Recreation tournament

Amelia Mercer, left, throws the ball during a game against Wayne County at Magnolia Complex in the Georgia Recreation and Parks Association pitch machine 7-8 tournament held in Moultrie in July 2017. It was among the first events hosted by the Moultrie Parks and Recreation Department after a new authority was created to govern the department.

Editor's note: This is one in a series of articles reflecting on positive change in Moultrie and Colquitt County in 2017. See the column at left for links to other stories in the series.

MOULTRIE, Ga. – Angela Castellow and Terry Peek used the same term to describe what it has taken to get the new Moultrie-Colquitt County Parks and Recreation Authority up and running this year.

“It’s been a huge task,” both said in separate interviews recently.

And they should know, having been at the forefront of creating the new independent authority that will oversee the county’s recreation programs and facilities.

The city and county governments got the state Legislature to create the authority that began operations on July 1.

A seven-person board, made up of three members named by the City of Moultrie and four by the Colquitt County Commission, met in early July to begin making the transition.

Castellow, a member of the Moultrie City Council and one of three board members named by the City, was selected as the authority’s chairperson. She has worked closely with Peek, the longtime recreation director, in doing much of the administrative work to get the authority operational.

After five months, much of what was needed to be done has been accomplished and Peek is pleased that there has been no interruption of the recreation programs that the community has come to count on.

“There has been a lot of work behind the scenes,” Peek said. “A lot of extra work by the staff. But the public has seen little of that. The public has not been inconvenienced. It’s gone very smoothly as far as the public is concerned and that’s because our staff has kept doing what it is supposed to do and we haven’t missed a beat.”

He also was pleased that all former recreation department employees were retained, have good health insurance and none had to take a pay cut.

The City of Moultrie created a recreation department in the early 1950s and later Colquitt County Commission provided funding so residents outside the city limits could participate.

But over the years, it became increasingly difficult to determine the percentage of funding each government entity should pay, leading to some friction and, ultimately, to the creation of the authority.

The authority will be able to levy ad valorem taxes on its own and not need funding from the city and county governments to operate.

It can levy no less than 1 and no more than 2 mills, effectively relieving the two governments from having to fund recreation.

In addition to Castellow, the board also includes former Moultrie YMCA director Bob Swadel, co-chairman; Colquitt County schools assistant superintendent Brad Gregory, secretary-treasurer; Dr. Cheau Williams; attorney Dorothy McCranie; County Commissioner Chris Hunnicutt; and farmer Heath Wetherington.

They will oversee the operations of a department that includes some 24 full-time, part-time and seasonal employees and has some 225 acres of parks and facilities.

Those facilities include three ball field complexes, two public swimming pools, an Olympic diving well and dryland facility, an interactive play pool, a 7.23-mile paved linear park, two gymnasiums, a youth center, a tennis center with eight lighted courts, a fish pond, a community center and several neighbor parks and playgrounds.

The organized activities offered are baseball, basketball, football, cheerleading, softball, competitive swimming, swimming lessons, public swimming, diving competitions, tennis lessons and sports clinics.

Before the authority can turn its attention to the programs it offers, it had to take care of the transition business that included selection of banks, an attorney, bookkeeping services, a maintenance supervisor, accounting software, an auditor, a post office box, a telephone system and health and pension plans for employees.

Peek called it the “red tape.”

“We’re doing things we didn’t have to do before,” he said, adding that, for example, the authority will have to pay sales tax.

Like being responsible for sales tax, the authority is facing other expenses that the former recreation department did not have because it was a part of the city government.

“We’re learning,” he said. “We’ve gone into it with a positive attitude and it’s been a team effort. And everyone wants it to succeed and that has made it easier.”

The City of Moultrie covered maintenance, utilities, health benefits and salaries in recent months while the authority worked toward becoming self-sufficient.

“We’ve been focusing on getting up and running,” said Castellow. “We’re working through most of it. The city and county have been very helpful.”

Castellow said the creation of the authority was “the right thing to do. Getting it going is the hard part.

“But the authority members have been very dedicated. They have the skill sets we needed. And, really, it’s gone real well.”

Peek, who has been the recreation director here for some dozen years, agrees.

“The board meets each month and their focus is trying to help us improve our program,” he said. “We’ve been working together as a team.”

The next phase is strategic planning and Castellow said representatives from the University of Georgia’s Fanning Institute for Leadership and Development will come down from Athens in January to help in that effort.

“We need strategic planning before we can make a lot of changes,” Peek said. “Then we can see where we want to go.”

Valdosta and Bainbridge also have recently gone to authorities to govern their recreation programs and Peek said the local board has been able to glean important information from their representatives.

Peek did say that he did not anticipate an increase in fees in the near future.

“We do want to be able to provide more services and do it as effectively as we can,” he said.

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