Northside rec centers targeted for closure are the cheapest to operate

Photo by Travis Gauthier
Protestors rally outside the Heymann Park rec center

The gist: Closing rec centers on Lafayette’s Northside and laying off three dozen parks employees has been justified as a budgetary necessity. But the four rec centers targeted operate at the smallest deficits in the parks department’s portfolio.

$80,000 was the total cost to run the four centers in 2019. Combined, they generated just under $32,000 in revenue — mostly from 58 rentals at the Heymann Park recreation center — and operated at a net loss of $48,000. For context, the Robichaux Center, where protestors disrupted Mayor-President Josh Guillory’s most recent town hall, ran a $57,500 deficit, according to budget records provided by Lafayette Consolidated Government. 

Most of the savings in Guillory’s cuts come from 37 parks layoffs. Altogether, the staffing cuts would save $1.7 million in recurring expenses. It’s not clear which of those positions were directly related to the rec center operations. Guillory eliminated the parks police department (five positions for $389,000), six rec center coordinators ($272,000) and four janitors ($138,000). Coordinators and janitors are the minimum staff necessary to keep the rec centers open. Other layoffs are in the tennis and golf programs. Several unfilled positions are included in the total staffing reduction. 

Guillory’s parks budget outsources grass cutting through his Geaux Mow program. The total budget to contract year-round lawn care for the system’s 35 parks and three golf courses is $300,000. Ten maintenance positions for groundskeeping are eliminated in the budget, which ran a total payroll of at least $380,000. 

City Council members are pushing to take control of the funding altogether. An ordinance introduced Tuesday would put city park dollars under the sole legislative authority of the City Council. More than 90% of parks funding comes from city tax dollars, a share that will grow in Guillory’s proposed budget, which allocates only $40,000 from the parish general fund. Council members have attempted to restore all the cuts by ordinance, a move that was blocked to some uproar by the Parish Council. 

The Parish Council has offered up a $200,000 stop-gap plan. Pulling funds already rededicated from the library system’s reserves, the parish council plan — which has received an endorsement from the mayor-president — would give plenty of cushion for the rec centers to operate through October 2021, the end of the next fiscal year. That would include bringing back some positions, but fall well short of those laid off, as critics point out, during a pandemic and economic crisis. 

Guillory has spun the narrative to say he’s fighting to keep the rec centers open. But this is a discretionary budget decision and one that he’s consistently defended as an inevitability. Prior attempts to justify the cuts have cited them as underused and argued that the remaining Northside centers are “more than adequate.” In a pamphlet circulated to council members July 21, the administration notes that $890,000 is available in unspent CREATE funds, responding to a series of questions in a FAQ format. Could those funds be used to cover the rec center costs?  “Possibly. This is a philosophical and technical question that requires discussion,” the administration responds in the pamphlet.