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December 5, 2013

Special events push parks dept. $500,000 over budget in 2013

Dept. looking to trim expenses in 2014

CULLMAN — With the City of Cullman playing host to several major events such as Rock the South the past year, the parks department ended fiscal year 2013 more than $500,000 over budget — largely due to increased overtime and employee pay.

Cullman Parks and Recreation ended the period $584,500 over its approximately $5 million annual operating budget. Officials say most of the overages were caused by a loaded schedule of events this year, which pushed the parks department to staff everything from swim meets to a national archery tournament.

The overages included $147,000 increased payroll at Heritage Park; $14,000 increased payroll for gymnastics; $3,000 increased payroll at Ingle Park; $305,000 increased payroll at the aquatic center; $41,000 increased payroll at the municipal golf course; and $4,000 increased payroll at the farmer’s market.

“This year was by far the busiest year of our lives, and we had more special events that ever with Rock the South, the archery tournament, state swimming competition and so much else,” parks director John Hunt said. “One thing people often don’t realize is we had things going on for 42 straight weekends at Heritage Park this year, just your usual weekend stuff. With tournaments and things like that, you don’t know if those will end at 10 p.m. in the evening, or 2 a.m. the next morning.”

The City of Cullman covered the overages recently when the council amended the budget to reflect actual expenditures, though the park board will pay back those funds over the next 12 months.

“That helps give them a goal to meet their budget, and is essentially a way to require parks and recreation to stay true to their budget,” city clerk Wes Moore explained. “They’re able to pay it back from their profits, fees, admission, concession sales and things like that.”

Considering the events schedule only seems to be growing, city council member Johnny Cook noted everyone involved needs to do a better job of planning for these potential expenses.

“This is something we need to anticipate earlier in the budget, definitely,” he said.

The parks department budget consists of city appropriations and revenue earned from hosting events. With more and more events coming to town, the city’s appropriation to the department has increased from $2.1 million 2012, to $2.4 million in 2013 and now $2.6 million in fiscal year 2014.

In an effort to keep spending in line with the department’s budget, Hunt said the board plans to trim some staff members in a move that could cut approximately $200,000. The department is also eyeing some structural changes that could see more park workers (i.e. umpires, scorekeepers, etc.) transition from payroll employees to contract employees.

“That’s one thing we’re looking very closely at, and though we don’t know exactly what we’ll do yet, we always find a way. We have trimmed some full-time positions, and we’re looking at trying to move some people over to a contract labor situation,” Hunt said. “But, we also want to remain a big part of the community. For example, can you imagine how many kids get jobs because of parks and recreation? We employ as many as 200 kids part-time in the summer, as everything from life guards to concession workers. Sometimes that’s their first job, and a way to bring some life lessons.”

Hunt noted the restructuring efforts should go into effect throughout the current fiscal year.

‰ Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at trentm@cullmantimes.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.

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