Council to discuss parks assessment

Council to discuss parks assessmentBy BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

Ridgecrest City Council will consider on Feb. 20 a resolution for a park assessment district in an effort to increase funding for Parks and Recreation projects – namely the restoration of Sgt. John Pinney Memorial Pool. The assessment would bring in some $636,000 annually, but will require voter approval.

Parks and Recreation Director Jason Patin addressed the topic with the Ridgecrest Exchange Club on Wednesday. He highlighted that the funds would be designated strictly for local parks and recreation use and would be prioritized for Pinney Pool. But some questioned whether the assessment would appropriately address the $16.8 million in projects on the department’s to-do list.

After Pinney Pool, Parks and Rec would prioritize completing the Senior Center restoration. Other projects are a laundry list of park improvements, sports field additions, LED lighting, Kerr McGee Center improvements and more.

According to Patin, the measure would place an annual property assessment on residential units. Assessments would vary by property according to its proximity to city parks, not to exceed $49 per year. Commercial parcels and multiresidential parcels like duplexes and triplexes would be assessed at a higher rate and apartment complexes would be assessed by the number of dwellings.

“I’m not here to push it,” said Patin. “It’s just a possible solution we’ve come up with. If it passes, I’ll get to do some great things. If not, people are happy with the way things are. But that’s not my opinion.

“Our places for our youth are in disrepair. If it doesn’t pass, I’ll still go about my business. But I’d like to go about fixing some of these things for our community.”

Patin said the potential funds would first be used to service a 30-year $3-million bond to reopen Pinney Pool. But city officials

didn’t have a firm idea of what the annual cost to service the bond would be.

“I’m not sure there will be enough money there to service the bond,” said Scott O’Neil. “There’s got to be some first order of business to know if it’s going to pencil out. We need to invest in a recreational facility, but I don’t know if I can support this project.”

“We’d like to support the community, but we need some realistic numbers,” added Larry Mead.

Patin said he was working with the best numbers he could get his hands on, but that there was no way to know exactly how much it would cost to service the bond.

He also said that a bond isn’t a guaranteed route forward and that the decision would be up to the City Council.

“How they handle it is completely up to them,” he said. “If you have a better idea than this, we need to hear it.

“What happens to our parks is what happened to Pinney Pool. I don’t have the money to improve them. So it’s up to the public if this thing goes out to the community for a vote or if you’re OK with how the community looks now.”

To complicate matters, it is unclear what role private fundraising efforts for Pinney Pool will play. Organizations like the Lions Club have raised tens of thousands of dollars for the pool’s restoration. Local contractors have also offered their services.

But the city has no choice but to pay contractors prevailing wages for any public project, driving up costs for the prospective project. The city also has no involvement with the fundraising efforts.

“We have to stay out of it,” said Patin. “They’re a private organization. They just said when they collect money, they’d like to donate it to the city to spend on the pool.”

Patin said that taking the city out of the equation would be the only way to avoid paying prevailing wage for the project. The city did so similarly by selling the Historic USO Building for $1 to the Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert, which raised the necessary funds to rehabilitate the building.

“What I’d like to see is some kind of plan,” said O’Neil. “You’re asking for public support, and I don’t know what I’m supporting. You need to put a plan together that needs to be voted on. Right now there’s no plan that can be voted on.”

Patin also said there would be no sunset clause on the assessment, but it would be reevaluated each year.

“Every year we’d have to do an engineering study to determine whether or not there’s a need. Then you either lower the assessment or get rid of it,” he said, adding that the assessment would never be increased.

The Ridgecrest City Council plans to discuss the item during its regular meeting, 6 p.m. on Wednesday at City Hall. For a full agenda and more information see ridgecrest-ca.gov/ridgecrest-city-council.

Story First Published: 2019-02-15