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Decatur City Commission hears complaints about increased parks and recreation fees

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Decatur City Commission hears complaints about increased parks and recreation fees

Decatur Recreation Center. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Decatur, GA — Dozens of residents and community members packed Decatur City Hall on Monday, Aug. 21, to raise concerns about increased parks and recreation fees in the city.

The fiscal year 2023-2024 budget includes some new fees and fees from the out-of-school time programs are expected to increase over $3.8 million in recreation fees.

“Fees are charged for a variety of recreation activities including team sports, summer camps and special-interest classes. The City’s recreation facilities, including Decatur Recreation Center, Ebster Recreation Center at the Beacon Municipal Center, Glenlake Tennis Center, three outdoor pools and, most recently, the Oakhurst Recreation Center including a year round indoor pool, offer a variety of opportunities for recreation activities,” the budget narrative states. “After operating in a separate fund for 15 years, after-school and summer camp activities (out-of-school time) will re-join the general fund as part of the newly formed Parks and Recreation department, which combines the Active Living and Children and Youth Services divisions.”

Members of the Chattahoochee Country Dancers attended the meeting on Monday night to share complaints about the increased fees with the city commission. The group is facing an increased rent in order to use the Decatur Recreation Center.

The Chattahoochee Country Dancers have been renting the Decatur Recreation Centers for Friday dances since 2018. The organization has also been renting space for its annual November dance weekend since at least 1982, if not earlier, Seth Tepfer told Decaturish in an email.

“We have been told our rates are going up from $150 for a Friday night to $560 for a Friday night. Our rates to rent the entire facility for our annual weened are going up from $1,800 to over $5,000,” Tepfer said.

During the meeting, he asked for the group’s weekly rent to be $180 and the rent for the yearly dance weekend event to be $2,000.

Those who spoke at the meeting said the increased cost would force the group to find a new space to dance. They advocated for a more moderate increase to the rent. Some of the dancers also raised concerns about a lack of communication around the fee increases.

“We absolutely cannot afford what you’ve presented to us,” Amanda Setili said.

City Manager Andrea Arnold noted that city staff has met with a few members of the Chattahoochee Country Dancers to discuss the fee increase and alternative facilities available in the city.

In other business:

– The city commission approved a contract with Magnum Paving for about $3.3 million and established a project budget of $4 million for the milling and repair of streets.

The Georgia Department of Transportation has provided about $215,000 as part of its Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant. The city must provide a minimum match of 30%, Decatur Project Civil Engineer Jennings Bell wrote in a memo.

“Work will include comprehensive maintenance in the selected corridor segments for all facets of our transportation infrastructure for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists,” Bell said. “Concrete repairs to sidewalks and driveway aprons within the public right-of-way are intended to address panels that are missing, damaged, dislodged, or otherwise impede pedestrians. At intersections, curb cuts that do not meet current standards will be upgraded and crosswalks will be restriped to improve accessibility, visibility and safety for pedestrians. Other thermoplastic markings will be restored on paved areas and post-mounted regulatory signage will be replaced.”

Traffic-calming measures on Adair Street and Coventry Road are also included in this project. Here is the list of streets included in the repair and repaving program for this year:

Photo courtesy of the city of Decatur.

– The city commission amended City Manager Andrea Arnold’s employment agreement to increase her salary from $187,000 to $198,220.

A copy of her contract is posted on the city’s website. To see the employment agreement amendment, click here. The city commission increased Arnold’s salary from $170,000 to $178,500 in June 2021. Under the terms of her current contract, Arnold’s base salary was $187,000. The two-year agreement expires on Dec. 31, 2024.

– The city commission adopted a resolution supporting the call for a referendum to continue the county’s special purpose local option sales tax and equalized homestead option sales tax, and authorized the mayor to execute an intergovernmental agreement with DeKalb County related to SPLOST.

SPLOST I was approved by voters in 2017, and it is set to expire in Marc 2024. If approved, SPLOST II will begin in April 2024 to replace SPLOST I. The county is considering calling a referendum for SPLOST II and equalized homestead option sales tax questions to be on the ballot in November. In DeKalb, the SPLOST and EHOST are tied together.

“If SPLOST doesn’t pass, then EHOST doesn’t pass,” Arnold said.

The Georgia General Assembly passed a bill this year that allows DeKalb County to use funds from its special purpose local option sales tax toward parks and libraries, in addition to transportation.

SPLOST II is anticipated to generate about $30 million for the city over six years. The city would receive about $5 million annually, Arnold wrote in a memo.

“Approximately 40% or $12,084,756 is needed to fund the debt service payments for the capital projects identified above,” Arnold said in the memo. “It is recommended that the remaining amount be divided over a) transportation projects in the amount of $9,350,000 or 30% of the total proceeds, b) cultural facilities in the amount of $4,185,000 or 14% of the total proceeds, and c) recreational facilities in the amount of $4,972,369 or 16% of the total proceeds.”

The city commission has not set a list of projects that would use SPLOST funding. But the resolution notes the projects may include land, equipment, vehicles, facilities, and other capital costs.

– The city commission approved a memorandum of agreement with the DeKalb Community Service Board for a co-responder program with the Decatur Police Department. The agreement is for up to $116,100 in the first year of the agreement.

“Under the proposed agreement with the [Community Service Board], the co-responder program will partner with the police department to provide crisis intervention response and follow-up for behavioral health calls as well as to provide outreach to members of the community who are suspected of having mental health or substance use issues,” Police Chief Scott Richards wrote in a memo.

– The commission also approved of an agreement with Atkins North America for $61,535 and set a budget of $70,000 for the design of parking and circulation improvements at Decatur Legacy Park.

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