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Waynesville to ask county to chip in on recreation costs

Waynesville’s rec center offers a variety of programs and activities. File photo Waynesville’s rec center offers a variety of programs and activities. File photo

Citing precedent and historical trends, the town of Waynesville will request that Haywood County government resume its annual financial contribution to the town’s recreation budget. 

“They used to do it, and given that, we bolster recreation for the entire county, we feel like the county should consider helping us out again,” said Luke Kinsland, interim director of the Waynesville Recreation and Parks Department. “Everybody in Haywood County uses the center and the park, and we’re contributing to the greenway, connecting the pieces of it.” 

Kinsland started at the rec center as a lifeguard in 2008 and worked his way up to his current position, becoming interim director two months ago upon the departure of longtime director Rhett Langston. 

Prior to 2010, the county had made an annual financial contribution in the amount of $70,000 toward Waynesville’s recreation department expenses but then stopped as the Great Recession set in, impacting municipal government revenues across the board. 

Waynesville taxpayers foot the bill for upkeep of the town’s parks, as well the recreation center on Howell Mill Road. 

In 2019, Waynesville’s rec center had an operating budget of just under $819,000. Revenue in the form of membership fees generated $368,000, leaving more than $450,000 to be funded by the town. 

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But not everyone who uses the rec center is a Waynesville taxpayer; data from fiscal year 2019 shows that 40.6% of users were Waynesville residents, while 59.4% were not. 

Information provided by the recreation department to aldermen on July 26 says the usage rates are part of a consistent pattern established over 10 years or more. 

Yearly individual memberships run $409, but nonresidents aren’t charged any more than residents, who not only pay membership fees but also pay taxes that support the recreation department. 

In essence, nonresidents are getting a cheaper deal than the taxpayers who built and continue to pay for the facility. 

Kinsland said that some seasonal inhabitants of Haywood County, including those with residences in Florida or South Carolina, also use the facility. Although the idea of charging different rates for out-of-town customers has been discussed, Alderman Anthony Sutton says the math doesn’t add up to a valid or equitable solution. 

“Even if you raise it $5 for the individuals who live in the county, it doesn’t make up the gap at all. I don’t think it’s fair to have the disparity in one set of rates,” Sutton said. “It would actually create an accounting issue to implement.” 

Most of the recreation center’s large capital needs have been taken care of in previous budget years, but that doesn’t mean the additional revenue won’t come in handy. 

“Our main priority is the recreation center building,” Kinsland said. “We could put the money back into our operating budget, whether it is for supplies for programming or for fitness equipment.”

On July 26, aldermen gave Kinsland the OK to begin drafting a statement meant to open up negotiations with the county, in hopes they’ll begin making contributions again. 

“I hope that they ask for a specific amount of at least what they were paying in 2008, possibly more,” Sutton said. “The majority of the people who attend the recreation center are from the county and not from the town, so the town is helping supplement the health benefits of the rest of the county. I would expect them to step up and assist with the cost for the facility.”

Kevin Ensley, Chairman of the Haywood County Board of Commissioners, said he understood where the town was coming from with its request. 

“In 2009, we cut everything, just trying to survive, and I guess we hadn’t put [the annual contribution] back,” Ensley said. 

Ensley bemoaned the fact that the county just passed its annual budget a few weeks ago. 

“If they had made the request in January or February, maybe we could have considered it,” he said. 

Instead, Ensley said he’d have a conversation with some of the other commissioners. 

The request could end up on a forthcoming county agenda, or not. 

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