Sadly, attendance at regular Morgan City Council meetings is pretty sparse other than a reporter and elected officials. But every so often when residents and business owners are passionate about an agenda item, people come out of the woodwork.
The work session of this week’s Morgan City Council meeting included members of the Morgan County Council, the Morgan County School Board, the Morgan Recreation Committee, business owners and private citizens alike. All were present to support the Morgan recreation program.
If there is one thing that will light a fire in people’s hearts in Morgan County, it is their youth.
The council heard testimonial after testimonial of how Morgan recreation games, tournaments and players drive business within city limits. Adam Birt shared stories of moms needing to buy last-minute treats for their teams.
Kyle Thackeray explained the huge increase in traffic and sales that J’s receives when games let out or when there is a tournament in town. Several other business owners were present and ready to sing the praises of Morgan recreation.
Steve George, President of Generation U, said the company officially took over recreation, including maintenance, last fall. “There is a plan to take care of every weed, every blade of grass at the facilities. Unfortunately, it took a few years to fall into such disrepair and it will probably take a few more to get it back to where it needs to be,” promised George.
He said that playing surfaces were priority No. 1 this year. “We had several compliments on how much better they looked compared to last. I could give you a list a mile long of what we could use extra funding for, but I don’t want the recreation board to be something divisive between these three entities. Seeing the Wilkinson complex hopping with families during sporting events each night is what it’s all about.”
Councilman Tony London interjected saying, “You don’t have to sell me on the recreation program. There is no bigger proponent of the program since I was 12 years old than myself. I don’t think anyone on the council is opposed to recreation. If it were up to me, you’d have more money. I’m just not thrilled with the way it is currently funded.”
The problem seems to be finding the best source of funding. The county could put it under special service district, but it was pretty unanimous that there would be issues with it being run by unelected officials. The RAMP tax was also mentioned as a source.
London mentioned that the county could add it as a line item, but County Councilwoman Tina Cannon reminded London that the County Council has recently had a zero percent success rate of getting such line items approved by the public.
“If you are really passionate about it being funded a different way, someone bringing it to the table as a private citizen would probably have more success as far as getting it passed,” encouraged Cannon. She did caution London that if the rec program was a county-only item, Morgan City officials would lose their voice on the rec board.
County Councilman Robert Kilmer said, “Right now we are just trying to fund the program for this year until we can come up with a better solution. Tina was right when she said that as a county council and school board, we just have not had success getting line items passed. Maybe we just aren’t good salesmen. Whatever the reason, we crash and burn,” pointed out Kilmer, citing the recent vote on a UTA tax and funding for road improvements.
“Almost everything we have as far as recreation is concerned has come from grass roots. It is nearly always successful when you can get people to step up and do that. But we need something that is long term. We are hoping that the city will see enough value in the program to fund this for now,” concluded Kilmer.
City Councilman Mike Kendell, who serves as the Morgan City representative on the recreation board, said that the additional money was approved last year to fund utility expenses. He noted that the prior year, the city actually made money off the rec board through utilities, so the increased amount was to help offset that.
Kendell noted that the $7,000 in extra funding being requested is the same amount that was approved last year in lieu of waving the utility payments.
Mayor Ray Little interjected that while the meeting seemed to be geared toward showing how much Morgan City alone benefitted from the increase in business the recreation programs bring, everyone benefits, not just the city.
He shed some light on where tax monies go. Little clarified that sales tax goes to not only the city, but the state and county as well. In fact, according to Mayor Little, the city only gets a half of a percent of the sales tax. In addition, the restaurant tax goes only to county, the city gets zero. If the businesses add on and make improvements, property taxes go up and the city, county and school district all share in the monetary benefit of that growth.
He later said, “It is not my intention to hurt feelings with those comments. I just wanted to make sure everyone understood that it benefits us all, not just the city alone.”
Exiting School Board Member Ken Durrant posed, “What does the school district get back from their contribution?” to which London replied, “If I were on the school board, that is the exact question I would ask.”
Mayor Little responded saying that in the past, the theory was that you would benefit from the skilled athletes it created, but said he wasn’t sure if that was still the line of thinking.
Durrant continued saying, “What you have done with the city park is beautiful. The improvements on Commercial Street will be wonderful. But the biggest draw you have bringing people to the city is the recreation program, and somehow it seems to be a black eye to you. I will tell you why the school board supports the rec program with nothing to gain. Sometimes it isn’t about the finances. Sometimes it’s about giving back to the community. It’s about being the people we say we are. If we were asked to give another five grand, I wouldn’t doubt we would pass it, because we know how important it is to this community.”
City Councilman Bill Cobabe agreed, saying supporting programs like this is a reflection on how we feel about our youth. He said, “Communities all over support golf courses and opera houses and hiking trails that don’t provide one nickel to the community. In fact they can be a drain, but they reflect the values of the community. I think Morgan values their youth.”
The sentiments expressed in the work session clearly resonated with the council as a whole as the additional $7,000 for the recreation program was taken from the capital projects fund for a grand total of $13,058 unanimously approved for the Morgan Recreation program in the final 2016-17 budget.