There will be a City Council and Parks and Recreation Commission Joint Study Session via zoom on RVTV Monday, August 23, 2021 at 5:30pm. APRC has had several public meetings recently that have aroused my interest in their operations and finances. I’ve spent some time studying, and I’ve come to some interesting conclusions. I also have many questions.
For those who may not be familiar with the issue, APRC is requesting a change in their funding structure. They currently receive $1.89/$1000 from property taxes and 25% of the Food & Beverage Tax collections. They are requesting 98% of the F&B taxes with a corresponding decrease in property taxes. This change was approved in the current budget for next year. Council, however, needs to approve such a change, and then the electorate must also approve it. I’m curious about that request, since the calculations provided by the Finance Department show that they will receive less money under that scenario (unless, of course, errors were made in those calculations; some of the assumptions were questionable). Also be aware that CIP stands for Capital Improvement Projects.
With that in mind, I’ve shared my thoughts with the principals. I’m eager to hear what they will have to say. I’ll be watching, and hope to learn a lot and see some good government in action.
Here are my thoughts as presented in an email as official public testimony.
Madam Mayor and Esteemed Councilors:
APRC is coming to you with requests for changes in funding and operations within the city government. In order to make informed decisions, Council needs to be informed of APRC’s current and recent management of its finances. With that in mind, I offer the following facts and observations.
APRC has made it appear that it has only been talking about funding the APR General Fund in their public meetings. Are you all fully cognizant that APR receives funding in THREE funds under the umbrella of the City General Fund?
- APR General Fund
- APR CIP Fund
- APR Equipment Fund
When you talk about funding for APR, you must take all three funds into consideration. Make sure you understand where that funding is coming from. Look at the huge increases in the 22-23 budget for the APR CIP Fund:
For what purpose are those increases intended? Is that in anticipation of Council approving increasing the F&B contribution? Was this perhaps a method to keep the possibility of an $5M+ aquatic center on the books? An explanation would be helpful.
Furthermore, given the current stress in the city budget can there be any doubt that we do not need or want to spend so many scarce tax dollars on new Parks projects? APRC needs to focus on maintaining its existing physical plant and programs, and not initiate any expensive new acquisitions or capital projects.
Questions to ask the APRC BoC:
WHY are they pushing for a change in their funding sources? What is the REAL reason?
Dir. Black has confirmed that they are not looking to increase their funding, but that they are simply looking for a dedicated funding source. The fact is that a fixed portion of the property taxes is a dedicated funding source. In fact, it is very consistent and would provide approximately an additional 3.5%/year, since that’s the usual increase in tax revenue. F&B receipts, on the other hand, are widely variable.
At their last meeting, Dir. Black conceded that fact. He went on to state that the variability was acceptable, since APR can respond to funding changes more easily than Public Safety or other General Fund uses. And that is as it should be. Public Safety must have a higher priority than Parks and Recreation. That would appear to be in direct contradiction of his desire to have a more stable, dedicated source.
So what are they actually looking for? I would suggest one possibility is that they feel that they will have more flexibility in spending if a greater portion of their sources come from F&B. Perhaps they feel that will give them a better chance at funding projects through promissory notes or revenue bonds funded by F&B [the aforementioned aquatic center perhaps]. This also corresponds to APRC’s desire to be less accountable to Council oversight of their finances [see below].
Also keep in mind that increasing the proportion of the F&B revenue going to APR will require a vote of the electorate, per AMC 4.34.020.C.5.d:
Except as provided in subsection D of this section, any remaining amounts shall be appropriated for purposes consistent with this chapter unless other purposes are approved by a Council-adopted ordinance enacted by a vote of the Ashland electorate.
See the graph below which illustrates the difference between the current [25%] method of funding and the projections provided by the finance department in their memo 042021_F&B_Allocation_Update_CCFinal utilizing the 98% method. It shows that the 98% method will actually provide less overall funding than the 25% method.
WHY do they think their funding should not vary along with the variability of funding for the entire city budget? Specifically, why did they request large increases in their budget for 2022-23?
