What's next?

MOUNT PLEASANT - Like baseball scouts trying to size up an unknown team, two Clemson University professors met with more than 150 town residents here in Alhambra Hall Wednesday to gauge their feelings about the town's recreation programs.

The public input session comes as Town Council begins putting together its 2014-15 budget and is wondering if it can trim the town's sizeable recreation subsidy. The town spends about $7 million on recreation programs but only receives about $2.2 million back in fees.

There was no opportunity for residents to speak to the entire group. Instead, most of those attending gathered around small folding tables and were asked to mark a paper to show how much they valued the town's various athletic programs, special events, sports fields, pools, passive parks, water access and neighborhood playgrounds.

They also were asked to work alone and in small groups to show how they would divvy up $100 among the town's various parks, events and recreation offerings.

Billy Hyde, whose son plays baseball in the town's Babe Ruth League, said he and other coaches were encouraged to come and advocate for the league, which serves young teenagers. Hyde said he thinks the town could raise its fees, particularly if it offered some scholarships or financial aid to families who had difficulty paying.

"I'm a Republican at heart, but on this thing, I think I'd pay more," he said.

Kim Duncan, who lives in Carolina Park and whose two sons play soccer, said she showed up not because of concern over fees but because her sons' Cainhoy Athletic Soccer Club has a hard time finding suitable places to practice and play.

"We want the opportunity to use the town's fields," she said. "I'm willing to pay for it. I don't want it for free."

Recreation Director Ken Ayoub said Tuesday evening's session was designed to help how the town can best spend its recreation dollars while maintaining the level of quality that residents have become accustomed to.

Town Councilman Elton Carrier said it's unclear what he and his colleagues will do next as they begin reviewing the consultants' report, probably in May. Most families currently pay $50 a season for a child to participate in a youth sport like soccer or baseball.

"Everybody is so afraid we're going to raise a bunch of fees, but that's not what these guys are about," he said of the Clemson consultants. "Quite frankly, we might not do anything."

But as Town Council looks at a big multimillion-dollar bill looming for road and drainage repairs, it already has voted to raise property taxes, business license rates and fees on everything from stormwater to zoning applications to building permits. Some members have said they also must look at whether they also can raise more money from the town's many fields, pools and other rec programs.

"We're unique in that our standard of living over here is a little bit higher," Carrier said. "Maybe we can ask a little more to keep our fields pristine. You can sleep on our fields."

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.