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Services Cut At 10 Elk Grove Parks Due To Lack of Funding

Services Cut At 10 Elk Grove Parks Due To Lack of Funding

Funding shortage sign at Perry Park

Ronald Weissman was upset to learn late August that Cosumnes Community Services District didn’t have the money to maintain his neighborhood park, Joseph Perry Park, where he walks his dog every day.

“The first I heard about the problem was when I saw the sign in Perry Park,” he said.

“I’m not convinced they’ve gone about it as well as they could have. They could have reached out prior to putting up the sign. I would have preferred that we had been notified last spring so we can band together and do something about  it.”

The sign, which was put up next to the wooden park sign, read: “Park Service Cutback in This Park Due to Funding Shortages” and it listed a website residents could learn more about the issue.

Similar signs were posted at nine other parks in the neighborhood, including Carl & Joyce Amundson Park, which has a missing basketball hoop. Much of the grass in the parks in the Elk Grove/West Vineyard area has turned brown.

Missing basketball hoop at Amundson Park

On Memorial Day, a motorist crashed into the park sign for Perry Park, sending it tumbling into a hole that had been dug for a sprinkler check.

Perry Park sign damaged by an errant motorist on Memorial Day

The service cutback sign had also fallen into the hole but was later rescued. It is now sitting next to a hedge, away from the yellow caution tape and red/white cones placed around the hole. Someone had also scrawled “Vote for Trump! Next two years” on the funding shortage sign.

Weissman, who has lived in the Perry Ranch neighborhood for 17 years, said he was told by Cosumnes Community Services District (CSD) staff that the park sign would be replaced when the district receives the insurance money for the damage from the driver who ran into it.

“I think that’s a really bad way of dealing with it,” said Weissman.

He went on. “I would think the city of Elk Grove would care about it. I know there is a separation between the city and CSD, but I don’t get that my park looks like a dump.”

Starting in July this year, CSD had cut back on watering lawns, reduce mowing by 50% at non-sports field parks, and eliminate weed control, shrub pruning, fertilization and aeration of turf in the Elk Grove/West Vineyard area.

It was an effort to save $129,000 because the area’s budget is underfunded. Even with the savings from the service cutbacks, it was not enough to make up the deficit, which is expected to be $79,362 this fiscal year (2018-2019). That gap will be closed by using reserve funds.

“It’s easy to blame government and government agencies for not meeting goals,” said CSD Director Rod Brewer. “We encourage residents to have a dialog and work with us to help them maintain pride of ownership.”

Part of the problem may be that many residents do not understand how services for parks are funded.

Unlike many other cities, Elk Grove does not maintain a parks and recreation department, as the city was only incorporated in 2000.

Instead, the 97 parks, 1,017 acres of parks and open space, and 18 miles of trails in Elk Grove are constructed and maintained by CSD.

“Property tax revenues are not used for park construction or maintenance,” said Jenna Brinkman, spokeswoman for the district. “CSD’s share of county property tax revenues is used to support its fire department, recreation programming,  and general administration.”

Construction of new parks is generally funded by park impact fees paid by developers.

Landscape and Lighting Maintenance District

In 1994, CSD, then known as the Elk Grove Community Services District, decided to create a Landscape and Lighting (L&L) Maintenance District in order to pay for park maintenance costs.

Under the Landscape and Lighting Act of 1972, any local government agency, such as  CSD, can create a special L&L district, where they can assess a fee from property owners who benefit from certain improvements that are made in public areas.

Those improvements include the installation, maintenance,  and servicing of landscaping, statues, fountains, general lighting, traffic lights, recreation courts, playground equipment, and public bathrooms.

In CSD’s L&L district, the city of Elk Grove is divided into 13 benefit zones (BZ). Property owners in each zone are assessed an annual fee to maintain the parks, trails, sports fields, playgrounds, and other recreation facilities in their zone.

All zones also have to contribute to the upkeep of Elk Grove Regional Park, the Bartholomew Sports Park, and the Camden Creek Greenbelt. All three are considered district-wide benefits.s

The assessment varies from zone to zone. It is based partly on the number of property owners in the zone, and what the expenses are to maintain or expand the various parks and trails in their respective areas.

Residents are presumed to gain the most benefit from living close to or have easy access to parks and trails, so fee calculations are based on the number of equivalent dwelling units or EDUs on a parcel of land.

A single home is considered one EDU, ditto for an apartment building. Mobile homes are assigned the value of 0.75 EDU.

