City of Ashland
PARKS AND RECREATION COMMISSION
April 10, 2012
Present: Commissioners Eggers, Landt, Lewis, Rosenthal, Seffinger; Director Robertson; Superintendents Dials and Dickens
Absent: City Council Liaison Silbiger
CALL TO ORDER
Eggers called the study session to order at 7:00 p.m. in the Parks office, 340 S. Pioneer Street.
BUDGET PRESENTATION DISCUSSION
Robertson said the commission was required, per AMC 2.16.040: Recreation Director, to annually submit a budget estimate to the mayor and council. He said the 2012 Parks budget presentation, scheduled for April 19, could be delivered by the commission or the director. He said a point person—either a commissioner or the director—could be designated to respond to budget questions on behalf of the commission. He said the City Administrator provided staff direction on style and formatting for the sake of consistency of all departmental budget presentations. Robertson said he was working on the budget speech and presentation and offered to share drafts with the commission.
Discussion Among Commissioners
Rosenthal asked how the commission wished to respond, as a group, to the City Administrator’s proposals affecting the Parks budget. He asked how the commission would define a successful outcome and how they could turn a negative into a positive.
Seffinger said a win would include fair and respectful treatment of the commission, as the commission spent a great deal of time and effort on their budget. She said she would also like some of their funding returned.
Lewis said that based on the October 2011 joint study session with Parks, council, and the Budget Committee, it was no surprise where the commission stood with the City. He said the commission’s suggestion to carry forward a 30% ending fund balance was overruled by the City, which recommended a 25% ending fund balance, and it was scary to watch Parks millage slipping away, with Parks funds directed toward the general fund rather than for Parks’ needs. He said this was an historic moment because a separate Parks millage was established over 100 years ago. He expressed hope that council and the Budget Committee would review the original intent behind the Parks millage.
Eggers said she wanted the commission to be as positive as possible. She said they worked on developing a responsible and conservative budget and she suggested presenting it in a matter-of-fact manner. She indicated her preference for contributing to the City reserve fund as opposed to the City general fund and suggested sending the adopted Parks budget to the Budget Committee and council three days in advance of the April 19 Parks budget presentation.
Landt said two commissioners had voiced willingness to give something to the City but it was not appropriate to give the City any Parks funds until the City Charter was nullified by a vote of the citizens. He said citizens voted in a separate Parks millage over 100 years ago and it was not the place of council to change it. He said calling the separate millage a “gentleman’s agreement” (following passage of measures 49 and 50) was not accurate as it was actually a covenant. He said even though measures 49 and 50 changed state law, the City Charter was not changed and he had no tolerance for compromise until there was a vote of the people. He said this was the first time Parks millage was clearly directed into the City general fund.
Rosenthal asked if Landt would consider it a win if Parks gave the $263,000 to the general fund in 2012-2013, as proposed by the City, but received something in writing for future years. Landt said it wouldn’t be a win because it would set a precedent. He reiterated the necessity of taking the issue to a vote of the people.
Lewis said the commission voluntarily gave funds to the City over the past two budget cycles and, by so doing, slashed its own millage by acquiescing to the City when the City could not meet its own budget. Landt said this was the first time Parks millage was clearly going into the City general fund, so this was something new.
Robertson said the only information he received from the City Administrator was that Parks funds would be used to balance the general fund. He said he thought the commission and citizens deserved an explanation as to why this was done and where the funds would be spent in the City.
Robertson said there were several major differences between what the commission approved for their budget and what the City Administrator planned to submit to the Budget Committee:
· Commission recommended $150,000 into the City reserve account
· City took $263,000 for the general fund
· Commission recommended $200,000 into the deferred maintenance/CIP fund
· City stipulated $350,000 for deferred maintenance/CIP fund
· Parks adopted 30% ending fund balance
· City indicated it would be 25%
Robertson read aloud the Ashland municipal code 2.16.040: Recreation Director. He said the commission had submitted its own budget every year since his arrival in 2003 but this year the City Administrator planned to submit a budget on the commission’s behalf that was not adopted by the commission. He said Parks made difficult decisions over the past five or six years resulting in lower staffing levels. He indicated that every year the commission reviewed five-year projections showing the deterioration of the Parks budget and made cuts and sacrifices to keep itself in line but now it appeared Parks was being penalized for making sacrifices and keeping its budget below the maximum level. Lewis said it would be helpful, at the Parks budget presentation, to include historic bases for the existence of the Parks Commission. Landt said the commission was trying to look long-term, beyond immediate needs and into the future, since doing anything less was fiscally irresponsible. Seffinger said the Parks Commission, an elected body, had a higher level of responsibility than appointed commissions.
Rosenthal summarized commissioners’ counter-arguments to the City plan:
· historical precedence for the Parks budget process
· parks in Ashland hold a high level of civic importance
· eliminates reliable funding source
· endangers sustainability of the Parks department
· creates possible future problem with regard to ending fund balance
· Ashland has an aging parks system requiring many capital improvements
· Ashland citizens’ approval and re-approval of a meals tax for 1) parks and open space and 2) sewer treatment plant debt demonstrates the special relationship between the citizens and their parks system.
Landt said Ashland was the only city in Oregon with a meals tax specifically (partially) earmarked for parks. Lewis said the City was planning on taking a significant portion of the Parks millage and their budget was already huge compared to the Parks budget. Robertson said the Parks millage was more than 80% of the overall Parks budget while the City’s millage was approximately 5% of their budget.
Commissioners agreed that Robertson would give the Parks budget presentation on Thursday, April 19. Lewis stated the importance of voicing that the Parks Director was different from other City department heads in that he reported to the Parks Commission rather than the City Administrator. Robertson said the Parks budget went through more public vetting than any other department in the City. Landt stressed the additional importance of citizens contacting councilors to ask, “What are you doing to Parks?”. Lewis suggested creating a document outlining what Parks proposed for its budget versus what the City decided to take from Parks. Robertson said staff could prepare the document, based on the evening’s discussion, along with a cover letter by the end of the week.
Robertson clarified the budget process timeline:
· Parks presentation to Budget Committee—Thursday, April 19
· Budget Committee voting on budget recommendations—Thursday, May 10
· City Council voting on overall City budget recommendation—Tuesday, June 5
Rosenthal suggested noticing the Parks Commission pre-budget presentation meeting scheduled for Monday, April 16, as a special meeting rather than a study session in case the commission needed to take action by vote.
Seffinger said Parks business was different from the rest of the City as the tourism industry was affected by the condition of parks. She said if parks started to decline, it would have an effect on the City. She said the Parks Department was always on the lookout for the safety and well-being of citizens and visitors and she hoped to have some recognition of those services.
Commissioners discussed the recent press articles about the Parks budget.
Landt asked staff for a graph showing years versus Parks staffing levels versus acreage maintained. He said this would clearly show how Parks held the line on staffing despite the system’s continued expansion. Landt distributed to the commission a draft letter he wrote outlining his opinions about the Parks budget.
Commissioners agreed to contact council and Budget Committee members after receiving the short factual document prepared by staff. Seffinger suggested keeping the document simple and talking about the value of parks in terms of livability, not millage taxes or other technical details. Commissioners talked about the councilors and Budget Committee members they would contact and Robertson agreed to email out their contact information along with his draft budget presentation and budget script.
By consensus, Eggers adjourned the study session at 8:55 p.m.
Ashland Parks and Recreation