Ashland parks have seen funding become less dependable in recent years, prompting the city council on Tuesday to create a committee of councilors and park commissioners to come up with new options over the next year.
In past years the Parks Commission has received $2.09 per $1,000 of assessed valuation from property taxes and had enough of a year-end fund balance to build up comfortable reserves, as required by state law.
However, the passage of Ballot Measure 50 in 1997 rolled all city property tax levies into one general fund levy, allowing the cities to determine how best to use those funds. City Administrator Dave Kanner has cited that measure in calling for a large portion of the proceeds from the former parks levy to be shifted to general fund uses.
In late 2012, Kanner and Mayor John Stromberg developed a working paper for dealing with parks funding issues that would have involved transferring $650,000 to $1.8 million in parks department leftover funds to the city's general fund. The final amount will be determined during the city's budget process.
Parks commissioners are not happy about the change, but have acknowledged the legality of shifting the funds.
"Prop 50 was a big change and we've operated with a gentleperson's agreement on how the funds are distributed," says Parks Commission Chairwoman Stefani Seffinger, who is on the new ad hoc committee. "That agreement is not going to be honored, so our task is to identify reliable, sustainable funding avenues that are legal."
Other members are Parks Commission Vice Chairman Rick Landt and city councilors Rick Rosenthal (a former parks commissioner), Carol Voison and Pam Marsh. City legal and financial staff will aid them.
Voison says her intentions on the new committee are to make sure parks are funded at present levels in the first biennium, although she said that goal could be affected by increased costs for pensions, police, fire and administration. She said she wants to reestablish a dedicated revenue stream for parks, which could be a special parks district — and seek ways for parks to keep its ending fund balance, which is a cushion needed for emergencies, such as floods and earthquakes.
Parks also gets revenues from recreation fees, systems development charges and 1 percent of the city's meals tax, says Mayor John Stromberg, who proposed the committee along with Seffinger at a March 11 meeting of the two panels.
"It's a great idea and they will recommend ideas to the City Council," said Stromberg. "It's hard to predict where they will go."
Seffinger noted that the Parks Department "wants to get citizen input about what they want to dedicate to parks. The city council can recommend things and the city attorney will tell us what's legal."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.