-year-olds until one o’clock at night,” Rice said.

Hash agreed, saying past problems with limited facilities forced teams to wait to play in large tournaments held at the complex.

“We need to make sure we have enough assets out there to make this thing work,” he said.

Scroggins explained that in addition to revenue that is generated at the complex, the board of directors considers other factors that go into the economic impact of the facility.

“You have to think about the turnover of the dollar in the community when visitors come to town. If you don’t put value on that, there’s no reason to talk about it,” Scroggins said.

“You also have to think about the recreational benefits to El Dorado and Union County and the surrounding area,” he continued.

JP Dean Storey inquired about a possible change in the fees paid by adult leagues at the facility.

“We need to have a manager in place before we get into all that,” Edmonds said.

JP Mike Dumas asked city officials to return with a plan to hire a manger, and the county will consider paying half of the salary.