City opts for reduced contract

City opts  for reduced  contractBy BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The Ridgecrest City Council approved a $28,750 contract with Wildan Financial Services to establish a Park Assessment District. The item was on the heels of a $92,500 contract with SCI Consulting for the same purpose, but council is approving the Wildan contract in its place.

The contract includes a feasibility study where Wilding will conduct an engineering survey, determining which areas would benefit most from park use. The survey will determine annual fees, which would be added to property tax rolls if they are approved.

The approval of the assessment would be a months-long process, involving public outreach, and a ballot initiative once fees are determined. Council would make its final decision sometime in the summer after ballots are counted.

But several members of the public criticized the decision to establish a parks assessment before formally identifying a need. While the meeting was lightly attended, each speaker during public comment was opposed to the assessment.

Strand said it was a matter of urgency to have the assessment ready in time to have the potentially approved fees on the next year’s tax roll. He said that there will be more time between now and the summer for public input, but that the city should “get the ball rolling” to get money coming in.

“This is Politics 101,” said Ron Porter during public comment. “Let’s make an urgency out of it, then do whatever we want.”

Porter encouraged council to wait until more input has been gathered by the public on whether the community even wants a parks assessment.

“I think the desires are overstated, and the costs are going to be more than you say,” added Mike Neel.

He added that topics like the closed-down Pinney Pool need to be more thoroughly discussed. The public has heard that reopening the pool could cost anywhere from $1-3 million. But Neel says local contractors have offered to donate time and materials, bringing the cost down to as little as $200,000.

“Do we have a need?” asked Stan Rajtora. “If we put some effort into it, we probably can show that there is a need. But that hasn’t been done.

“The city has already raised sewer fees from $120 per year to $360 per year on average. And what have we done with that additional money? It’s sitting in a slush fund doing nothing.”

Strand responded that a quality-of-life improvement is desperately needed by the city. He said the valley’s three major employers – China Lake, Sierra Sands Unified School District and Ridgecrest Regional Hospital – all struggle with employee retention, making improvements like a parks assessment a necessity to our future.

He added that the funding would be “very restrictive” and that the city can spend it only on local parks and recreation improvements. The city can also reevaluate the need annually and chose to lower or eliminate the assessment.

“I think we have an obligation to make this community better,” said Councilmember Eddie Thomas. “I may not ever go to the park, but I still think we have an obligation to make things better for the younger generation. I think we should move forward with this.”

Of the $28,750, the city is only initially obligated to $15,000 for the feasibility study and has the option to cancel the contract at ay point after that.

One reason the new contract is so much less expensive is because it doesn’t include any community outreach. City staff proposed that an additional $20,000 be spent on public outreach to inform the public before ballots go out.

Councilmember Lindsey Stephens made a motion asking that the item come back to council at a later date to decide how much to spend on public outreach.

Members of council approved the contract amid cries of opposition from the audience.

The Ridgecrest City Council meets the first and third Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. at City Hall. For more information see ridgecrest-ca.gov.

Story First Published: 2018-01-19