The Ridgecrest City Council on May 2 voted to authorize Willdan Financial Services to continue the process of looking into establishing a park assessment district and authorized $20,000 in unallocated general funds for community outreach efforts. This funding would come from unallocated general funds.
Council in January approved an agreement with Willdan to assist the city in establishing a park assessment district. As a condition of approval, Willdan was required to conduct an initial assessment to determine the viability of a potential district. According to a staff report, Willdan’s initial assessment indicated that the proposed district was viable because the city’s current annual maintenance contributions of $694,000 (general benefit) were sufficient to justify the proposed special benefit assessment of $49. The city’s minimum required maintenance effort would be $91,000. According to the report, the district would potentially generate approximately $617,000 in annual revenues for park maintenance and improvements. The representative from Willdan later said that the special benefit would collect nearly $627,000 annually.
According to an amended staff report distributed at the meeting, the city would be divided into five zones and annual single/multi-family assessments would range from $24.50 (4 mile radius) to $49 (.5 mile radius). The original staff report showed four zones. The zones are based upon a radius map developed by Willdan. The presumption is that those living in zones closer to the parks would have a higher benefit and would therefore pay a higher assessment. Commercial properties would pay an assessment based upon the following formula: (zone assessment amount) x (taxable acreage/maximum 10 acres) x (EBU [equivalent benefit unit] 2)
Stacy Reynolds from Willdan gave a short presentation. She said that the company’s research indicates that the special benefit would collect nearly $627,000 from 12,761 parcels of land and the general benefit (which includes some land outside the city) would collect just over $91,400 from 2,838 parcels.
Vice Mayor Eddie Thomas asked how churches would be assessed. Reynolds replied that churches would be considered commercial, with the assessment dependent upon the radius factor.
Ron Porter said the topic had not followed a proper process allowing for public input and that the engineering report was not present.
“I personally see this as saying ‘you the citizens of Ridgecrest have too much money and I want to get in your pocket yet one more time,’” Porter said.
City Manager Ron Strand responded that if council approved continuing the project, Willdan would complete the engineering report then council would potentially approve putting the district out to the public for an eventual vote.
“I have to challenge the concept that the closer your property is to the park the more benefit you get from it,” Dave Matthews said. “I could say it’s a benefit to the whole community so why don’t we just divvy up parcels? Maybe the size of the parcel could be factored in.”
Terry Byer questioned using the zoning concept in a city as small as Ridgecrest, rather than using factors such as park use and family size.
“Should we be looking at either a flat tax rather than basing it on the distance that people live? I am not sure where that philosophy came from,” she said.
Reynold said the proximity or radius test is used essentially for legal reasons, based upon studies, court decisions and identified challenges.
Jennifer Slayton questioned doing the city doing outreach before making a decision to move forward.
Mike Neel argued that the city does not necessarily need the money that would be raised by the district.
“This is a travesty against the citizens of this town, trying to tax them more when the city doesn’t even need the money,” Neel said.
“We are building the budget right now Mr. Neel,” Strand replied, “and I would like know that we are going to be 2 million richer in the next four years. That’s not the case . . . we do not have the money in our budget. Without this money we are not going to be able to conduct these [parks] improvements.”
Strand added the city has had many complaints about parks infrastructure over the course of his career. He called the condition of the senior center “appalling.”
“This isn’t anything nefarious. We are trying to use a government process to raise money to improve our community,” Strand said.
Stacy Jackson spoke up in favor of the park, after joking that the podium discriminates against tall people because of the placement of the microphone. Jackson said she is concerned about people on fixed incomes, however, and suggested a sliding scale of some sort.
In response to a question from Councilman Wallace Martin, Reynolds said the assessment formula can potentially be adjusted.
Mayor Peggy Breeden noted that the amounts stated now can almost be covered from someone’s penny jar on a daily basis.
“I think this is about as logical as we are going to get,” Mayor Pro Tem Michael Mower said.
The motion passed unanimously. All five council members were present.
Several more steps including the engineering report, another trip before council and a property owners’ vote would be required before the district can be established.