Stafford County delays summer activities, seeks more info on coronavirus reopening plan

Stafford County needs $131,000 in additional funds if its parks and recreation department is going to operate its annual summer programs.

The county’s parks and rec budget took a hit due to the coronavirus pandemic. Couple that with social distancing rules and the slow reopening of the state under a plan laid out by Gov. Ralph Northam and officials are working on a path forward to safely get more people active again as the summer heats up.

Stafford County Parks and Recreation Director Mike Morris, and County Administrator Thomas C. Foley, explained to the Stafford Board of Supervisors at a meeting on Tuesday, June 2, how the coronavirus pandemic has, effectively, put a halt to the county’s summer programs it had planned to offer residents.

The Board of Supervisors had given parks and recreation $8 million in its 2020 annual budget, funded by $6 million in tax revenues. In the background report from the agenda for June 2 Board of Supervisor’s meeting, it states the budget was reduced by $600,000, with revenue deductions of $360,000 and a net reduction of $240,000 due to the virus and its unpredictable outcomes in the future.

This prevented the department from opening up as many activities and hiring as they would like.

Activities like gymnastics, child and group classes, outdoor adventure programs, indoor pickleball, as well as outdoor picnic pavilions at county parks will remain closed until the governor’s plan allows people to resume such activities.

Amenities like outdoor swimming pools and programs for seniors over the age of 55 will remain closed this summer.

Morris asked the Board of Supervisors if it would consider providing the additional cash so it can get summer programs and services back up, within the guidelines of Northam’s plan, sooner than later.

With summer programs shuttered as of right now, the county expects to see a $240,000 loss of revenue, said Foley, mainly from people not paying to enroll in summer activities. As the county has less money available to spend due to the pandemic, the county’s Parks and Recreation Committee is not only limited to the number of activities it offers, but also on the number of staff it can hire to oversee the programs.

Foley stated that the Board of Supervisors can’t help the parks and recreation department if supervisors haven’t yet reviewed the requirements laid out for parks and rec under the second phase of Northam’s plan, which they said aren’t yet clear.

Stafford County entered the second phase of Northam’s reopening plan today but officials don’t yet have a handle on what recreational activities will be allowed in that phase of the statewide reopening plan.

Foley suggested Morris come back before supervisors in two weeks with a more detailed plan of action on what activities the department plans to reopen. Meanwhile, the Board of Supervisors could see if it could give the parks department more money for activities and hiring new employees.

Garrisonville District Supervisor Mark Dudenhefer appeared anxious to start summer activities.

“We should authorize the county administrator, and the parks and rec people to do what they can to stretch and let’s get started. Don’t wait on us for two weeks, we’ll lose 20% of the summer waiting a couple of more weeks,” said Dudenhefer.

While officials wait to learn the specifics of Northam’s plan, Hartwood District Supervisor Gary Snellings suggested the county could take a sum of money, possibly $100,000 from the county’s reserve to fund, to fund the summer programs.

George Washington District Supervisor Thomas C. Coen told Foley that he wants the public to understand that parks and rec will be allowed to open certain activities as fast and safe as it can while being aware of the restrictions set forth in Northam’s phased reopening plan. Coen provided no specifics on which programs he would like to see the county offer for the summer session.

Meanwhile, events that had been scheduled for the 4th of July are canceled, while beaches, like Aquia Landing Park on the Potomac River, are open. Playgrounds will remain closed until after phase three or there are enough employees to consistently clean and disinfect the equipment.

As of now, Governor Northam states indoor sports can’t exceed 30% of capacity while outdoor can’t exceed 50%. A total of 10 feet must be between instructors and participants, according to Northam’s phase two plan.

Phase two states that all shared items will be disinfected and daily screening is required of all coaches, teachers, participants, before joining the activity if recreation centers are open.

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