City of Ashland
PARKS AND RECREATION COMMISSION
April 16, 2012
Present: Commissioners Eggers, Landt, Lewis, Rosenthal, Seffinger; Director Robertson; City Administrator Kanner; City Councilor Slattery; Superintendent Dials
Absent: City Council Liaison Silbiger; Superintendent Dickens
CALL TO ORDER
Eggers called the special meeting to order at 7:00 p.m. in the Parks office, 340 S. Pioneer Street.
DISCUSS RESOLUTION FOR DEVELOPMENT OF ASHLAND CREEK PARK
Robertson said staff hired a contractor to write a local government grant for the construction of the active elements within Ashland Creek Park. He said among the projects was the relocation of a portion of the community gardens to make space for an entryway and plaza. He said the barn would not be preserved but all portions of the structure recycled and materials resold. He said the $450,000 grant request would have a $300,000 match from Parks if approved. Lewis said the barn would need to be tested for lead paint. Landt expressed concern about the concrete entryway, which he described as grandiose, and the proposed basketball court, to be located in a floodplain. He asked if the park master plan was submitted with the grant request and asked if modifications could be made to the master plan if the grant was approved. Robertson said amenities could be adjusted but probably not added and if the commission chose to hold off on the basketball court, they probably could do that. Seffinger asked that future parks be multi-generational. Robertson said the community garden plots would be in-ground plots rather than raised beds. He said the community garden relocation would need to be coordinated so gardeners could save their soils. Landt asked Robertson for assurance that the modifications he requested—removal of the basketball court and simplification of the entryway—would be different from the master plan document. Robertson said the potential existed but the commission would have to agree to the changes. Rosenthal said local government grants were competitive and funded through the state lottery program. He said Medford Parks and Recreation did not submit an application in 2012 and the program was looking to fund parks and projects in the southern portion of the state so the Ashland Parks and Recreation grant had a chance for approval.
MOTION: Rosenthal moved to approve the resolution authorizing application for a grant for the development of Ashland Creek Park. Lewis seconded the motion.
Vote: All yes
Commissioners talked about various aspects of the budget process. Lewis reported speaking with council member Morris about the Parks budget. Eggers reported speaking with the mayor and the city administrator. She asked for a commitment to a joint meeting with council well before the beginning of the budget season. She said the meeting could include a discussion about how to protect the integrity of the Parks system within the framework of Oregon state law. Rosenthal said that was a good goal and in Parks’ best interests but possibly not in the City’s best interests. Eggers asked how to establish a better process for the next year to reduce misunderstandings and bad feelings between the City and Parks.
Robertson said he worked on the script and presentation for the April 19 budget presentation and he offered to share them with the commission. He said the City Administrator provided direction about length, style, and content of department presentations. Rosenthal asked if the presentation could include the value of parks in terms of tourism and fostering economic development. He said it also could include the number of people visiting Lithia Park, funds spent by the department on the park, and numbers of people using the Calle. He said Parks took on the Senior Center at the City’s request and that had an economic impact on the department. He suggested including these factors as a way of providing historical context.
Lewis said the City Charter was the commission’s guiding document and he suggested referring to it in the presentation. He said Robertson’s presentation covered all the bases of a City departmental presentation but did not include much about the elected Parks Commission. Landt asked why the City felt Parks’ deferred maintenance projects totaled $350,000 in FY 13 while Parks said they were worth only $200,000. He said the higher rate would get Parks to the end point faster. He asked staff to emphasize completed projects, not projects currently underway, and he asked for the removal of several slides, including the one on ending fund balance. He said he liked the slide showing transitional periods in the Parks Department over past years.
City Administrator Kanner arrived at 8:08 PM.
Eggers welcomed Kanner and updated him on the evening’s discussion. Commissioners introduced themselves and Kanner apologized for arriving late due to a council session that ran longer than anticipated.
Eggers talked about the budget approved by the Parks Commission and said their big concern was their ending fund balance. She said the reason the commission chose 30% for an ending balance was because they liked to look further down the road. Kanner said the trajectory was always downward but the Parks ending balance and the City general fund would remain healthy because the City would ensure it. He suggested not putting much stock in long-term financial projections. Lewis said the commission was dependent on its tax base and they chose a 30% ending fund balance to provide a cushion. He said the commission did a good job of managing its ending balances. He offered to provide Kanner with historical perspective on the Ashland City Charter. Rosenthal asked Kanner to explain what crisis prompted him to suggest taking $263,000 out of the Parks ending balance for the City general fund. Kanner said he looked at it as giving the commission $4M and only taking $263,000 for the City general fund. He said the City had not provided pay raises for four years and was also facing increased health benefits costs. He said, after reviewing all departmental budgets, that the City was still down by $400,000 and he could have cut some of the Police and Fire positions but didn’t feel that was the right thing to do. He said he fully funded every one of the Parks budget requests and also set aside $350,000 for deferred maintenance.
