Residents in Madison County sparked a social media commotion on Facebook after the Madison County Board of Commissioners reinforced that fields will be closed for public use on Wednesdays and Sundays.
The commissioners announced that recreation fields in Madison County will not be free of use for seven days each week due to budget restrictions.
The Madison County Little League released a statement explaining that they were asked to help pay a $65,000 fee if they wanted to continue to use the Madison County recreation facilities.
Due to the request to pay the fee, MCLL had to cut its baseball leagues and other youth athletics forcing many kids to find other places to play sports.
Some parents and members of the community believed their concerns to the county commissioners would not thoroughly be heard.
“No point in going before commissioners,” one Madison County citizen said in a Facebook comment in the community group. “They sit on their little stage like entitled government officials and won’t listen…”
Concerns from Citizens
The main question from the community is simple — why do they have to pay for recreational facilities that are being paid for by their tax dollars?
According to Madison County Board of Commissioner Chairman Todd Higdon, these rules have been in place for years.
“From what I can remember, these rec facility rules have been in place for around 20-something years,” Higdon said in the Board of Commissioners meeting on April 5. “I’ve tasked two people to type up these rules and regulations, so anyone can understand them.”
In the same meeting, the seven-person board placed this discussion first on their agenda in the “New Business” section. They explained that travel teams and little league teams in the area were using baseball fields, parks and other facilities for free. Since they were using them for free without filling out the proper facilities request forms, the county had to pay for different maintenance costs such as the lights to illuminate the field.
Madison County residents voiced concerns on Facebook and in the meeting with the commissioners. They expressed that many of these independent travel teams and leagues don’t have the funds to pay the numerous fees to practice on the fields.
Citizens were able to ask questions and give responses during that meeting regarding the recreation facilities. One Madison County citizen expressed to the board that revenue, tax dollars and consumer money would pour into surrounding counties. People find new places to play sports and spend money in those counties outside of Madison County.
Lack of Communication
District 4 Commissioner Brian Kirk said he believes the main issue is a massive miscommunication between the Madison County BOC and the community.
“We don’t have the staff and people to run these facilities, so we made the decision to cut all staff on Sunday unless there was a scheduled event at tennis courts, pavilions, baseball fields and everything else,” Kirk said. “It was just a miscommunication of the understaffing with our community.”
Higdon and the rest of the board of commissioners shared this same sentiment.
Kirk said Madison County residents will have to pay little to no money to use parks and recreation facilities. They want to charge mainly the non-Madison County residents to pay to use their fields.
“The main thing is that we just need documentation and forms signed for the liabilities with the fields,” Kirk. “They can be and have been getting damaged, and we just want to preserve them. That information just wasn’t shared that way.”
In addition to creating the new typed-up rules and regulations, the commissioners want to work with the community. The ultimate goal is to keep youth athletics in Madison County without overcharging teams.
A lot of citizens expressed that the number of recreational sports participants were on the decline for baseball. Higdon insisted this was due to the wide array of sports now available in the county.
There will be a “thorough review” of the rules set in place between both the Board of Commissioners and the Madison County Recreation Department.
To find out more about decisions being made, visit the Madison County Government online page. The Madison County Board of Commissioners encourages citizens to attend their monthly meetings and express their thoughts and feelings.
Zach Miles is a senior majoring in journalism and earning a certificate in sports media in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.
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