City pools, community centers could close

By Jim Piggott, General assignment reporter, jpiggott@wjxt.com
Published On: Jun 28 2013 03:31:00 PM EDT
Updated On: Jun 28 2013 11:48:59 PM EDT

VIDEO: Mayor Alvin Brown says if pension reform does not pass, nearly $64 million will have to be cut from the city's budget. Libraries, fire stations, pools, and community centers could be closing. Right now, the focus is on senior centers.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

The city of Jacksonville is looking at more major budget cuts, and the talk now is closing pools, community centers and meals for senior citizens.

The mayor's office says it all centers on pension reform and if the City Council agrees to a deal worked out with city unions. If it doesn't, nearly $64 million will have to be cut from the budget.

DOCUMENTS: Department-by-department submitted budgets

It's already been made known that libraries and the Fire Department will be hit by the budget cuts.

Now just mention that community centers and swimming pools could be closed and people are already lashing out.

"Oh, no, no, no," said Gerrie Harden. "We need that. This community really needs that."

Harden and others say not only is the community center in Durkeeville vital to the neighborhood, but all the centers around Jacksonville play a key role in activities for kids.

April Smothers takes her son there for summer camp and says without it, she doest know what will happen.

"It wouldn't be so good for the kids because they wouldn't have anything to do," she said.

The mayor's staff has asked each department to cut nearly 14 percent from its budget. For the Parks Department, that means $2.1 million.

To reach that, the Parks Department is proposing to close 15 community centers. It has not decided which ones. The department would also cut after-school and holiday programs. The plan would be to reduce the summer camp program, which would affect 1,200 kids.

The plan will also close half of the city pools and eliminate the Learn to Swim program and swim teams at those locations.

"Well, obviously our parks system is a very popular part of the community," said David DeCamp, a spokesman for the mayor. "And again we are going to look at what the department proposals are. Keep in mind the strategic priorities of the community and take a look at the budget demands without raising taxes on many of our residents and still have quality services."

Robert Evans says his three kids take advantage of many of those programs and can't understand why the city would target kids to save money.

"When school is out, everybody likes to come and have fun with each other," Evans said. "If they cut all that, you're going to have some kids getting in trouble doing bad things."

Senior centers feel effects of cuts

Senior centers could also be on the chopping block because of cuts.

I'm standing here in the middle of the Singleton center downtown for lunch is being served. The question is being served for how long. Because again it's on the chopping block city budget cuts..

Senior citizens at the Singleton Center downtown say they've already noticed cuts. They said breakfast is now only available once a week, and the latest threat now is to cut way back on its popular lunch program. Instead of five times a week, it would be available only three days.

"We don't need the meals cut," senior Eloise Page said. "There are some seniors who have nowhere to eat."

The city department that handles senior services must cut $1.4 million under the proposed budget.

"We take services to our seniors, just as all residents, very seriously," DeCamp said. "We are going to look at these impacts and make strategic decisions that are not necessarily across-the-board cuts."

The plan being discussed lists reducing meals at senior centers and doing away with some counseling services. Also, the city is talking about doing away with bus transportation to senior centers, something those at the Singleton Center say would affect many of them.

"Because we have to have a ride to and from the center," said Elouise Gillins.

Seniors say they've heard all of this in years past, but it's not getting any easier to swallow.

The City Council gets the budget in mid-July and has all summer to iron it out.

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