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Parks Commission Study Session Minutes

Minutes
Monday, May 13, 2013

City of Ashland
PARKS AND RECREATION COMMISSION
 
STUDY SESSION MINUTES
May 13, 2013

ATTENDANCE
Present: Commissioners Gardiner, Landt, Lewis, Seffinger, Shaw; City Council Liaison Voisin; Director Robertson; Superintendents Dials and Dickens
Absent:   None

CALL TO ORDER
Seffinger called the study session to order at 7:04 p.m. in the Parks office, 340 S. Pioneer Street.

ONE-YEAR REVIEW OF SPECIAL EVENTS / SELLING IN THE PARK POLICY
Dials said the commission adopted a special events / selling in the park policy in April 2012 and requested a review in one year. Sixteen special events in Lithia Park were reported for 2012 including the Siskiyou Challenge, Southern Oregon Pride Festival, and Monster Dash. The policy proved to be a positive addition, providing staff with flexibility in managing special events. In terms of booths, the current policy stipulated ten booths per event and staff was comfortable with that number and said additional booths could compromise safety and congest the area. Dials said no complaints were heard about fees associated with special events.

Commissioners requested minor wording changes for the policy:

  • First page: Remove the word “Suggested” in terms of the policy amendment

  • First page: Under “Scope,” add the words “and organizations” after “persons”

  • Second page: Under “Fees,” provide no refunds for unapproved application submittals

Staff followed up on an earlier commission request to explore a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to allow selling at Pioneer Hall and the Community Center. After multiple conversations with the Planning Department, they learned that the process included a $1,200 application fee and a six-month completion period. It was noted by Landt that other approaches might work better: a blanket annual CUP through Parks, with staff vetting each request, or a change in City ordinance allowing for a more reasonable process.

Public Input
Gina DuQuenne, 2180 Birchwood Lane, representing Southern Oregon Pride, said ten booths were used for their 2012 Pride event and organizers were requesting ten additional booths for the 2013 event.

Staff was directed to bring the revised policy back for a final commission review and approval at the May 20 regular meeting.

DISCUSSION OF PROPOSED AD HOC COMMITTEE MOTION
Seffinger said council was asking for feedback on the approved Ad Hoc Committee motion of April 30 that read: “The committee proposes to the Citizens’ Budget Committee that a new Parks Reserve Fund be created with the purpose of funds being used for repair, restoration and improvements to Lithia Park. That the current proposed Ending Fund Balance (EFB) of $750,000 be a ‘zero’ balance and that this $750,000 be the amount budgeted in 2013-15 for the Parks Reserve Fund.” Seffinger invited commissioners to share their thoughts.

Shaw distributed his memo for the Budget Committee meeting of May 15 or May 22 in which he outlined his budget management experience and reviewed historical City / Parks events leading to the present situation. He suggested using the $1.2M Parks EFB for the development of Ashland Creek Park, a park that would directly benefit Ashland citizens. He said the Parks Commission was created from the Ashland City Charter to serve as an elected body overseeing the Parks Department and its budget. He recommended having council work with the Ad Hoc Committee, comprised of council and Parks Commission members, to find common ground and a dedicated funding stream for the commission, allowing it to fulfill its mission as an independent elected body with control over its budget.

Landt stated that half of the $1.2M EFB for Parks would be retained by the City for the General Fund, with the other half used for critical maintenance projects in the parks system.
 
When asked how Parks would pay for its additional PERS costs in the current fiscal year and the upcoming biennium, Robertson said the funds would come from the Parks line item for wages and benefits.

City Council Liaison Voisin said she appreciated Shaw’s memo. She suggested, when discussing the Ashland City Charter in terms of Parks Commission origins, referring directly to that section: Article XIX. Park Commission C-19.

Councilor Slattery said Parks would be fully funded but its ending fund balance eliminated. He spoke well of the work of the Ad Hoc Committee and its efforts to identify long-term, stable funding for Parks.

Seffinger read an email from Mayor Stromberg in which he talked about Ashland as a bio-diverse culture in the wilderness, presenting both a burden and a challenge in terms of fire prevention. Stromberg addressed restoring capital monies to catch up on critical maintenance projects and suggested holding meaningful conversations with council and the commission about budget concerns. Seffinger said she had been working on building bridges between the commission and council; had talked to the mayor about a retreat to address communication issues; and appreciated Landt’s efforts to develop a Parks budget resolution.

