Changes To Parks and Recreation Outlined For Westchase Residents

Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation Director, Mark Thornton, presented a plan that will increase the size of some recreation centers while reducing the number of centers throughout the county.

About 60 concerned residents showed up on Tuesday night at the Westchase Recreation Center to learn the details of a county plan that will deal with $10 million in budget cuts to Hillsborough County's parks and recreation department.

"I want to know what's going on and what impact it will have on my kids and the people who work here," said Gina Hanson whose three children attend the afterschool program at the center.

The biggest change made by the plan will be consolidating 42 smaller existing recreation centers that average approximately 3,000 square feet  and replacing them with 10-12 recreation centers that would each be 15,000 square feet.

Westchsae's recreation center would be expanded under the plan to 15,000 square feet. The center is currently at capacity with 400 members and a waiting list.

The afterschool program would be expanded under the plan. But some question remain unanswered, like whether or not current parents will be grandfathered into the afterschool program or will they have to reapply again.

Mark Thornton, Director of Parks and Recreation, did a power point presentation to illustrate reasons for the new program as well as the changes that would be made if the plan is implemented.

"We need to be flexible and establish a new direction that provides long term financial sustainability," Thornton said. "The new plan will save the county approximately $7.5 million annually."

Parent, Kathi Ballehr, expressed skepticism about the plan.

"Bigger isn't always better," she said. "And this has a feeling of robbing Peter to pay Paul."  

Other changes discussed were to update the county website to make it more user friendly, consolidating youth sports leagues so new fields don't have to be built and developing partnerships with private businesses.

The budget plan is expected to be submitted to the County Commission by mid July.  The final budget must be finalized by September 30, 2011.

Reinier Cruz, whose son Joshua, 11, attends the afterschool program likes the cost effectiveness of the plan. 

"There is a new fiscal reality because there simply is not enough money for everything for everyone," said Cruz.

To see the entire strategic plan, visit http://www.hillsboroughcounty.org/parks/strategic/.

For more information about the strategic plan, call Rina Rojas, Parks, Recreation and Conservation, at 813-635-3501.


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