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Changes coming to township recreation

'We've had a very good experience with recreation'

September 15, 2010 - Brandon Twp.- On Wednesday evening, with autumn in the air and the sun lingering in the sky over the soccer fields at the community park, Corene Sebring relaxed in a lawn chair on the sideline and watched a game that included her daughter, Delaney.

Sebring is no stranger to soccer games— Delaney is her fourth child to participate in the township's recreational soccer leagues, but she is grateful her youngest child is playing on new fields, opposed to the "pothole-filled" school fields her kids played on before the new park at 1414 Hadley Road was built. She calls the new park "wonderful," and hopes that recreation programs won't suffer with forthcoming budget cuts.

"We've had a very good experience with recreation," said Sebring. "It's great exercise and the price is right. There are no other sports until middle school or high school unless you pay to be on a travel team, which is expensive."

The township board has conducted numerous budget workshops this year and recently unveiled a plan to save nearly $500,000 over the course of the next three years. That plan includes cuts to staff, with the most dramatic changes coming in the recreation department, where the programmer position will be eliminated next year and the administrative assistant position will be cut in 2012. These moves will save the township $34,092.65 each and will make Director Fred Waybrant the sole full-time employee in recreation. A part-time contracted employee would be hired to help cover the loss of two full-time employees and would be paid for through programming funds only.

Waybrant said volunteers are what he will need most to keep recreation operating smoothly.

"The biggest, most important thing will be a strong group of volunteers working as a committee for a particular program," he said. "Soccer and baseball are huge and I will need a strong committee group. People come and go and will have to be retrained. I know it won't be easy."

Marcus and Susan Bryant's 5-year-old son Ethan played T-ball in the Brandon Recreation program this year and they look forward to him playing more recreation sports.

"The kids get to bond and learn sportsmanship and the parents get to know each other," said Marcus Bryant. "It teaches kids how to work together. I would be willing to pay more for programming fees to keep the quality. Another $20 is not even the cost of a meal out for the family. It's something they could look at. They probably need everyone they have, I hate to see them take a cut in personnel."

Waybrant emphasized that he won't cut any of the sports programs, but residents can expect cuts in other areas. It's possible that the sale of discount tickets to amusement parks like Cedar Point and Michigan Adventure, as well as to the zoo and Mt. Holly may be gone. There may be fewer casino and theater trips offered as he prioritizes which programs fit best with residents.

While he has no plans to eliminate any recreational sports, there will be shortened sessions for youth wrestling, men's basketball and women's volleyball. Formerly, wrestling had one 28-week season for a charge of $55. Now, it will be broken into three 10-week sessions of $45 per session. Basketball and volleyball were 23-week sessions before at $55 per session, now they will be 10-week sessions, also at $45 per session. There will be no make-up dates.

Waybrant said there are no plans to raise programming fees, although he is contending with facility usage fees that the school district is charging this year and all costs from his department are expected to be paid with from programming fees, with the exception of his salary, which is paid from the general fund.

Controversy has surrounded the recreation department for the last few years, as the township has dealt with financial strain. In February 2008, the township board unanimously voted to raise non-resident recreation participant fees from $10 to $60 per event and participant. The uproar that followed resulted in the board voting 4-3 just five months later to lower the fees back down to $15 per event and participant.

The community park, which opened in 2008, has also drawn fire, with many residents upset over the cost and their lack of a vote on the matter. Most recently, the board has been divided over completion of a matching DNR grant for the park.

While further development of the park is on hold, no more grants requiring matching funds will be sought, and the recreation staff is dwindling,Waybrant said he will continue the mission of recreation— to create lasting memories for youth.

"Recreation creates social networking, sportsmanship, and community involvement," he said. "That's what we do best. We're a small community. If you want to travel to Oxford, Clarkston, they would take you with open arms, but it's our job to provide our kids recreational opportunities."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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