Since the typical home is built on one-third acre of land, a residential acre would have 3 EDUs. As most businesses do not have residents living on their land,  commercial and industrial properties are assigned the value of 1.5 EDU per acre.

Government-owned land is assessed a flat $100 fee per parcel.

The assessment fee for each zone is based on one EDU, or what a single homeowner would pay.

Each year, CSD commissions an Engineer’s Report to determine what each zone’s assessment fee would be for the following budget year, which runs from July 1 through June 30.

For the current fiscal year (2018-2019), the annual fees range from $88.91 (BZ 8-Laguna Ridge/Rural) to $444.81 (BZ 11 – East Elk Grove). Last year (2017-2018), a little over $14 million was raised through assessments in the district.

The L & L fee is tied to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), so that means if there is an increase in the CPI from year to year, the assessment fee can also be increased by the same amount.

Proposition 218

“Before 1996, the district could raise the assessment whenever they needed to,” said Brinkman. “But because of Prop. 218, we’re not allowed to increase those fees without a vote.”

Under Prop. 218, which passed in 1996, any increases to general taxes, assessments and certain fees would have to be approved by 50% plus one of the voters.

In 1996, CSD sent out a ballot for the L&L assessments and property owners signed off on the fees in effect at the time.

Under the state measure, if fee increases aren’t approved by a majority of property owners in a zone, residents can band together to create overlay districts within a benefit area.

Property owners within the overlay district would pay an extra fee on top of the base zone assessment and designate the funds for specific uses, such as maintenance of a neighborhood park.

Currently, there are four overlay districts: BZ 14-Camden Park, BZ 15 – Vista Creek, BZ16 – Fallbrook, and BZ18 – Hampton Village. All but one (BZ18) were created in 2009. Hampton Village was formed in 2016.

Overlay fees are not tied to the CPI, so the amount does not change from year to year.

CSD map of Benefit Zone 3 – Elk Grove/West Vineyard

Benefit Zone 3 – Elk Grove/West Vineyard

Perry Park is in Benefit Zone 3, otherwise known as Elk Grove/West Vineyard. The boundaries are defined by Calvine Road to the north, Bond Road to the south, Highway 99 to the west, and Waterman Road to the east.

The area includes 11 parks (eight local, one neighborhood, and two community) totaling 59 acres, and 18 acres of streetscapes and trails. BZ 3 is the third largest in the district in terms of park space.

The other parks in Elk Grove/West Vineyard include  Amundson, Fales, Gage, Hrepich, Jones, Jordan, Karamanos, Lombardi and Rau.

Last fiscal year, property owners in BZ 3 paid an annual L&L fee of $128.26, generating $874, 512 for the zone. This year, the fee will jump to $132.25 a year which is expected to bring in $909, 527.

However, BZ 3 is one of two zones which CSD has deemed as “unsustainable” in terms of funding.

CSD map of Benefit Zone 6-Central Elk Grove

Benefit Zone 6 – Central Elk Grove

The other affected zone is BZ 6, or Central Elk Grove. It has the second-to-lowest assessment fee in the district last year: $87.13. Even so, that rate brought $619,195 into the zone’s coffers. The fee will increase to $89.34 this year which is expected to generate $636, 032 in revenue for BZ 6.

Benefit Zone 6 lies south of Benefit Zone 3. Its borders are Bond Road to the north, Grant Line Road to the south, Highway 99 to the west and Waterman Road to the east.

Central Elk Grove has eight parks totaling 16 acres: Barker, Beeman, Castello, Elk Grove, Feicker, Mendoza,  Russell and Smedberg.

Elk Grove Regional Park is considered a district-wide amenity, and all benefit zones contribute toward its upkeep.

So, even though funding has fallen short in Central Elk Grove, it is not in as dire financial straits as Benefit Zone 3.

2009 Assessment Fee Increase Vote

As early as 2009, CSD saw that revenues from the assessment fees in BZ 3 and BZ 6 weren’t keeping up with expenditures.

“The district gave property owners in Zone 3 and Zone 6 the opportunity to approve higher assessments to offset funding shortages for maintaining parks and other facilities,” said Brinkman. “They overwhelmingly rejected the proposed assessment increase.”

At the time, Elk Grove/West Vineyard residents were asked to increase their fees by $89 a year, while those who lived in Central Elk Grove voted on an additional $79 tacked on their annual bill.

According to information fact sheets produced by CSD that were sent to property owners last November, only 23.3% of ballots sent to Zone 3 property owners in 2009 were returned, and the ballot failed with only 34% support.

