The commission recommends the merger of certain recreation areas in Terrebonne, other rationalization measures

Residents of Terrebonne could see changes in the way their parks and gymnasiums are run if the parish council approves the recommendations of a task force report released on Wednesday.

The recreation modernization task force began meeting in September to explore ways to improve the recreation system.

The 31-page advisory committee report, released to council on Wednesday evening, recommends the amalgamation of four of Terrebonne’s 11 current recreation districts, all located in the north of the parish.

He calls for changes in record keeping and budgeting to ensure that each district complies with legal requirements. Other recommendations include more centralized purchasing to save taxpayer dollars, standardized human resource policies to replace some that are outdated or non-existent, and clear and consistent policies on how park concessions are managed.

The panel’s charter says that council may decide to adopt or approve all or part of the recommendations or put them on the Oct. 9 ballot for voters to consider.

The board has sent the report to a committee that will review its findings and decide on the way forward.

Officials and residents of Terrebonne have debated for years whether to merge some or all of the parish’s 11 recreation districts. Currently, the parish government manages the recreation programs offered to residents, while individual districts are responsible for the construction and maintenance of parks, gymnasiums and related facilities.

Look inside: This is how the Terrebonne recreational system works

Critics said the parish is not getting its money’s worth for taxes residents spend on recreation. They cited large differences both in the taxes that district residents pay and in the quality of the facilities they receive.

Opponents say the current system works well and that merging districts would remove oversight of neighborhoods and communities, which are best suited for managing recreational facilities.

Here are some highlights from the Advisory Working Group report:

Merger of certain leisure districts

The panel recommends merging recreation districts 1, 2-3, 8 and 9 into one.

As it stands, Rec District 1 covers Oakshire, Gray and Schriever; District 2-3 includes Bayou Cane and areas along La. 311 in and around Houma; District 8 serves Donner, Chacahoula and Gibson; and District 9 serves Bayou Black.

The amalgamated district would include approximately 60,000 of the 110,000 inhabitants of the parish.

The panel does not recommend merging other neighborhoods, including those in the south of the parish.

“Often, voters in the recreation quarters on the north side of the parish will frequent facilities that are not in their home neighborhoods because the facilities are very close to each other,” the report said. “Conversely, facilities in bayou communities tend to be more dispersed, so cross-use is not seen as frequently. “

The panel suggests assessing a property tax of 6.5 million in the new northern district, which is close to what it will take to bring in the same amount that the districts are currently collecting.

Taxpayers now pay 7.0 miles in District 1, 5.0 miles in District 2-3, 9.0 miles in District 8, and 14.77 miles in District 9 according to the assessor’s office. parish of Terrebonne.

Budgets show the four districts plan to raise a combined $ 4.2 million this year, while spending totals $ 2.1 million. This leaves an annual surplus of $ 2.1 million that could be used to improve and build facilities that will benefit most or all of northern Terrebonne.

“This group of voters can easily benefit from all of these projects, because getting around the region is easy,” the report said. “By merging districts, these capital projects can be better planned and coordinated so that facilities complement rather than compete with each other.”

Reject a single parish district

“It is the recommendation of the Modernization Council that the full consolidation of all recreation districts in the parish should not be carried out,” the report said.

“The council noticed that very little use of inter-district facilities occurs in bayou communities, largely due to community identity and lack of proximity,” the panel said.

“In addition, to arrive at a revenue neutral district, which the board considered important, the parish-wide recreation park would be just under 10 mills,” the report said. . “This would represent a significant increase in taxes on recreation for a large part of the population. The combination of declining tax values ​​and higher homestead exemptions in bayou communities would compound this problem over time. “

Another reason includes the large difference in the percentage of homes qualifying for the state homestead exemption between districts, which ranges from 8% to 71%, according to the panel. The law exempts the first $ 75,000 of a home’s value from property taxes.

Legal and financial questions remain

The report notes that legal and financial questions remain regarding the merger of the districts.

One of the reasons the panel did not recommend changing the dividing lines is because the Terrebonne appraiser’s office said it would be difficult to determine precisely how revenues would be allocated between districts, according to the report. And that would create “great financial uncertainty” for the parish and the districts.

Without a budget, the panel said it could not hire experts to examine legal issues related to the merger of districts whose long-term debt is paid with tax money approved by voters for this specific purpose. . As a result, the council has chosen not to amalgamate any recreational district with such debt.

Following: A committee responsible for recommending public recreation reforms in Terrebonne to the parish council

Process and procedure

Most of the other recommendations deal with streamlining and standardizing processes such as record keeping, budgeting, hiring, and compliance with state and parish reporting laws.

“The Terrebonne Parish Council should issue by ordinance as many of these recommendations as possible in order to ensure accountability and create the savings necessary to maximize the potential of our recreational system,” the report said.

Among the specific recommendations:

► Require all districts to adopt a single, standard format for financial documents. “Without standardizing the chart of accounts and other accounting documents, a side-by-side comparison of districts, such as comparing the labor costs of districts with similar operations, is not possible,” the panel said. in the report.

► Require all districts to maintain up-to-date policy manuals. “Most districts operate without a policy manual or with policies that have not been updated in years,” the report says. “Without the guidance and direction of written policies, coherence and accountability in districts cannot be achieved.”

► Council should set aside time in its meetings each month to review and address issues within recreation districts and ensure that they are complying with laws and ordinances. For example, an ordinance requires each district council to submit annual budgets, minutes, and monthly meeting agendas to the financial director and the ward council clerk. “However,” the report says, “not all districts are in compliance and there is currently no liability for non-compliance.”

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