Are you aware that APRC requested an increase of 41.2% in the 20-21 budget [compared to actual revenues for 19-20]? Fortunately, their spending did not approach that level. But then they requested a 22.2% increase in budgeted revenues in the 21-22 budget [compared to 20-21 actual]. And they requested a whopping 53.6% increase in funding for 22-23 [compared to 21-22 budget].
APRC is by itself throwing the budget into deficit. How can they justify requests for such huge increases when the entire city budget is in crisis?
See the table above, and the chart below:
WHY should APRC be less accountable to Council than it is presently?
APRC has indicated a desire to operate as its own Contract Review Board. Why? Have they shown any specific instances where that would be beneficial? Or is it just a general desire to have less oversight and more independence from Council and public oversight? I would suggest that the precise opposite is required.
Why does APRC think it should be able to “negotiate” its contribution to the Central Services Fund? Why should it have that ability when none of the other departments have it?
APRC should be more accountable to Council oversight than it is currently, not less. It should be treated like any other department of the City. It is considered a “component unit” of the City, producing a CUFR. But it is also included in the overall city CAFR. This hybrid structure leads to confusion regarding the proper role of APRC in the government, and within the city’s overall financing. But that, of course, is a question for another time and place.
Has APRC been providing an acceptable level of services?
Lithia Park is arguably the most important park in Ashland, the “crown jewel”, a huge tourist draw, and should be the highest priority of APRC.
Yet, on last Saturday, a group of eleven private citizens took it upon themselves to pick up trash in Lithia Park. That should never be necessary! Overall, the condition of Lithia Park is disgraceful.
Furthermore, the Lithia Park Master Plan has an extensive list of issues, many of which have yet to be addressed.
The list of complaints by citizens relating to poor performance of APRC maintenance is too extensive to present here.
I believe that this unacceptable level of service is the result of poor management of the generous revenues that the city provides to APRC. APRC needs to learn to do more with fewer resources.
Should the golf course be privatized?
No business enterprise would want to purchase that golf course. It loses money every year. It is a low level facility. There is not enough water available to maintain it. It can be put to much better use by being sold for other uses, such as housing. A smaller, neighborhood park could be retained. If the property was sold, it would go back on the tax rolls, and it could provide an excellent location for affordable housing. That property has much better and higher uses possible than its current utilization as a golf course.
In addition, the golf course runs a deficit of at least $3-400,000/ year, while serving a very limited number of citizens. This is an example of APR mismanagement and misplaced priorities. Selling the golf course is something that should be considered by APRC with the urging of Council.
Why is the golf course divided between Parks and Recreation?
This makes it very difficult to determine expenditures for the golf course. It may in fact lose much more than the $3-400,000/yr that we are able to determine from public documents.
Why does APRC sometimes refer to financing of projects as via Revenue Bonds, while the CAFR refers to them as promissory notes?
I am referring to the financing of Garfield Park, Briscoe Park, and Calle Guanajuato. The documents are https://www.ashland.or.us/SIB/files/120319_Revenue_Bond_and_CIP_Amendment_CCFinal2(1).pdf page 2 and https://www.ashland.or.us/SIB/files/121520_FY2020_CAFR_CCFinal.pdf page 67.
There is a huge difference between the two methods. This leads to confusion for the public and the Council regarding what exactly is going on with APR’s finances. This discrepancy is too significant to be a casual error. It raises questions about the comprehension of the principals involved, and about the purpose of such discrepancies.
Finally, determine whether APRC is providing detailed monthly expense reports, as required by the Charter. Find out why those reports are not currently published for public examination.
Also, determine whether Parks funds and Recreation funds are being strictly segregated as required by the charter.
Please refer to my several previous communications to Council regarding these issues.
All of the figures presented above are supported by spreadsheets that I will be happy to provide to Council upon request. I will be happy to answer any questions Councilors may have about the data, as well.
Thank you for considering my questions and contributions to your deliberations.