Officials questioned over elimination of Parks and Rec gate fee


By Kevin Spradlin

At a time when the Hamlet Parks and Recreation Department has a long wish list of of costly items, some are wondering why city officials voted to eliminate the entrance fee to events.

Maurice McLaurin, who replaced on Feb. 9 former Parks and Rec Director Mitch Bowman, sent an email on March 24 to City Manager Marcus Abernethy conveying concerns expressed by staff and program volunteers about the elimination of the gate fee. McLaurin spoke again at the City Council’s April 13 public meeting but no one on the council chose to address the specific issues.

Kevin Spradlin | Maurice McLaurin, the newly hired director for the Hamlet Parks and Recreation Department, sent a detailed list of concerns to City Manager Marcus Abernethy about concerns over eliminating the gate fees for all programs.

Kevin Spradlin |
Maurice McLaurin, the newly hired director for the Hamlet Parks and Recreation Department, sent a detailed list of concerns to City Manager Marcus Abernethy about concerns over eliminating the gate fees for all programs.

Concerns raised revolved around the budget, facility security, a potential decrease in concession sales and who’s in charge of the kids who are not involved in city-led programs but who remain on site after games are over on a given night.

In an April work session, council members voted 3-2 — with Jesse McQueen, Eddie Martin and Johnathan Buie for and Pat Preslar and Tony Clewis against — to do away with the fees with the start of the new season. Until the vote, adults were charged $1 and children 7 and up were charged 50 cents. Fans ages 6 and under were admitted free. Now everyone will be, and McLaurin told Abernethy that’s a problem.

The Pee Dee Post filed a Freedom of Information Act for the email by email on April 22 to Abernethy. Abernethy responded the same day and fulfilled the request on Monday, less than five days later.

Abernethy told The Pee Dee Post in an email that “the majority of these concerns are challenges that can be overcome by management and staff, and we can likely overcome them if these issues arise.”

McLaurin indicated the concerns still exist.

“If we are pushing to save money, then why are we giving up on collecting gate money,” McLaurin asked. “We’re losing anywhere between $15,000 (to) $20,000 on gate money that we receive on all of our sports combined.”

In a March budget work session, talk focused on how to increase revenue in a variety of ways, including:

* Adding to the number of All-Star teams allowed
* Offering adult basketball, flag football and volleyball leagues
* Create programs for healthy lifestyles such as yoga and Zumba classes
* Coordinate cornhole tournaments

The budget work session also highlighted short-term and future needs that will require money from somewhere to address, including a zero-turn lawnmower and trailer, increasing the budgets for equipment purchases, fuel and vehicle expenses and, within a few years, a new scoreboard and control panel inside the gymnasium.

Program administrators told McLaurin, who conveyed their concerns to Abernethy, they feared registration fees will increase to replace lost gate fee revenue.

“People now are already complaining about the cost,” McLaurin said. “An increase will bring more complaints.”

He also said the new policy could be a liability for youth who are dropped off by their parents for a contest they’re not playing in. Who’s in charge of them, McLaurin asked, when the game’s over? Currently a team coach or program administrator stays on site until the last child involved in that night’s contest is picked up.

Staff indicated the gate fee helped prevent parents from dropping their children off for what amounted to free babysitting services.

“Do we have to stay with them and wait if they’re not in our program,” McLaurin asked.

McLaurin wrote Abernethy that the change also could create parking issues at already-crowded facilities.

“We already have a hard time getting people parked at the locations of the respective sport,” he said. “With no charging at the gate, we will have more people show up.”

McLaurin said security could become an issue with no one at the gate to keep watch on who comes in.

“How will we keep keep crowd control,” McLaurin asked. “We’ll probably need an on (or off) duty cop.”

Councilman Pat Preslar said he didn’t like the gate fees either but also didn’t like how the change was mentioned — without it being on an agenda and without public input.

“We were blindsided,” Preslar said. “We didn’t know it was coming.”

Preslar lamented the fact that there’s no plan in place to recoup the $15,000 to $17,000 in lost revenue.

Councilman Jesse McQueen, meanwhile, chimed in on The Pee Dee Post‘s Facebook page and noted that the funds never went to the Parks and Recreation Department anyway. Gate fees were streamlined to the city’s general fund.

Besides, McQueen posted, “this fee was a burden on many families. I feel this will help us increase our program. Why would the city want to try and intentionally keep kids from our events? Look at the state of our country now. We need to involve kids at every chance. The fee has been basically a tax to allow family and friends to see their kids play ball.”

McQueen also said no other nearby municipalities charges gate fees. He suggested “a nominal increase in fees would help all concerned.”

Along with paying people to collect gate fees, McQuen added that there was another concern in that the money collected didn’t go straight to the bank.
Many times, employees are asked to take the money home overnight or the weekend,” McQueen posted. “This is not acceptable … I stand firmly behind this decision.”

Buie, too, chimed in on the community’s digital water cooler.

“I completely agree,” Buie said. “This is a dollar parents can give their child to spend at the concession stand if they so choose.”

Buie said council members didn’t decide the issue, “the citizens concerned did.”




Filed in: Latest Headlines, Sports

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