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Columbus Parks & Rec Department spends on accreditation, while city makes cuts elsewhere

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COLUMBUS, Ga. - After two years of gathering feedback, the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department has compiled a master plan for an accreditation project.

Accreditation is a potentially expensive process, however, with little if any return to the city, other than in prestige. In a time of budget cuts and shortfalls, Columbus administrators have been tasked by council and the mayor with belt tightening everywhere they can, but the Parks Department is moving forward with its plan anyway.

Parks and Rec Director Dr. James Worsley says accreditation will bring prestige and help recruit a more professional staff in his department, but, he admits, it won't bring any money into the city. Neither he nor Mayor Teresa Tomlinson could say ultimately how much it will cost. Just the application fee is $2,200.

Worsley and Mayor Tomlinson say a good Parks and Rec Department helps nurture the community and prevent crime, but residents are expressing concern about spending on projects like the Columbus Aquatic Center. In the Master Plan report, feedback from one meeting says, "The Natatorium (Columbus Aquatic Center) is a poor investment."

"
Data speaks for itself," says Dr. Worsley, "and you have to respect the public's opinion because everyone has the right to give their opinion, and we're just going to continue to do what we can."

Some, like mayoral candidate Colin Martin, say the city needs to be saving money, instead of spending it on something like accreditation. Martin says, "Fact is, the experience our citizens have at various Parks & Rec facilities will not change what they were before accreditation to after accreditation. I fully support becoming more professional, but is spending this money, as little as it is, really sending the right message to both citizens and city employees?"

Mayor Tomlinson says, "We have things that are perhaps a more dramatic impact and a more immediate impact, but again, don't forget Parks & Rec is one of those foundation departments, it does affect our crime rate because it takes kids in their formative years and gives them a positive outlet."

Since the Comer Center reopened as a rental-only facility last year, the main people using it are city employees and the Bibb Village Association, and it hasn't booked a basketball tournament for the brand new court yet, but Dr. Worsley says buildings like it play an important part in the community as well. "It goes into much more than the utilization of the facility," he says. "It's a historic factor in the Bibb City community. That alone is worth the renovation cost that was spent."

The department has gotten great reviews, however, on the renovated Boxwood Rec Center that also opened last year.

Neither Tomlinson nor Worsley could answer specific questions about other expenses involving the accreditation project. They also couldn't offer specifics on how many times the Comer Center has been rented since the multi-million dollar renovation and its opening in the fall.

Parks and Rec is still collecting feedback. You can complete a survey about your neighborhood, click the link at http://www.columbusga.org/parks/
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Jessi Mitchell

Jessi joined the WRBL news team in October 2012 after working as a freelance production assistant for MTV Networks in Los Angeles.
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