Landt said there weren’t many models for elected parks commissions from which to learn. The Ashland City Charter outlined the role of the commission but state law changed the landscape and there were now two competing documents: Ashland City Charter and Measures 47 and 50, state laws that overrode City law. As long as the charter stood as written there would be conflicts, which led to the creation of his Parks resolution. He recommended better commission and council communication for the sake of the community.

Voisin said the commission was an elected body, similar to council, and the proposed budget was not yet approved. The white paper written by the mayor had never been reviewed by council since its creation and the two elected bodies had not talked jointly about the Parks $2.09 millage. She said once the $2.09 was gone, it was gone forever, with all tax revenues placed into the General Fund.

Slattery said the Parks budget resolution needed to go to the Ad Hoc Committee for discussion. Landt said the resolution was about process and the Ad Hoc Committee was about short- and long-term funding for Parks. Slattery said a compromise was in the works and four council members supported Parks. Landt said for the next two years, the Parks budget appeared to be a done deal despite concerns about lack of transparency and no public process.

Slattery recommended that the commission attend the May 22 budget meeting and ask for an up-or-down vote on the Parks resolution and the reinstatement of the former Parks budget model if that was what they wanted. Slattery said council was trying to determine how to move forward in the best way for the community.

Landt said the Parks EFB policy, created a few years earlier, was no longer current and needed to be eliminated.

Lewis expressed concern about the Ad Hoc Committee motion and said the commission was a separate, component unit according to the Ashland City Charter. No one on council or the Budget Committee had explained why Parks was being stripped of its funding. Ashland was different from any other community in Oregon in terms of having its own millage for Parks and the citizens of Ashland voted for a separate Parks Commission and yet there was no discussion at council level about honoring the commission and its separate funding. Ashland had its own utilities and was self-sufficient in many ways and it was questionable that the current City Administrator understood that point. The City Administrator never asked the commission for its opinion, demonstrating very little diplomacy, and there was nothing left to lose by fighting for the restoration of a separate Parks millage.

Shaw asked if the Ad Hoc motion helped the commission or hurt it. Voisin said it hurt the commission even though she had voted in favor of it. Once the commission agreed with the Ad Hoc motion, they had compromised and lost ground regardless of the small reserve fund set in place for Lithia Park.
 
Robertson said that if the commission remained semi-independent the motion would not serve the commission well; however, if the commission melded with the City and became another department, the motion would be an appropriate action. If the commission wanted to make a neutral statement, that statement could read: “The commission supports the continuing work of the Ad Hoc Committee.”

DOGS SUBCOMMITTEE REPORT
Shaw read a memo, written by Seffinger and himself, calling for dog / dog owners’ access to all areas of the eight parks identified as “dog friendly” with the exception of children’s playgrounds and ball fields; for staff to develop a dog friendly map with more specifics on trail locations, ADA accessibility, grades of inclines, and Mutt Mitt station / restroom locations; for the purchase of a second dog park property, with a completion goal of 2015; for the addition of the Kestrel property and Glenwood Park as dog friendly park areas; and for the inclusion of dog friendly areas in all future parks. He read through nine rationales associated with the requests.

Seffinger said Ashland was known as one of the least friendly dog cities on the west coast according to some websites and blogs and she read some posted comments. She said the status could change if the City’s dog rules became less restrictive. Landt said he strongly supported additional dog parks.

Shaw suggested a motion for the May 20 meeting that reflected the content of the memo. He stated that 80% of dog owners picked up after their pets and dog owners should be allowed to walk across a park with their dogs on leashes. He said there would always be scofflaws and naysayers but the commission’s policy needed to be consistent with common sense and easily enforceable. He reported that Mutt Mitts were keeping park areas cleaner.

Seffinger said people needed to have the ability to enjoy a picnic with their dogs in a park and many pet owners did not have yards. She said it was difficult for tourists to understand current dog rules as they were so different from other places. She said the information kiosk volunteers on the plaza provided dog friendly rules to tourists but had difficulty explaining the rules. Shaw suggested the installation of Mutt Mitt dispensers in downtown areas.

Robertson said he heard two commissioners express interest in the item so it would be included on the May 20 regular meeting agenda.

ADJOURNMENT
With no further business, Seffinger adjourned the study session at 9:08 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,
 
Susan Dyssegard
Ashland Parks and Recreation

 

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