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Gift 'fabulous' news for Berkeley rec board

Private donations have helped agency stay afloat

Private donations have helped agency stay afloat

April 28, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- The budget for public parks and recreation programs in Berkeley County has been squeezed by increases in the minimum wage and a projected first-ever decline in hotel-motel tax revenue, but a few sizable private donations in recent years have helped soften the blow.

The planned gift of more than $100,000 from the Beth Jacob Congregation to parks and recreation in the city of Martinsburg was "fabulous" news earlier this month for Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks & Recreation Board Executive Director R. Stephen Catlett.

"I really think that it's a testament to our board and how we handle funds as to why we are receiving (this money)," Catlett told board members at their regular April meeting.

Catlett said he intends to memorialize the gift by the last few members of Martinsburg's Jewish community with a plaque recognizing the contribution, which he said was a nice surprise.

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The exact amount of the donation, projected to be $135,000, is expected to be finalized this summer after items from the congregation's former synagogue building in downtown Martinsburg are auctioned, officials have said.

The parks and recreation board in 2007 received a $500,000 grant from The Windhover Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Quad/Graphics, and more than $1 million was left to the agency that year by Marshall S. Mason, a Berkeley County schoolteacher who died in February 2007.

The yet-to-be-opened south wing of the Berkeley 2000 Recreation Center at Lambert Park in Martinsburg is to be named the Marshall Mason Multipurpose Center. A recreation center gymnasium bears Quad/Graphics' name for the foundation's gift. Like the other gifts, Catlett expects the money from the Beth Jacob Congregation to be used to support capital improvements or possible acreage acquisition.

The south wing of the Berkeley 2000 Recreation Center was originally slated to become a fitness center, but Catlett said that plan was put on hold because the agency didn't have enough money to finish the project.

Instead, the recreation board is moving ahead with a plan to install a rubberized floor and portable walls for indoor soccer and volleyball courts, and Catlett said the space also is being eyed for special events.

Given the reductions in funding, including cuts by county government, the development of a 78-acre parcel that is on track to be donated to the parks and recreation board near Hedgesville, W.Va., might take awhile, Catlett said.

"I don't know how fast we're going to be able to expand," Catlett told board members.

Catlett told city officials in March that use of parks and recreation programming has increased as the hotel/motel tax revenue apparently has dipped with the economic recession. He said in a letter to Mayor George Karos that utilities and other operating costs are continuing to increase in the agency's budget, which was about $2 million in 2007-08.

Because of the minimum-wage adjustments, the parks and recreation board's seasonal pay scale for more than 200 part-time employees had to be increased by $2.10 per hour per person, which comes as the Berkeley County commission cut its allocation for parks and recreation by $28,000 in two years, Catlett noted.

To help with the budget crunch, the City Council this month decided to essentially give the parks and recreation board more time to pay off $750,000 (in hotel-motel tax revenue) that the city advanced to the agency for the Berkeley 2000 Recreation Center's expansion.

In the 2007-08 fiscal year, 69.7 percent of the agency's $1.9 million in revenue was "self-generated" and the hotel-motel tax revenue accounted for 16 percent, according to the recreation board's brochure. The Berkeley County Board of Education accounted for 5 percent, followed by Martinsburg (4 percent), Berkeley County Commission (3.8 percent) and United Way (1.5 percent). The Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks & Recreation Board is comprised of nine directors appointed by the City of Martinsburg, Board of Education and the County Commission.

With the increased demand for services, Catlett said the board plans to hold a public meeting in the coming months to gauge support for establishing a venue for indoor tennis and to continue exploring the creation of an indoor skate park.

Catlett estimated the indoor tennis venue would require about 100 people to pay membership fees to be viable.

"It's definitely a need," Catlett said.

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