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Parks Commission Study Session Minutes

Minutes
Monday, October 17, 2011

 

City of Ashland
PARKS AND RECREATION COMMISSION 
STUDY SESSION
MINUTES
October 17, 2011

ATTENDANCE
Present: Commissioners Eggers, Landt, Lewis, Rosenthal, Seffinger; Director Robertson; Superintendents Dials and Dickens
Absent: City Council Liaison Slattery

CALL TO ORDER
Eggers called the meeting to order at 5:30 p.m. in the Lithia Room of the Community Development Building, 51 Winburn Way.

Robertson reviewed the meeting agenda and said it included a presentation by Parks Superintendent Dickens on park maintenance and development standards followed by a joint meeting with council on beginning fund balance. After the study session, he said the commission would conduct executive sessions on Employee Negotiations ORS 192.660 (1)(D) and Real Property Acquisition ORS 192.660 (2)(e).

Robertson prepared the commission for the meeting with council. He said the format would not include a presentation by staff or the commission but would center around a council communication prepared by City Administrator Bennett who would give a brief overview and then turn the meeting over to the mayor. He said council would attend the meeting along with members of the Citizens’ Budget Committee. He said the seats at the meeting table would be occupied by council, Bennett, the mayor, and the note taker, with all others sitting around the perimeter of the room. He said Bennett advised the commission to provide brief input, if asked, and to stay on topic.

For the draft commission policy on ending fund balance, Robertson said some changes were made to simplify or clarify the commission’s stance on ending fund balance or for the sake of compliance with Oregon budget laws. He said the fourth bulleted item, added for the sake of compliance, stated: “All uses of any excess funds will comply with Oregon Budget law and may require additional processes prior to use including a supplemental budget or re-budgeting via the City budget process.” He distributed a page from the FY 2010-2011 budget book that showed a projected ending fund balance of $1.4M. He said mid-year projections showed an ending balance of $1.9M and the figure was the commission’s beginning or working budget. He said the actual ending fund balance was $2.2M for FY 2010-11. In order for the commission to spend the carryover funds (funds between $1.9M and $2.2M), he said the commission would need to create a supplemental budget or re-budget funds that exceeded projections.

Discussion Among Commissioners
Landt said he remembered discussing the commission’s portion of the Reserve Fund and the need to fully fund the Parks portion but to stop directing money toward the fund once the Parks share was met. Rosenthal suggested clearly articulating the Parks policy on ending fund balance at the joint meeting. Lewis said there were many deferred maintenance projects and the policy would possibly help the commission fund those projects. Rosenthal agreed and said the funds could be used for the betterment of the community. Robertson said the draft policy was open and honest and a framework for serving as active and responsible partners with the City. He said it would allow the commission to pay their fair share while making transparent decisions about the use of excess funds. Seffinger said many of the deferred projects were safety issues. Landt asked Robertson to clarify the ending fund balance policy, if asked, and to tie it to the budget figures. He also asked Robertson, in the future, to prepare a staff memo framing the issues so the commission knew what to expect. Robertson reviewed Bennett’s council communication and said she outlined five options for council consideration regarding ending fund balance. Robertson clarified that the overage in the ending balance totaled $930,000 and the money could not be utilized until the next budget cycle. Robertson said he would not speak at the joint meeting unless called upon to do so.

PARK MAINTENANCE AND DEVELOPMENT STANDARDS
Dickens said the topic was a FY 2011-2012 commission goal and he valued the commission’s input. He said the goal was in progress and would continue to be a work in progress. He talked about the definition of the design standards in terms of purpose and approach and said the maintenance standards presented to the commission were standards currently in place. He reported meeting with all Parks Division supervisors and obtaining their current standards. He said there were also current guiding principles for horticulture, golf course, and ballfields.

Discussion Among Commissioners
Lewis said a formalization of maintenance standards would help in training new people. Dickens said it would also serve as a guide for contractors working in the Ashland parks system. Eggers said the next step was to create a policy around the standards. Landt said the policy could emphasize a reduction in maintenance and he suggested not including flowerbeds in parks unless sufficient volunteers were available to help with maintenance.

In terms of design standards, Dickens suggested implementing a creative approach rather than a cookie cutter approach. He said the standards could be customized for each neighborhood and associated demographic. Robertson suggested finding standardization opportunities for design elements. He said common park elements such as drinking fountains and light bulbs could be standardized to save money and energy. Dickens said that could work for things like paint and light bulbs but not for all features in parks. He said sign standards were useful to establish. Landt said he reviewed the draft documents prepared by Dickens and felt they were a good start. He asked about the notion of changing light bulbs every year as proposed and suggested only changing them as needed. He said some lights, such as LED or motion-activated lights, would not necessarily need to be changed every year. Dickens suggested visiting the parks at night to see if lights were working or needing to be changed.