Landt voiced his disappointment and sadness about the conflict that escalated from afar. He said the first time the commission had an opportunity to speak with Kanner was later than he would have liked. He said he would have framed the differences between them another way. He said the City had an arrangement with the Parks Commission that spanned 100-plus years and breaking the “gentleman’s agreement” was a big deal to Parks. Kanner agreed that it would have been better to speak earlier in the budget process. He said in his third week on the job he was looking at spreadsheets and having to make decisions to produce a balanced budget. He said it was the lesser of two evils and he knew the commission would be upset. Rosenthal said in FY 2009-2010 a reserve fund was established to deal with financial constraints and he asked why the City was not willing to use that fund. Kanner explained that the fund was to be used for non-recurring expenses or as a rainy day fund. He said he planned to use that fund for an actuarial reserve for a self-insurance program for the City, which would have huge long-term benefits for the City.
In terms of the ending fund balance, Kanner said his bosses, the city council, believed that a 25% ending fund balance was sufficient (rather than the 30% proposed by the Parks Commission). He said the difference between 25% and 30% ending balance was $263,000, the amount he proposed taking from Parks and placing into the City’s general fund.
Robertson said there were some unfortunate timing issues this year. He said the commission normally met with council before going into the budget cycle and that didn’t happen this year, resulting in a lack of information and education. For the future, he suggested establishing a communication framework to prevent a repeat of this year’s events.
Seffinger stated that this was about respect. She said the commission was an elected body and they owed the citizens protection of their parks. She asked for a process in which budget issues could be addressed in a respectful manner.
Kanner suggested starting the budget process earlier and Robertson said the commission started their budget process in October 2011. He asked how much earlier Kanner wanted them to begin.
Eggers said people viewed the removal of $263,000 from the Parks budget into the general fund almost as an assault. She suggested dealing with the matter in a more civil way.
Landt said this was the first time such a break in history had occurred so it was a big deal for the commission. He said Ashland had a robust parks system that wasn’t replicated elsewhere. He said Ashland citizens voted for the five cent meals tax (20% of which was directed to Parks) multiple times so their message was: “Grow the system.” Kanner asked how to foster that robust system: by maintaining the $2.09 Parks millage or another way. Landt said he was elected to protect the current system.
City council member Slattery, who arrived several minutes after Kanner, said the draft budget was already out and people were studying it. He asked what happened to the annual joint meeting between Parks and council. Robertson provided an explanation, stating that there were delays and the meeting never got scheduled due to lack of council quorum. Slattery said council owed Parks an apology as there was great value in the two elected bodies coming together. He encouraged Parks staff and the commission to check in with council if scheduling delays occurred in the future. Slattery said he was a big fan of Parks but stark financial realities were behind the decisions made by the City. He said the City would do a better job next time of communicating with Parks.
Landt asked if council would be willing to change their policy from “at least 25%” [in terms of ending fund balance] to “25%,” since it appeared there was no “up” from 25% even though the City policy was “at least.” Slattery said, speaking on his own behalf, the “at least” allowed the City to grow from 25% if needed. Landt said he was willing to approve 25% and keep the deferred maintenance at $350,000 if the $263,000 taken from Parks could go into the City reserve fund rather than the general fund. Rosenthal agreed and said having the funds going to the reserve fund would be preferable to a 10% roll-back on Parks millage. Slattery said it would be more honest to put it into the general fund because the City had increasing demands on its budget and more funds were needed in the general fund. He said it was the City’s attempt to meet the demands of a challenging financial time. He said everyone was in the same boat and the community valued parks and provided resources to keep them healthy. He said he wasn’t sure if the “gentleman’s agreement” was still valid.
Kanner and Slattery left the meeting at 9:08 p.m.
Commissioners talked about funding Parks deferred maintenance in the same manner suggested by the City: $350,000 rather than the $200,000 suggested by Parks.
MOTION: Landt moved to change one line item in the Parks budget to allow for the transfer of $150,000 from the City reserve fund to deferred maintenance, thereby lining Parks up with the budget proposed by City staff. Lewis seconded the motion.
Vote: All yes
ADJOURNMENT– By consensus, Eggers adjourned the special meeting at 9:30 p.m.
Ashland Parks and Recreation