Council approves park assessment

Council approves park assessmentBy BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

The Ridgecrest City Council approved a $92,500 contract with SCI Consulting Group to establish a park assessment district. The motion was approved with the understanding that the city is immediately responsible for only a $4,500 feasibility study.

Councilmembers said they wanted more time to look over the contract and hear from the public before deciding to move forward.

“One of the primary goals the city has put on staff is economic development,” said City Manager Ron Strand. “And part of that is improving quality of life. When you look at our parks, they’re in disrepair ... currently there’s no money within our budget structure for us to maintain and improve the facilities in such a way that will improve our quality of life.”

Strand said that park improvements are crucial to hiring and keeping employees – whose presence in turn will encourage more economic development in Ridgecrest.

According to the staff report, a preliminary survey suggests that an annual fee averaging $49 per property would increase the Parks and Recreation budget by $500,000 a year. The fees would apply to property tax rolls and would very depending on a property’s proximity and access to public parks and services.

Strand’s presentation included some $10 million in potential parks and services improvements, including grass maintenance, structure repairs, restroom and drinking fountain additions, shade structures, basketball and tennis court resurfacing, security cameras and more sports fields, in addition to the possible restoration of Pinney Pool.

He said Pinney Pool alone could potentially be a $3-million project, but wouldn’t be prioritized unless things fell through with the IWV Economic Development Corporation’s plans to build an aquatic center.

During public comment, former Councilmember Chip Holloway said that Strand’s list wasn’t a wish list, but a “needs list” for the city.

Before the majority of the discussion took place, Mayor Peggy Breeden read a letter from member of the public Mike Neel who was absent but opposed the parks assessment.

“There’s been no public discussion of the parks and recreation budget at all, neither has there been any discussion about the need for an assessment district and the wants and needs of the public,” said the letter. “Without proper input and public discussion, I can never support this tax ... the process will just simply not be fair to our town.”

Councilmember Wallace Martin requested that the city put out a request for proposal regarding the contract. Strand said an RFP isn’t required for a professional services agreement and that he has already reached out to three of the four companies in California that perform this type of work, with only SCI responding.

Strand said even if the contract were approved, the city is not obligated to proceed after the feasibility study.

Breeden asked what happens once the outlined maintenance and improvement items are completed.

“After 20 years of funding and we’ve fulfilled all those needs, all those things will need repairs in 20 years ... that seems terribly short-sighted on our part,” she said.

Breeden suggested that the assessment may need to be higher than the suggested $49-per-year amount to do all of the work that the city suggests.

Strand said that the funding would need to be ongoing to maintain the desired quality of parks and services, but that the council would have an annual opportunity to terminate or decrease any assessment that is passed.

Advocates for our youth athletics programs supported the assessment, saying that we need better- maintained sports fields.

“We say, ‘If you can run on our field, you can run on any field,’” said IWV Youth Football Coach Mike Staford. “It’s funny, but dangerously true and a little embarrassing.”

But some view the need for parks funding as a symptom of the city’s larger financial struggle.

“I agree that we need to improve the quality of life in our city, and I totally agree that we ned a pool. But I disagree with the solution that has been presented by the city staff,” said Stan Rajtora during public comment.

“The problem is we have is a lack of general-fund revenue, it’s not a lack of parks revenue.”

He said that until we increase our general fund revenue by expanding our tax base, “anything other than that is a Band-Aid.”

He also said that the general fund doesn’t have the the money for a consultant to establish a parks assessment.

“Revenue for this year is quoted to be $14.8 million, and expenditures are already at $15.1 million. There are no unallocated funds. So the $92,500 can’t come out of ‘excess funds,’ because there aren’t any as far as I can tell,” he said.

While no one on council gave an eager endorsement of the plan, they accepted the request to move forward, knowing there would be more time to discuss the topic. Strand said the creation of the assessment would be a months-long process with ample opportunity for public input.

Council will continue to discuss the topic at next month’s meeting, Jan. 17, 6 p.m. at City Hall. To learn more see

Story First Published: 2017-12-22