Petal residents voice concerns over job cuts, youth sports

By HASKEL BURNS,

In the face of proposed budget cuts that might affect youth sports and will result in job cuts from the City of Petal Parks and Recreation Department, a couple of residents took the opportunity during Tuesday’s Petal Board of Aldermen meeting to voice their concerns, while board members explained the necessity of the measures.

Resident Ada Madison, a regular at board meetings, was the first to speak out against the $500,000 budget cut and job losses.

“I’m thinking about the kids,” she told the board. “I know you haven’t made a decision yet on what you’re going to do, but when you’re making your decisions, think about the children that play ball.

“When you take that from them, they ain’t got nothing else. You don’t hear much no more about kids in Petal getting in trouble. You know why? Because they got that ball. They playing ball; they ain’t worried about nothing else.”

The concerns stem from a 2017 agreement between the city and the Petal Sports Association, in which the two entities entered into a partnership that created the Petal Athletics Office under the jurisdiction of the Parks and Recreation Department. Previous to that, the Optimist Club of Petal was responsible for baseball in the city, while girl’s softball was operated at the fields in Sunrise.

Mayor Hal Marx said during the city’s partnership with PSA, sports grew and combined, particularly with football, basketball and cheerleading. Despite that, the programs did not produce enough revenue for the city to cover the cost to taxpayers, with the city receiving slightly more than $100,000 back on an expense budget of almost $800,000.

Because of that, the budget cuts were proposed, and Petal officials decided they could no longer maintain the ball fields near the Petal Family Branch YMCA within the current budget. Marx said although the PSA hosts games at those parks, for the past couple years the city has shouldered the financial responsibility, which has become no longer feasible.

In addition, the budget cuts would necessitate the removal of an unknown number of positions in the Parks and Recreation Department.

“They’re losing (their jobs) in September,” Madison said. “That’s Thanksgiving, that’s Christmas.

“You can’t go out and get no job before the holidays get here, and they got families. Think about them poor kids that won’t have Christmas presents, because (their parents) can’t work and don’t have no job.”

Marx addressed the job cuts, saying no city officials want to see jobs or other services eliminated.

“We would want everything to continue just like it is, and continue to grow,” he said. “But we’re in a situation where there’s X number of dollars and there’s Y number of needs, and you have to try to make it balance out.

“I want everybody to know that the recreation department is not the only department facing cuts – every department is being cut. But when we have about 85 percent of our budget in personnel-related costs, you get to the point where you can’t cut the police department and the fire department supply budgets enough … you have to cut people.”

Because of that, Marx said, the issue then becomes where those personnel cuts will be made.

“Are you going to tell one of these police officers that have helped us get the Safest City (recognition) for the last seven years to go home, and not have any police officers on the streets? I don’t want that,” he said. “Are we going to tell some of these firemen that helped lower our fire rating from a 7 to a 4 over the last few years, and saved hundreds of dollars in fire insurance money for people, to go home? I don’t want to have to do that.

“People complain about potholes, so are we going to cut back on the street guys that are out there filling and patching them? Unfortunately, for whatever reason, we made some decisions I wish we could go back and change – some of these guys probably do too – but we’re faced with what we’re faced with now, and we have to make a decision going forward.”

Petal officials have proposed to PSA that the city will provide the fields, pay the electric bill and pay for the insurance at the sports complex near the Family Y, as well as maintain the outer perimeters of the complex. Because the city doesn’t have the funds to maintain the personnel or supplies to mow and upkeep the fields, however, city officials have asked PSA to take over those duties.

If PSA is able to do so, they will be allowed to continue their current programs. If not, there is another option: members of a local group that maintains the fields at Sunrise have volunteered to provide labor to maintain the fields and host a youth baseball and softball league.

“We’re not going to lose sports,” Alderman-at-Large William King said. “If, by chance, PSA goes away, we’ll have baseball and softball, but that’s it.

“If PSA stays – if we continue our relationship with PSA – then it brings football, baseball, softball, soccer, basketball.”

Resident Jana Causey, who is a member of the Petal Children’s Task Force, said she wasn’t originally too happy about the 2017 agreement between the city and PSA.

“But now that we’re here, I’m super excited, because I’ve not seen this much structure in the city with sports, I’ve not seen this many offerings,” she said. “And additionally, female sports are better than they’ve ever been.

“To be quite honest with you, I have been really impressed with the structure that has been in place, because I’ve seen a lot of kids that wouldn’t (normally) have opportunities who do have opportunities. So as a tax-paying citizen in Petal, I would love to see this program be able to stand and continue with the structure that it has. I wouldn’t mind paying a little more money to be able to be a part of those athletics, but I would love for us to come to the table and try to find a way to maintain our current structure.”

In another bit of unfortunate news, Petal officials recently learned that they would not be able to raise taxes after moving 3 mills from debts services into the budget.

“That (move) would generate about $300,000,” Marx said. “It was brought up the other day that we could raise taxes another 3 mills and bring in another $300,000, and there you’ve got enough for recreation.

“But it can’t be done – legally, we cannot raise those taxes on those 3 mills once we moved that money over. In other words, we can only increase our budget by about $300,000 this year – maybe $400,000, depending on how it falls, or maybe not quite that much.”

King said he would like to see more residents get involved in the political process, which would give the board additional input before making certain decisions.

“We come up with ideas sometimes that we think may be good, but we don’t hear from our citizens,” he said. “Everybody in the city of Petal has an alderman – reach out to your alderman and let them know how you feel, how you think.

“I want to vote what you want me to vote. Our ideas ain’t always the best sometimes, but I promise they’re done with good intentions.”

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