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Surgoinsville may close fitness center operating $24K in the red

Jeff Bobo • Jun 13, 2017 at 8:33 AM

SURGOINSVILLE — Shortly after 6 p.m. Monday not one person was utilizing Surgoinsville's municipal fitness center.

The clerk on duty said the facility only averages about 20-25 people per day.

The fitness center, which opened in 2009 on Main Street across from City Hall, has lost between $8,000 and $11,000 every year it has been open, and the Board of Mayor and Aldermen has kept it going as a service to the citizens.

As of June 7, however, the Surgoinsville Municipal Center was operating $24,490 in the hole for the 2016-17 fiscal year, and Mayor Merrell Graham said that's not a sustainable loss.

“We have been very patient with it because we felt like it was a service to the town,” Graham told the Times-News after Monday’s meeting. “But, over $24,000 is excessive.”

On Monday the Board of Mayor and Aldermen postponed consideration of the second and final reading of its 2017-18 fiscal year budget until June 29 to give the board more time to look at a few issues.

The main issue to be addressed June 29 is whether to close the fitness center.

Graham noted that word spread quickly that the BMA was looking to close the center, and he has received several calls from citizens who were opposed to closing it.

Some of them changed their minds when they learned how deep in the hole it operates, Graham added.

Not every alderman is in favor of closing the fitness center.

Alderman Ken Bass said if the town shuts down the fitness center for losing money, it should shut down every municipal program that loses money, including the annual Dr. Lyons Festival and breakfast later this month and the Riverfront Festival in September.

Graham noted that the the city helps pay for the festivals as an activity for the community — and doesn't expect to break even.

When the fitness center opened it was intended to be financially self-sufficient.

In 2009, the BMA purchased used fitness equipment for $6,000, and then negotiated what former Mayor Johnny Greer described as a “sweetheart deal” for space in the Surgoinsville Utility District building to locate the new gym. The town rents the space for $300 per month.

The single membership fee is $20 per month for Surgoinsville residents and $25 per month for non-residents. Family membership is $40 for residents and $45 for non-residents.

As of June 7, the fitness center had brought in only $10,169 in revenue, but it had cost the city $34,659.

Alderman Bobby Jarnagin noted that payroll is the difference between the fitness center operating in the black.

Jarnagin said one possible solution to keep the fitness center open would be to implement a key card entry system  that could greatly reduce the need for staff.

The BMA recessed its meeting Monday so that it can reconvene on June 29 at 5:30 p.m. to take up the fitness center and budget again.                                       

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