Local business folk received a pitch from Ridgecrest City Manager Ron Strand and Parks and Recreation Supervisor Jason Patin on Tuesday about a proposed assessment district.
Strand and Patin talked about an upcoming planned recreation assessment district at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon, noting how it would bring in revenue to benefit the various facilities.
"The assessment is just a fee on your property and only within the city of Ridgecrest. We're looking to try and get $500,000 a year, about $49 per parcel," Strand said. "We're not asking for more because our sweet spot is about $49 per year on a parcel, about $4 a month."
Strand noted the city has undergone a number of parks improvement projects, including new playground equipment at Upjohn and Pearson parks, a splash pad coming being built at Freedom Park next to City Hall, and a $2.3 million rehabilitation of the fields at Kerr McGee Youth Sports Complex on South Downs Street.
All of those projects were funded with one-time money, according to Strand, including a large chunk from the city's Tax Allocation Bond fund.
"Right now when we look at our parks we're looking at improving what we currently have and expand," Strand said. "The reason for that is we want to try and improve our quality of life and improve our sense of community."
But the city's budget doesn't allow for that option on a consistent basis. For the past several years, the parks and recreation budget has fluctuated due to the city's ongoing — and tight — fiscal issues.
Strand used the now-closed Sgt. John Pinney Memorial Pool — the city's only public pool — as "a prime example."
"It was not taken care of and we weren't able to put funding into it. It ultimately closed for ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) reasons," Strand said. "Part of it was a priority of the city but most of it was that we didn't have the money in our funds to do it."
The city announced the pool wouldn't open at the beginning of 2017 after someone filed a lawsuit over disability access issues. In addition to $70,000 given to the complainant, the settlement stipulated the pool's closure until the city addressed the ADA issues.
The city closed the pool instead, with the estimate to bring the facility up to code ranging into the millions.
Strand said the city also maintains a number of other facilities under its recreation mantle. Improvements are needed at the senior center and Kerr McGee Community Center and the ball fields could use additional improvements.
"There's a lot like we would like to do but we just don't have the money," Strand said.
Currently, an engineering consulting firm is analyzing all the details to justify the requested assessment amount and divide properties based on a general and special benefit parcel assessment.
"The general benefit is what everyone uses, like a county resident who comes into town," Strand said. "A special benefit is that a property is near a park and that park being improved has a special benefit for that property."
Once it's finalized, the assessment will be presented to the council. If the council approves, it still needs to go to property owners for approval. They're the ones who will be paying for it on their property taxes.
In the meantime, Strand said the city has been using the time to inform the public and organizations about the assessment district.
Since Strand proposed it to the city council at the beginning of the year, several people have supported the idea, but it also gained a lot of opposition. Residents have chimed in saying that several property owners are on fixed incomes; others have questioned the council's ability to properly manage the funds.
Strand said there's no hiding what can be done with the funding. It undergoes reaffirmation every year.
"The good thing about this assessment is that it is very regulated and the money has to be spent on parks," Strand said. "It can't be diverted or supplanted, cannot be taken by the county or the state, and every year we have to report back to the council in a public hearing on what we spent the money on last year and what we intend to spend it on next year."
Of course, he added he would like to see a built-in inflation adjustment provision to keep up with the dollar's value so purchasing ability is impacted if the assessment stays intact 10 years down the road.
And while the city has IDed $12 million in projects it would like to see, it will have to prioritize.
"We would have to prioritize because at $500,000 we obviously would not be able to get all these projects done," he said.
Pinney Pool would still be an option, but only if the Indian Wells Valley Economic Development Corporation doesn't think its proposed aquatics center is viable.
"The other reason we wanted to do this is because our top three employers don't pay [property] taxes — which is why we're in this position — but they also have an issue with recruitment and retention," Strand said. "Maintaining a strong quality of life projects a desirable community to live in."