Across the board budget cuts to affect Balis community center

Increased millage rate would be the lifesaver needed to stay open

By Lara Patangan
Resident Community News

Alba and Sheffield Balis never had children of their own, but through a generous bequest to the City of Jacksonville gaggles of children delight in the community center they made possible. While Balis Recreation Center accommodates many uses, neighborhood children rely on it for summer camps, after school care and even free lunches. Unfortunately, the Balis’s legacy might not be around for kids to enjoy come October 1.

Currently, the Parks Department has the Balis Recreation Center slated to close in an effort to comply with Mayor Alvin Brown’s proposed 14 percent budget cut.
The center, which opened in 2003, was funded by a $1.1 million gift to the City by the late Alba Balis, a long-time San Marco resident and contributor to community projects. The $700,000 center was built behind the San Marco branch library on Hendricks Avenue and LaSalle Street.

According to Pam Roman, Marketing and Community Relations Manager for JaxParks, Balis Recreation Center is part of 72 percent of community centers that will close if the proposed budget passes. Facing such drastic cuts, the Parks Department decided to keep open the community centers that have a gymnasium. At this time, there are no numbers on how many layoffs would occur with the closings.

San Marco’s library is listed as one of six proposed closings by the Library Board in its similar efforts to slash the required 14 percent from the Mayor’s proposed budget. However, Roman said the cuts would not affect the adjacent tennis facility or the playground, all of which comprise the complex known as Southside Park.

Of course, Balis Recreation Center’s closing hinges on the proposed budget which is now being reviewed by City Council. At their July 23 meeting they voted to set the tentative tax rate 1.5 mills higher this year, which if finalized would produce enough revenue to fill the $66 million gap in Brown’s budget.

San Marco Councilwoman Lori Boyer said that now that City Council has voted to potentially increase the millage rate, closures should be somewhat abated. Boyer said by increasing the millage, sufficient money would be raised to stave off closings threatening community centers and libraries. “These drastic things don’t need to happen (with the millage increase),” Boyer said. “We should prioritize. There should not be 14 percent cuts across the board.”

As a member of San Marco Preservation Society, Boyer was instrumental in securing the money from the Balis Trust for construction of the community center more than a decade ago.  SMPS was involved in the process from its inception through its completed construction. The center includes a computer lab, art room, four classrooms, a large multipurpose room, a food preparation room, restrooms and an outdoor patio.

The longtime Jacksonville residents moved to San Marco in 1944 where they lived for more than 30 years. Mr. Balis began his career in the grocery business eventually opening Sheffield Balis Meats on Stockton Street. He also invested in local real estate owning many homes and apartments, as well as much of the commercial property in San Marco Square. After Mr. Balis’s death, Mrs. Balis made several donations to honor his memory including Balis Park gazebo and fountain in San Marco Square.

Boyer said she would feel terrible if the center closed. “We were the closest thing they had to someone who cares about them and would execute their wishes,” Boyer explained.

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