Free drop-in recreation center for youths victim of budget cuts in Jefferson County

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County Parks and Recreation Manager Matt Tyler stands in the gymnasium of the county’s recreation center and solemnly watches 25 children running around in circles, shrieking at the top of their lungs and passing basketballs back and forth.

To him this is a sad scene.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Tyler said.

“In a few more days, this kind of a thing won’t happen in here anymore.

“To me that is really, really sad.”

Effective at the end of the year, the Jefferson County Recreation Center will not be providing free drop-in recreation after school or on the weekends for children to play games, climb on the rock wall or jump about in the giant, inflatable bounce house.

Tyler posted the announcement on the county parks and recreation blog last week.

“[Due] to many complicated reasons the county parks and recreation budget will be reduced by approximately $100,000, or 20 percent, in 2010,” Tyler said on the blog.

“Dealing with this reduction has not been easy.”

The “complicated reasons” Tyler is talking about are countywide cuts required to balance the 2010 budget.

Tyler said his department has reduced staff from 7.92 full-time-equivalent employees to 5.28 in 2010 and has ceased maintenance at 11 county parks.

Also, the recreation program will be required to earn back 50 percent of what it spends through program fees.

“What this requirements means is no more free recreation programs like the recreation center open [for] drop-in hours,” Tyler said.

“The recreation center costs about $60,000 a year to keep open for that, and we tried to move the numbers around to get to the 50 percent mark — but it didn’t work out.”

Tyler expects that some 600 people will be affected by the closing of the drop-in hours, which were available for 44 hours each week.

The center will remain open for programs such as youth basketball, adult indoor soccer, recreation camps and children’s exercise programs.

“The center will still be busy with programs like basketball and Kid Fit!, a structured physical education program for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students,” Tyler said.

“Also Kinder Sports will start this summer which will introduce ball sports for kindergartners.

“These are new programs we are coming up with to fill the time at the center and make the 50 percent requirement.

“The point is to fill the time at the recreation center so it is still in use.”

Free and fun

Still, Tyler admits it is hard to see a free and fun place for kids disappear entirely.

Piper Diehl of Port Ludlow said her children, Marina, 14, and Jonah, 9, often use the center and it is a difficult loss to the community.

“As far as it goes for this county, there isn’t much for kids to do,” Diehl said.

“This is one of those few places that works and is good for kids.

“There really isn’t much left in terms of place for kids to safely hang out.”

Tyler said budget decisions are still being made on how to pay for Memorial Field — the primary stadium in Jefferson County located in downtown Port Townsend.

“That has still yet to be decided if anything needs to be done there,” Tyler said.

“We will see.”

_________

Reporter Erik Hidle can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at erik.hidle@peninsuladailynews.com.

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