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Clayton seniors riled by fees, county responds

By Linda Looney-Bond

lbond@news-daily.com

A mix-up that had some Clayton County senior citizens irked by fees charged at county recreation centers has been settled for the time being.

County officials decided this week that, temporarily, local seniors -- ages 50 and older -- will be allowed to utilize any of the county's recreation centers for the price of a $1 membership fee, said Jamie Carlington, Clayton County's public relations officer.

The decision comes after seniors, who visit the Carl Rhodenizer Recreation Center in Rex, were recently informed that a county policy regarding recreation fees that had previously not been enforced, would begin to be enforced, Carlington said.

That policy apparently called for seniors to pay the $1 membership fee at one of the two senior centers, and through that membership avoid having to pay the $15 annual fee charged at recreation centers. However, some of the recreation centers had, apparently, not been following the policy. As a result, many seniors had been able to enjoy the facilities at the recreation centers by paying $1 at the recreation centers, instead of paying it to join one of the senior centers.

"There was a mix-up where seniors were going and paying their dollar [per year] at the recreation center, and allowed to use the facility, even though the policy stated that the fee [at the recreation centers] was $15 [per month], so there was just a miscommunication," said Carlington.

The $15-per-month fee was only supposed to apply to seniors who were not already members of one of the county's two senior centers - the Frank Bailey Senior Center in Riverdale, and the J. Charley Griswell Senior Center in Jonesboro.

Membership at the senior centers is $1 per year, and county policy allows members of the two senior centers to utilize any of the county's recreation facilities, based on the membership fee paid at the senior centers, Carlington said.

The $1 fee for all seniors will remain in place until the Board of Commissioners revisits the issue, according to Carlington.

"They're [county commissioners] going to look into this further, because of how important the senior citizens are, and the services that we provide for them," Carlington said. "They'll review it, and look to resolve this issue as quickly as possible," she said.

"My personal desire is that the seniors would not have to pay anything to use the services, based on what they've already invested in this community," Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said through Carlington, the county spokesperson. "However, the board will look at the issue."

Deborah Tyson, 56, of Rex, said she was pleased that county recreation centers will honor the $1 fee for now, but said she remains cautiously optimistic.

"My feeling is that we are seriously going to wait to see what's going to happen," said Tyson. "If this [the Rhodenizer Recreation Center] is in our neighborhood, why should we have to go way over there [Riverdale or Jonesboro] to pay the dollar?"

Tyson said she paid $1 for an annual membership at the Rhodenizer Center last year, and renewed in March for $1.

She said she helped to rally seniors Wednesday at the Rhodenizer Center to oppose the $15 fees for those who were not senior center members. She said she was pleased that Detrick Stanford, director of the Clayton County Parks and Recreation Department, came to talk to the group.

"We were very impressed that Detrick came out," said Tyson. "He apologized. He gave all of us his cell phone number, and told us, next time, to call him directly. Everybody that I talked to felt better."