Within the past several days, the El Dorado-Union County Recreation Complex board has held two meetings regarding facility operations and a master improvement and expansion plan.
On Thursday, board members convened a specially called meeting with engineers on preliminary designs for phase one of the project, which board members hope to complete by early 2020.
The meeting came less than a week after the board addressed and clarified questions about complex operations.
During a regular board meeting March 5, Mike Dumas, chairman of the Union County Quorum Court Finance Committee, raised concerns and offered recommendations on behalf of the quorum court.
One recommendation was to lease the facility to its manager, the Boys and Girls Club of El Dorado, for a nominal, annual fee.
The county and city contribute to the annual operating budget for the facility and the issues broached by Dumas have been ongoing for the past three years.
Following a series of debates between the county, city and complex board, county officials voted in 2016 to end a years-long interlocal agreement to share all operating expenses pro rata with the city.
The county agreed to cap its contribution at 50 percent of the annual complex budget and opted not to split any budget overages with the city.
Agreeing that the nearly 35-year-old facility is not a money-maker, county officials also asked the complex board to hire a manager to oversee operations and develop ideas to help tighten the gap between expenditures and revenues.
The Boys and Girls Club of El Dorado was subsequently awarded a contract for services with the city to manage the complex.
This year is also the first year the club has been contracted to operate the concession stand at the complex.
The $40,000, annual contract calls for an 80/20 split of gate fees, the majority going to the club and 20 percent to the county — thus back into the complex —, respectively.
Per the concession stand agreement, 15 percent of gross revenue is returned to the complex and 85 percent goes to the club.
Dumas said copies of the contracts are needed for the county to provide a paper trail to state legislative auditors.
Jody Cunningham, administrative assistant in Union County Judge Mike Loftin’s office, noted that the county pays a $100 annual fee for a website, www.hometeamsonline.com, on which the complex’s athletic calendar is posted, saying that auditors have cited the county on the matter.
Board member Keith Smith said former complex board chairman John Turbeville set the complex up on the website to provide a calendar of events for the facility.
Turbeville resigned from the board in 2017.
“We can’t use Google Calendar. We can post but it’s not visible to the public,” said David Lee, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club.
“We thought it would be easier and more feasible to post it on the (Events) page of our Facebook,” Lee said.
“The trend is that more groups are using Facebook, rather than a website, and we can make more contacts that way,” said Greg Harrison, chairman of the complex board and a member of the quorum court.
Board member Stacy Scroggins suggested the use of the Home Teams website for the remainder of the year and point viewers to the Facebook page.
“That’ll give them a year to acclimate,” Scroggins said.
Dumas inquired about the number of tournaments that are scheduled at the complex for the year.
One of the terms in the management agreement is for the Boys and Girls Club to pursue more tournaments to help generate more revenue at the complex.
Ten tournaments, some organized by the club and others by other tournament directors, are scheduled at the complex in May, June, July and October for softball, baseball, soccer, kickball and flag football.
Board members noted that they are working with the complex manager and league administrators to coordinate the 2019 schedule of events with anticipated construction of phase one of the improvement project.
The city recently awarded $2.6 million of the El Dorado Works economic development tax to implement the project, which entails the completion of two existing youth fields on the south end of the complex and the construction of two adjacent fields — all with restrooms, concession stands, breakrooms and Americans With Disabilities Act accessibility.
The concessions plaza will include a game room and coaches and umpires’ lounge.
Four youth soccer fields have also been incorporated into phase one of the master plan.
Other improvements include new fencing, turf fields, LED lights, poles, protective netting and a new batting cage for the four fields on the north end of the complex; renovation of the concession stand and restrooms in that area; and improvements for security and entry controls for the facility.
Lee said the Lady Cats Classic high school softball tournament has already been held at the complex this year; Smith, a tournament director, has more 2019 tournaments on the schedule; and the church league has tournaments planned.
Additionally, he said a local nonprofit agency is planning a tournament as a fundraiser.
Dumas inquired about contracts for corporate banners that are displayed at the facility.
“Is that a one-time deal or is that supposed to be renewed?” he asked.
Lee and board members explained that the complex is contracted with the local ad agency The Diamond Agency to handle the matter.
“If they’re not renewed or they’re not paying for it, then we take it down,” said Dianne Hammond, co-chairman of the complex board and a member of the El Dorado City Council.
Harrison said the board hopes to secure more opportunities to bring in revenue with banners.
“A paper trail is vitally important,” Dumas stressed.
“Would you write down the procedures on how we do all that, so it can be on the record with the county?” Scroggins asked.
Revenues and citizen complaints
Dumas then ran down annual revenues that have come into the complex since 2013, pointing to significant drops from 2015 ($44,900) though 2018 ($19,000).
Harrison said the matter had already been addressed with county officials, explaining that umpires and scorekeepers used to be paid out of the (county) treasurer’s office with fees that are collected by league teams for the expenditure.
“The quorum court asked that the teams pay the umpires directly, so that money no longer comes through the treasurer’s office,” Harrison explained.
Scroggins said the change represented a loss of $15,000 per year from the complex budget.
“Why don’t you charge league fees?” Dumas asked.
“All we’re providing is the field and the electricity. If they’re providing their own umpires and their own scheduling, what would the league fees cover?” Harrison replied.
He said the issue is a matter of respect for the leagues, particularly longtime administrators.
Board members said that with the master plan and a relatively new complex manager, plans are in the works to institute league fees.
“It’s going to take some time. We don’t want to disrespect those that kept revenue coming into the complex and kept the complex going,” Harrison continued.
The board wanted to provide recreational opportunities for those who cannot afford to pay league fees, Scroggins added.
Dumas said he has heard several complaints from county residents about tax dollars being used to pay for the complex.
“They say, ‘I don’t play ball, so I don’t want to pay to operate it. Less than 50 percent of the county uses the complex, so why are they spending my money on the complex?’” Dumas said.
Harrison said similar situations apply to other publicly owned facilities, including El Dorado’s conference center and the municipal auditorium.
“The taxpayers built it and now they pay to operate it. What would we do if the city doesn’t use taxpayer money for the conference center?” Harrison said.
Board members noted that the master improvement and expansion plan is designed to draw more users and events, including more and larger tournaments, to the complex.
More tournaments and other events mean more visitors, including families who travel with teams, in town for multiple days and more money pumped into the economy.
Further, more use of the facility will help to offset the annual complex budget, board members said.
The complex also draws revenue from pavilion and RV site rentals.
On Thursday they met with representatives from A.L. Franks Engineering of Texarkana.
The city has a professional services contract with A.L. Franks for engineering work, and the firm is working with the city and complex board in the design phase of the complex project.
Board members reviewed preliminary drawings and provided input to tweak the designs and suggest cost-cutting measures.
A.L. Franks engineers said bids could be advertised in the next 30 days and work could begin in late June.
Harrison said the goal is to complete the project by early February 2020.
“The worst-case scenario is March 1,” he said.
Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or tlyons@ eldoradonews.com.