By Kyle LoJacono
Hillsborough commissioners have identified 18 locations for the county’s revamped after-school program, including Nye Park in Lutz.
In July, commissioners voted 4-3 to eliminate the program run by the Hillsborough Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department to save $7.5 million but reversed that decision in August.
County parks director Mark Thornton came up with a plan to reduce the number of locations for the program from 42, while reducing the cost from $48 to $38 for one week.
“We wanted to find a way to keep the program,” Thornton said. “The number of kids has dropped from 6,000-1,880 during the last few years, and we hope centralizing locations and dropping the cost will bring the numbers back.”
The scaled-down program is called Rec2Six, which reflects the hours of operation from 2-6 p.m. and the focus on keeping kids active, according to county spokeswoman Kemly Green.
“Rec2Six is an evidence-based, outcome-oriented recreation component that improves a child’s quantity and quality of physical activity, motor skills, movement knowledge and peer interaction,” Green said. “The program measures fitness improvements throughout the year. The program also provides seasonal sports, fitness activities, art programs and special activities.”
The original plan was to have Rec2Six at 30 county sites, but the parks department decided against many of the locations because attendance was not large enough to warrant inclusion. The department can drop any center from the program if fewer than 25 kids are enrolled there.
The new program started on Oct. 3, the first day of the new fiscal year. Thornton said the operating cost for Rec2Six will likely be about half of the original program.
The commission has given the parks department until next June to make Rec2Six self-sufficient. It wanted to eliminate the program to help close a $50 million budget shortfall.
Commissioner Ken Hagan was one of the loudest supporters of cutting the program, stating it is “broken” and unable to exist without major taxpayer subsidies. He has since changed is opinion and believes the new scaled-down program will be solvent.
“You would save on staffing, maintenance, utilities and a lot of other things,” Hagan said.
The new price for the program is also $10 less than a week at the similar program at public schools or at the YMCA. He added anyone on free or reduced-price lunch at school is eligible for a discounted rate of $30 or $20 a week in the program.
“When we increased the fee to generate more revenue for the department, more people left,” Thornton said. “It had the reverse effect, and that’s been hurting the budget for the last two years.”
Thornton said two years ago 6,000 kids were in the park’s after-school program, a record high. At that time, the per-week cost was $20.
“We’ve talked with our parks director and looking at all the evidence we believe the cut in the cost will bring more kids to the program,” Hagan said. “If you have a program and you lower the fees, they’re going to come back in droves.”
Commissioner Kevin Beckner voted to bring the park’s program back for the year but remains skeptical it will increase its population enough to make it self-sufficient in less than a year. He does not want to use any of the county’s reserves to subsidize the service any longer.
“How long do you operate at a loss before you decide to pull the plug on an operation?” Beckner asked. “Another year? Two years? We’re laying people off, so we can’t afford to keep paying for a program not being used.”
For more information on Rec2Six, visit www.hillsboroughcounty.org/parks/rec2six.