In Zone 6, there were slightly more ballot returns in 2009 – 37.2%. But the vote failed as well, with only 34% favoring the increase.

Weissman recalled the vote in 2009 to increase the fees and understood why people opposed the move.

“I lost my job in January 2009 and was not able to get another one until November,” he said. “I was not alone in that regard.”

Moreover, the country was sliding into recession at the time.

“People were not interested in raising taxes,” Weissman said. “People were afraid to lose their homes to foreclosure.”

But not all property owners in Benefit Zone 3 voted down a fee increase that year.

A total of 119 homeowners living near Jordan Park approved the creation of an overlay zone, BZ 15-Vista Creek, and agreed to pay an additional fee to maintain Jordan Park. That overlay assessment – $194.91 – raised $23,194 last year.

Funds collected from BZ15 are transferred to BZ 3 each year, but can only be spent on Jordan Park improvements. It’s the reason why it is the only park in Elk Grove/West Vineyard that is not affected by the service cuts in the zone.

Jordan Family Park is the only park in Benefit Zone 3 that is not affected by service cuts

But the “no” vote on the fee increases in 2009 meant that Benefit Zone 3 and Benefit Zone 6 would continue to have financial woes.

“It was not enough to mow lawns,” said Brewer. “It would not pay for increases in water and sprinkler fees.”

That was especially true for this fiscal year.

“One of the big things that is happening for this fiscal year is that water will go up by 8% but we only budgeted for a 2% increase,” said Rachele Manges, management analyst for CSD. “We need more money to pay the water bill.”

Hence the reduction in watering this year, with the grass turning brown, and trees dropping leaves early.

There were also increases in the street maintenance contract which began on Nov. 1, 2017, as well as the park maintenance contract, which also rose by 2.54% with the CPI this year.

Those additional costs forced the district to reduce landscaping services in Benefit Zone 3. That meant the grass wasn’t mowed as often, the weeds could flourish on turf and planters, and shrubs didn’t get trimmed.

Using Reserves For Operating Costs

In 2014, CSD developed a Park Maintenance Management Plan (PMMP). It looked at projected zone revenues and expenditures for the next 10 years. At the time, funding for BZ3, BZ 6 and subzone 9C (Hampton Village) were deemed “unsustainable.”

The plan was updated for fiscal year 2016-2017 when it showed that the funding levels for Elk Grove/West Vineyard and Central Elk Grove were still ranked “poor.”

The PMMP indicated that Benefit Zone 3 would deplete its capital reserves in three years since it was being used for operating costs.

As of July 2016, Elk Grove/West Vineyard had $270,625 in reserves. The plan estimated that by the end of fiscal year 2019-2020, the fund would be tapped out, with a negative balance of $1,389.

According to the 2018-2019 L&L budget, BZ 3  used $12,450 from reserves in fiscal year 2016-2017, and $146,965 last year. It is expected to draw $79, 362 this year.

The PMMP identified 21 assets, worth $6.25 million, that would need to be replaced between 2016-2021. That included seven fixtures, one landscaping project, four parking/roads, four sports courts and four walk/paths.

The plan also listed 29 high-use assets in Elk Grove/West Vineyard, including 12 playgrounds.

Over in Benefit Zone 6, the PMMP estimated that its capital reserves was “insufficient” and “should be preserved to fund operating costs beyond year 3.”

As of July 2016, Central Elk Grove only had $74,441 in capital reserves. It was projected that it would be tapped out by 2019-2020, and be in the red by $17,125.

However, according to the L&L budget this year, BZ6 did not use any reserve funds in 2016-2017 and drew only $29,931 from reserves in 2017-2018.

This fiscal year, Central Elk Grove is not expected to tap into that resource at all. Instead, it would actually have money to put into reserves, so BZ 6 would no longer be deficit spending.

The PMMP noted that BZ 6 would need to spend $2.34 million in the next five years to replace 29 assets. That included eight fixtures, three landscaping projects, one parking/road project, eight playgrounds, one sports court, and eight walk/paths.

As of fiscal year 2016-2017, all asset replacements for both Benefit Zone 3 and Benefit Zone 6 were placed on hold due to lack of funding. Only projects affecting the health and safety of users would be completed in the two areas.

“It is reasonable to predict that playgrounds and other assets would become unusable due to aging in the next few years,” according to the PMMPsummary for both benefit zones. “Unless new revenue is identified to renew the assets, these would require removal to prevent liability measures.”

The plan also indicated that CSD staff would work on trying to get fee increases approved in both BZ3 and BZ6 in time to balance the budget for fiscal year 2017-2018.

