Local News

County distributing parks reimbursements to municipalities

AVON PARK - Due to the national recession affecting cities and towns around the country, Highlands County recreational reimbursements to municipalities for facilities and park maintenance is about $330,000 overall countywide, about $200,000 less than two years ago.

For the 2010-11 fiscal year, about $500,000 was split between the Sebring, Avon Park and Lake Placid recreation and parks departments to be used for parks maintenance upkeep and repairs, custodial and grounds-keeping jobs, staff salary benefits, utility bills, and insurance. They don't include capital expenditures of over $1,000 and in 2009-10, it was about $561,000.

With the recession and downturn in the economy, the reimbursements since 2011 has amounted to $110,000 each and that amount was approved by the Highlands County Commission for 2013-14 Dec. 3.

David Nitz, county budget manager, said each municipality submitted reimbursement requests, He said the money is basically used "to help keep parks running" and kept up. He said with the property values and revenue from ad valorem taxes steadily dropping, the annual general funding budget for Highlands County dropped from $60 million for 2010-11 to $58 million for 2013, and along with that, the reimbursement amounts. He said overall, it's another way to attract people - especially the younger demographic - into Highlands County.

"They're (reimbursements) part of the selling point to attract people to the community to improve the quality of life. Parks and recreation areas are a valuable asset, especially in attracting younger people to live here," he said,

The reimbursement funds also help offset maintenance costs for the percentage of the county's 100,000 residents who don't pay city taxes, but use city parks and facilities.

Vicki Pontius, county parks and recreation director, said the reimbursement funding helps pay for irrigation for ball fields, fertilizer, electricity, and replacing and repairing playground equipment less than $750. She said until 2009-10, there was "no problem" reimbursing cities half of recreation maintenance expenditures until the amounts began getting higher and that was the last year before the amount was capped at $330,000.

"I'm sure it (the recession) has made a huge impact. We had to layoff employees because of the downturn. This is just one symptom," she said.

Each municipality has until Oct. 31, 2014, to submit reimbursement requests.