City parks and recreational programs are in full swing, posting throughout the year record gains in usage and revenue, according to information announced at the department’s advisory board meeting Wednesday.
From April to June, the latest information reported, the number of people registered to use recreational facilities climbed to 4,980 from 3,961.
There were gains in usage at the pool (to 502 from 277) and fitness center (to 477 from 314), and the summer camp program known as Camp Amelia operates at full capacity.
“Business is booming for us right now,” said Fernandina Beach Parks and Recreation Supervisor Jay Robertson.
He reported that the department is within $15,000 of its projected annual collections (of $770,000) for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.
“Usually we’re chasing it in the last couple of weeks,” he said.
Mr. Robertson said there were gains at both the Atlantic Recreation Center and MLK Center and about 80 percent of users are city residents. He said the department tracks data using a relatively new software program known as RecPro. Until last year, data was handwritten in “antiquated” books.
“RecPro allows us to quantify the numbers and track users by city or county residents,” he said. “That’s important for us to know and we’re happy to see that most people coming through the gates are from the city.”
Mr. Robertson said the department is offering a new selection of travel programs for teenagers and families, including trips to Jacksonville Jaguar football games.
Director Nan Voit, who participated in the meeting via cell phone speaker, credited the skillful and enthusiastic help both fulltime and part time staff for the increase in recreational programs.
“They’re the best,” she said. “We couldn’t do it without their help.”
Ms. Voit said additional revenue collected through park programs is put into the city’s general fund and not into the Parks and Recreation budget. She said the department is expected to maintain its current staffing level for 2018.
“We’re not expecting to lose anyone,” she said.
The City Commission is scheduled to meet Thursday, Aug. 10 at 6:00 p.m. for a budget workshop for FY 2017-2018. About a dozen new hires throughout the city have been proposed, including a conservation manager for the Parks and Recreation department. Commissioner Len Kreger has proposed the position under a Beach and Dune Management Plan required by the city’s Comprehensive Plan.
Mr. Kreger said by email Wednesday that he plans to discuss the job at the workshop. He said funding has not been defined but that combining positions could be an option.
Ms. Voit said the job description has not yet been defined and that the hire is “not going to happen.”
Communication was also part of the advisory board discussion.
The Advisory Board unanimously voted to reactivate the department’s Facebook page and to have the matter placed on the next City Commission agenda. This spring, City Manager Dale Martin put the city’s new Public Information Officer in charge of all social media, except for the Police and Fire departments.
Mr. Robertson said he understands the city’s need for a “unified voice” but he believes this has had an adverse impact on communication with the public. He said the department had thousands of views and had built a loyal following over the last year. The numbers dropped, he said, when the PIO was given the job of posting park programs because information “gets lost” in the city’s constant feed of all local matters posted on the city’s Facebook page.
“Our communication has just deteriorated,” he said. “It’s a little disheartening.”
Mr. Robertson said people want to easily find the program and receive immediate details.
“Time, what happens if it rains, can you bring a dog?” he said. “Having an intermediary takes more time to post.”
The board also unanimously agreed to ask a City Commissioner to attend advisory board meetings. They said Commissioner Johnny Miller sometimes attends (he was not at the meeting) and that the only commissioner to ask questions about Parks and Recreation is Mr. Kreger.
Board Member Eric Bartelt offered an update on the waterfront redevelopment project (which has been in various stages of planning for years), saying the board did an “about face” at the last meeting and no longer wants to hire a design consultant due to cost. He said the City Commission has asked staff to “dust off” the plan proposed in 2012 and to “tweak” the design.
Board Member and John Cotner, a local architect, asked if the commission had officially appointed a staff member to serve as the point person.
Ms. Voit said that Senior Planner Kelly Gibson was expected to take the lead on the project. But an official appointment? “No,” said Mr. Bartelt.
Mr. Cotner dropped his head towards the table and shook it back and forth.