The commission was called into the joint meeting with council at 6:40 p.m.

JOINT COUNCIL / COMMISSION DISCUSSION ON BEGINNING FUND BALANCE
[Taken from City of Ashland Website / Council Minutes Page]

Does Council have direction for staff related to working capital that carried over in the General Fund and Parks & Recreation Fund from the prior fiscal year that exceeded the amount that was included in the adopted budget?

City Administrator Martha Bennett clarified if the excess funds went toward the Water and Wastewater funds it would reduce the rates for one year but not eliminate the need to raise them the following year. Interim Assistant City Administrator Lee Tuneberg added there was a Water Fund and Wastewater Fund adjustment during the Budget Process that paid $290,000 to the General Fund as franchise payments.
Ms. Bennett explained there was enough money to fund the firefighter and police officer positions for five years.

The Parks and Recreation Commission strongly supported using the Ending Fund Balance excess to address deferred maintenance issues in the Parks and Recreation Department that added up to approximately $3,000,000. 

Budget Committee member’s suggestions varied. Some thought the reserves were adequate and the City should give back to the taxpayers. Another did not support applying it to the franchise fee. This was a one-year windfall.  It may reduce the impact on water rates but could create a larger catch-up the following year. Another favored reallocating money to the public safety positions, some into the reserve fund and possibly into the future AFN debt payment to relieve pressure on the General Fund. Eventually the City would have to address the $2.09 Parks tax. 

Mr. Tuneberg referenced a meeting with Moody’s that rated the City AA3 but was not impressed with City reserves compared to similar municipalities. A larger reserve and Ending Fund Balance would help the City with loans.

Council supported transferring money into the reserve, designating money to hire the public safety positions the following year, and doing nothing with the remainder. Other suggestions included waiting for the budget process to proceed.

Staff would bring forward a proposed transfer from the General Fund into Reserves with an option to create but not fund two public safety positions.

Mayor Stromberg suggested eventually creating a Joint Committee that would prioritize what goes into Parks and Recreation and the General Fund.

Mayor Stromberg adjourned the meeting at 7:15 p.m. and the commission and staff returned to the Lithia Room.

Commissioners agreed that council did not acknowledge or mention the commission’s draft ending fund balance policy. Robertson said he heard the mayor, a councilor, and a Budget Committee member express interest in looking at the Parks tax rate of $2.09. Landt said his impression was that council wanted future Parks ending fund balances to go to the City Reserve Fund. In regard to Tuneberg’s statement about Moody’s concern about Ashland’s smaller reserves (25%) compared with similar municipalities, Robertson said he continued to believe that $1.5M was a preferred ending balance for Parks rather than the recommended $1.3M (the 25% target). He suggested crafting talking points with rationales for commissioners to use when speaking with city councilors.

Lewis said council and several Budget Committee members did not acknowledge Parks’ draft policy for ending fund balance. Robertson agreed and said that indicated the funds were one-time funds. Rosenthal said he was fine with moving forward with the Parks policy on ending fund balance. He said the commission could influence public opinion to a certain degree and suggested sending a message to the public about how funding cuts to the Parks rate of $2.09 would affect the citizens of Ashland. He suggested encouraging citizens to write letters to the editor and speak out on behalf of the commission. Robertson said the City paid for a citizen survey and found that citizens were pleased with Ashland parks. He said the parks had crumbling infrastructure in the form of holes in walking surfaces and other safety hazards throughout the system. Landt suggested finding the original arguments for the $2.09 rate and also suggested being more generous with Parks funds into the City Reserve Fund. He suggested providing more than the required amount of 25%, even as much as 50%. Robertson said he would consider what the higher rate could be and report back to the commission at their next meeting. Lewis said Parks held to the $2.09 for a long time and made it work and a reduction in the rate would be the start of the dismantling of Parks. Robertson concurred and said the historic millage was higher than $2.09. He agreed to revise the ending fund balance policy based on commissioner feedback and to bring it back for further discussion at the regular meeting.

ADJOURNMENT 
By consensus, Eggers adjourned the study session at 7:35 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Susan Dyssegard
Ashland Parks and Recreation

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