End of county agreement could mean loss of service

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

After unveiling a consolidation plan that would cluster city park facilities at the LeRoy Jackson complex, owned by the county and leased by the city, Ridgecrest Parks and Recreation Director Jim Ponek has reversed the decision to acquire county property in lieu of canceling the city’s current lease with the county.

According to county officials, Ponek originally approached Kern County Parks Department Director Bob Lerude and offered to operate and maintain the county land if the county would pay some $175,000 annually to the city. The county reportedly countered with a much lower term of compensation.

In an e-mail sent last week to Lerude, Ponek wrote, “I am taking the recommendation to cancel the lease with the county for Jackson Sports Complex to the April 11 Quality of Life Committee. I will be recommending to end lease July 31 to assist with the transition of the park.”

He said the city would stop maintaining facilities and could not assist with rentals or issues relating to the tennis courts, soccer fields, softball fields, skate park or gazebo rentals.

“All existing contracts for rentals such as Scorpions Soccer, Sierra Sands Unified School District, church groups and the general public will be transferred to you as of Aug. 1,” wrote Ponek.

“I appreciate your support in this, as this will take a huge burden off of our department.”

However, Lerude noted that the county — which has also scaled back department expenditures in recent budget cycles — does not operate or oversee recreation programs. In that transfer, the city may lose those activities.

When the News Review asked Ponek about the fate of those programs, he responded, “That is correct. The county will not provide recreation programs. Many unknowns to how it will affect the community. We will continue to discuss these types of issues with the county.”

He also noted that the city had not yet determined whether it would provide recreational programs. “It is important to understand when organizing youth and adult sports programs that maintenance is a big part of those programs — from marking and lining fields, repairing field divots, setting lights, dragging fields, cleaning up after each activity, etc.”

Ponek said the main reason for the change in recommendation is that he received direction from the city council to eliminate another $200,000 from his departmental budget.

“This is an option.”

Story First Published: 2013-04-10