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Columbia County Observer

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Lake City, FL:  Sewer Plant 1 – Rec Center 0
City spends $ millions on sewers, then votes 4-1 to shut down rec center.

LAKE CITY, FL – Last night, shortly after approving millions for a sewer plant, scaled down from approximately $30 mil to $8 mil due to the flame out of the Columbia County economy, Lake City's City Council voted 4-1 to shut down the Southside Recreation Center (rec center), in a not unexpected vote of support for City Manager Wendell Johnson, who wanted to turn the long standing rec center into a utility building. The rec center has been in operation since 1977. The only vote, other than residents, who spoke in support of keeping the City landmark open, was out going City Councilmember Jake Hill. (Photo: CM Johnson watches the conversation)

Glenda Andrews came to the microphone. She told the Council that when she worked at the waste water plant, which is across the street from the rec center, she would watch the children from the Summers Elementary School walk to the center every day. She said, "They had a lot of good activities back then. They haven't put the priority on Southside recreation the way they used to." She thought it might be a good idea to use it for the utility department.

Ricky Jurnigan told the Council that he thought federal grant money paid for the building. No one on the council could confirm that. He asked, "Why can't we review and revise the programs that are there? If there is a problem, let's review it and get those problems solved. That's important to our children as well as our community... Money is important, but our children are more important than money."

Amanda Phillips came to the microphone with a petition with sixty signatures to keep the Southside Rec Center open. "This is saying that we need this place for our children. I'm a single mother. I think it would be detrimental to our children not to be able to go to the recreation department after school every day."

Jerri Markham told the Council that Ricky Jurnigan put on a singing competition at the rec center every year. "I really wouldn't want that to be taken away from us," she said.

Councilwoman Moses said, "I saw her. She was really good."

A short time later the Council discussed City Manager Johnson's recommendation to shut down the rec center.

Councilwoman Moses said, "I have agonized over this. My children went there. I was a single mother and I know what that's like." She said that moneywise it doesn't make sense to keep it open. "I hate it, but I just think that probably it is the best thing to go ahead and make it a utility center."

Councilman George Ward said, "The City should not be in the daycare business. There are businesses out there striving to be in the day care business and they shouldn't be in competition with government that provides it for free." He added, "It's a good match for the City right now and financially responsible on our part." Mr. Ward was in favor of the conversion of the rec center for utility department use.

Councilman Jake Hill said, "Day care is when a child is there all day. This is for two or three hours and you want to shut it down. Hmm. There's something wrong with that. Now after thirty years there is a problem with the liability. Has anyone ever heard of something that has happened to a child at Southside in the past thirty years?" When no one spoke up, Councilman Hill said, "So I'm against shutting down Southside for the children."

Councilman Jefferson said, "I'm against closing recreation for the childrens... To my knowledge nothing has happened at Southside, but I don't want to sit here and wait for something to happen at Southside."

Mayor Witt said the County is providing certain parts of recreation that they didn't in the past. "We've got to change and do the right thing... I agree that we have to change what we're doing."

Councilman Ward moved that the City declare the Southside Recreation Center surplus to the City's recreational needs and that it be used by the Utility Department, effective January, 2013.

The motion passed 4-1, with Councilman Hill, in his final vote as a councilman, against.

The man who started the ball rolling for the demise of the Southside Recreation Center, City Manager Wendell Johnson, was uncharacteristically silent and didn't say a word. 

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On October 16, 2012, citizen49a of Lake City wrote:

The City got this one right. Forget about federal grants which may or may not exist now or in the future. Every "gift" from the feds comes with strings attached anyway, which oblige the lucky recipient to obey the directions of the benefactor in the future, and the future of Lake City, and the United States of America, is not going to be like the past.

The scale down of the sewer plant referred to in the first paragraph of this story is a window into our future.

The foreseeable future is going to be like the present - slow to no growth in our economy. This isn't a situation where we need to be making unnecessary expenditures. It's a time for cutting back and avoiding debt and unnecessary financial commitments. Government can no longer be all things to all people.

Councilman Ward expressed the common sense rationale behind this decision as accurately and succinctly as anyone: The City does not belong in the daycare business. But note this well, the daycare business is not the only business that the City should not be in. The City needs to follow the principle invoked here in many other areas in which it should not be involved, and I suggest that in future, when the City is considering some expedition into realms it has no business entering, or continuing in, it would be well for citizens to remind them of the "Southside precedent" established here.

 

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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