TAB funds — Downs Street or Pinney Pool?

By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The city has roughly $1 million left in Tax Allocation Bond funds to allocate to economic development or infrastructure projects. During the last Ridgecrest City Council meeting, council and the public debated the best use of the remaining funds – South Downs Street repairs, or restoring Pinney Pool.

The discussion came after Economic Development Manager Gary Parsons’ report on remaining TAB funds. According to the report, out of the original $25 million, $1,137,075 remains unallocated with $3.2 million more assigned to parks.

Councilmember Lindsey Stephens leaned strongly toward using the funds to relaunch the community pool and was supported by several members of the public. Mayor Peggy Breeden and Mayor Pro Tem Mike Mower favored the Downs Street repairs with the apparent support from the present city staff.

In addition to Downs street being a major arterial street in need of repairs, Mower added that it is also a safety issue given it’s proximity to the Ridgecrest Charter School.

“I agree that Downs is probably the most important safety issue we have,” said Breeden. “If one child gets hit trying to cross Downs, we will have a hard time explaining why we thought something else was more important.”

“The greatest liability you have in the city are your streets, and you do have a very substandard section,” added City Engineer Loren Culp. “I think you have a known liability and a need and a requirement as a city to address those issues.”

“I strongly disagree with any more going to roadways,” argued Stephens. “The number one priority on my list is Pinney Pool.”

“Streets already has a funding mechanism,” she added, mentioning Measure V funds. “Quality of life currently has not funding. It doesn’t make sense to me when roadways have already received the lion’s share of the money, for us to continue to give more to roadways when we know this other department is in dire need.”

Stephens recently pushed for the Freedom Park Splash Pad which was approved by council last month. The $750,000 project includes a splash pad as well as seating, shade and an outdoor movie venue.

“If I would have known we were going to be talking about fixing the pool, I would have voted against the splash pad,” said Mower during the discussion. “I think if we put it out to a vote of the people, it would be Downs.”

Stephens posted a poll to the Ridgecrest Facebook group, which has roughly 8,000 members. Some 700 voters clearly favored a quality of life (senior center, pool, parks) expenditure to infrastructure (Downs St.). But of the hundreds of comments – many were regarding the bias of a Facebook-only poll, while others wanted the money spent on reopening the jail, a homeless shelter and other projects.

Some criticized Stephens for pushing for the splash pad rather than lobbying to have that $750,000 put toward Pinney Pool. But Stephens said council was unaware of the majority of the available TAB funds before Parsons issued his report.

“The business of government is not all this quality of life, feel-good stuff,” said Mike Neel during public comment. “Anything you spend on that falling-apart pool is throwing money away.”

Neel added that according to the Pavement Management Study, Ridgecrest was in need of roughly $80 million in street repairs, a figure that City Manager Dennis Speer said could still be low. By that metric, Neel argued that any project other than streets would pale in comparison in regards to its necessity.

“If you go by that number, we’re going to be spending everything on streets until there’s nothing left,” said Norm Alexander. He continued that the city should find more information on a hard cost for the pool to know if it can be rehabilitated within the remaining $1 million.

“We have to, in a very short period of time, figure out what the numbers are. Or we’re going to make a bad decision,” he said. “We have people that do tremendous work in this town. We need to think about the quality of life and what’s good for our kids.”

Opponents of repairing the pool pointed out the fact that the IWV Economic Development Committee was working on a large-scale aquatics facility that would include a pool capable of supporting competitive and recreational swimming needs. However, the project is projected to take at least five years to be ready.

“If $1 million could help provide the community a pool for even five years, I think that would be money well spent,” said Ray Hocker. “I just urge the council to consider this.”

Council asked that the item be on the council agenda for June 21 as an action item. For more info, visit www.ridgecrest-ca.com/ridgecrest-city-council.

Story First Published: 2017-06-16