Although Mark Twain is credited with penning, “The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” the four-person town recreation department could have easily authored it.
The famous quotation befits the embattled recreation crew mostly because the buzz around town is that programs have been scuttled by budget cuts and personnel cutbacks. The severances include the laying off of Parks and Recreation Director Rick Manchester and the department’s entire staff of seasonal and part-time employees.
The budget plan adopted by the Payson Town Council a month ago resulted in a 37-percent cut to the recreation department, compared to a 16-percent cut townwide.
Hardest hit in the recreation department was the Payson Area Trails System (PATS), which lost all its funding at a time when the trails were being touted as a huge Rim Country attraction.
But as devastating as the cutbacks were, the four remaining recreation leaders — Joseph Harris, Mary McMullen, Charlene Hunt and Deb Rose — are vowing to continue to offer almost the same programs that existed before the fiscal bloodletting.
“It is business as usual,” McMullen said. “We are hearing rumors our programs are ending and we want people to know that’s just not true.”
The four agree they will be able to continue to offer solid programs with the help of a dedicated core of volunteers, some creative scheduling and what McMullen calls “cross training to help one another out.”
The plan is, Hunt said, “For every program, we will try to have a least one paid staff member present, maybe more, and then fill in with volunteers.”
That will be possible, she added, because “people have really stepped up and offered to come and help out.”
Among the recent boosts that have helped buoy the battered department is a $3,700 donation from the Friends of Parks and Recreation. The money is now being used to keep two youth basketball leagues and one adult league operating through March 2009.
Friends has also asked Harris, McMullen, Hunt and Rose to come up with a bare-bones budget that will keep programs intact until the end of the fiscal year.
The group hopes to generate the money in a soon-to-be-launched $50,000 fund-raising campaign.
One resident has already donated $5,000.
Youth and adult sports
Among the sports programs Harris oversees, the only loss as a result of the budget cuts is the girls slow-pitch softball program.
“But (participation) was already down about 50 percent in it because most of the girls are now playing Little League fast-pitch (softball),” he said.
Girls Little League was offered last spring for the first time in Payson’s history.
Among the youth activities that will continue are the third- and fourth-grade basketball program, the NBA/WBNA skills challenge, spring break recreation program and sport camp, youth soccer league and youth T-ball.
Harris also anticipates the highly popular girls basketball, boys basketball and wrestling camps offered in the summer by the high school coaches will continue unabated.
For adults, the coed one-pitch softball tournament is on the agenda for Feb. 2 to March 27 and the spring coed softball league will be held Feb. 27 to March 27.
For Hunt, who oversees all the equestrian programs at the Payson Event Center, a budget cut problem that must be overcome is cleanup and maintenance.
“We will host the (Arizona) high school rodeo finals in June, so finding enough volunteers to help us at the event center will be tough,” she said.
“I’ll play the devil’s advocate, but sometime volunteers just burn out and I understand that.”
In an effort to garner more support for the equestrian programs, Hunt will host a meeting at 6 p.m. Jan. 21 in the town council chambers.
“We want people to know what we need to continue and schedule more volunteers,” she said.
Although Hunt is now the only employee remaining in the equestrian program, down from six, she hopes to pick up at least one part-time helper with the money Friends of Parks and Recreation hopes to contribute.
Among the programs cut in McMullen’s outdoor recreation and trails offerings are GPS 101 and a Seasonal Patterns of Bass workshop.
“But we will have plenty of others including those in which we collaborate with the (Arizona) Game and Fish Department,” she said.
They include the always-popular Optimist Fishing Festival, Watchable Wildlife and After School Archery.
Also remaining are the children’s outdoor survival skills class, family fossil hunting, wilderness first aid and urban mountain biking.
As for the cut PATS program, McMullen admits she is disappointed, but will continue to build, improve and sign the trail system in her off time.
“We’ll do volunteer work days and hope for help from the (U.S.) Forest Service,” she said.
Aquatics and festivals
Rose, the aquatics and special events coordinator, promises the summer program won’t be much different than in previous years with lifeguard training and recertification, swim team, lessons and opening swimming continuing.
“The only changes are we might shorten the season or the hours,” she said.
Also Rose hopes to help return to the summer agenda the once highly-popular Loggers Sawdust Festival that in the past helped make Payson a summer weekend destination.
Offering those types of celebrations is the goal of all four remaining recreation coordinators.
“We’d like to have one big event per month, the kind that bring people out of the Valley,” Rose said.
“We’ll do that by combining some of the events, like the sprint triathlon with others.”
Hunt argues those types of festivals are just what the sagging Payson economy needs.
“For example, we expect the high school rodeo finals to have an about a half-million-dollar impact,” she said.
No printed programs
Among the differences residents will notice with the slashed budget is that the twice-yearly activities guide the department formerly distributed free of charge will no longer be published.
But users will be able to log on to www.paysonparks.com to register for programs or for more information.
“Or they can stop in here and will print something up for them,” McMullen said.
The bottom line in the budget cuts is that they have impacted the once-booming recreation programs but McMullen, Rose, Hunt and Harris are determined to continue on.
“We’ll make it work, we are committed to this,” Harris.
To reach either of the four, call the recreation department at (928) 474-5242, ext. 7.