2017 Assessment Fee Increase Survey

In January 2017, the CSD board approved a $40,000 contract with SCI Consulting Group to determine what fee increase should be to improve and maintain loca parks and landscaping along streets in BZ 3 and BZ 6. The group was also tasked to develop a survey to gauge support for the increased fee and analyze the returns.

Last November, the district sent out the surveys to property owners in those neighborhoods.

dElk Grove/West Vineyard homeowners were asked if they would support a fee increase that ranged from $74.01 to $384.62 a year, according to Brinkman. The exact amount was based on their proximity to parks, trails and other amenities in the benefit zone.

Residents were also queried if they would be willing to pay for maintenance costs for two new parks, Arcadian Village and Sheldon Place, and the expansion of MacDonald Park so that the three can be developed.

CSD staff copy of survey sent to BZ 6 homeowners

Brinkman said the fee increases proposed in Central Elk Grove were lower: $32.73 to $143.96 a year. Since Zone 6 is built out, there were no questions about new park development on the area survey.

Both questionnaires were accompanied by a two-page fact sheet on the financial challenges each zone faced, and what projects would be funded by the increased fees.

The response to the surveys in both benefit zones was dismal, according to a staff report that was presented to the CSD board on Feb. 21 of this year.

The report indicated that in BZ 3, only 794 out of 5,792 surveys were sent back, for a return rate of 13.9%.

Single family homeowners make up 88.7% of the vote in Elk Grove/West Vineyard.

Based on the returns, only 23.9% of property owners said they would definitely vote yes (9.4%0 or probably yes (12.3%) for the new assessment.

Those figures meant that there was a low level of support for the fee increase in BZ3.

Over in BZ 6, the return rate was a little better: 20.3%. A total of 1,053 out of 5,265 surveys were mailed back.

In Central Elk Grove, single family homeowners make up 69.2% of the weighted vote. Of those, only 29.3% of the property owners said they would vote definitely yes (9%) or probably yes (16%) for the increased fee.

Again, the numbers indicating support fell below the 50% plus one threshold for passage.

The disappointing results from the surveys meant that the district could not proceed to a mail-in ballot on the proposed fee increases for either zone.

SCI Consulting Group would eventually be paid $30,000 for their work on the surveys for BZ3 and BZ6, according to Manges.

BZ 3 Residents Reactions to November 2017 Survey

Samuel Chan, who lives across the street from Perry park, said he didn’t return the survey sent out to Elk Grove/West Vineyard property owners last November.

“It was like junk mail,’ he said. “It was confusing as heck, and too long.”

Chan complained that the fact sheets were misleading.

“They didn’t use harsh language – it was fluffy and long,” he said. “It didn’t really impress upon me.”

Chan, who moved into Perry Ranch in 2015, also note the park was facing “funding challenges’ instead of saying that the district was cutting services.

“Now they put signs in the park, and now I know about it,” he said. “But for someone who didn’t know about it (funding shortfall), it’s frustrating. I would have responded.”

Chan said he would have liked to have seen more details about why BZ3’s assessments weren’t enough to keep up with the zone expenditures.

“They say prices have gone up but they don’t tell us what it costs,” he said. “How much does it cost for our gardeners? How much does it cost to water the park?”

Chan also thought it was odd there was a question about funding the upkeep of two new proposed parks (Arcadia Village Park, Sheldon Place Park) and Phase II of Edie MacDonald Park if the district didn’t have money to maintain existing parks.

“They asked, “Do you want to pay more for these three new parks but I don’t know any of these parks,” he recalled.

Chan was puzzled that half o one page of the fact sheets sent to BZ3 homeowners was devoted to what an expanded MacDonald Park would look like.”

“I don’t even know where MacDonald Park is,” he said he recalled thinking at the time.

Phase II of Edie MacDonald Park on BZ3 fact sheet

Chan can thank Jill Jones, a resident in the Camden Pointe neighborhood, for the concept drawing of the expanded MacDonald Park being included in the fact sheets.

She has been trying for two years to get an assessment fee increase in Elk Grove/West Vineyard to fund the expansion of the park. Currently, only one acre of Edie MacDonald Park is developed, while the other acre is vacant.

The dividing line between Phase II of MacDonald Park and the existing park

Jones had worked with CSD and the SCI Consulting Group to edit the information about the amenities that would come to Edie MacDonald Park if it was fully developed on the fact sheets. But she said she also made up her own flier on the project and passed them out to neighbors to encourage them to return the survey.

“We were told we could not do any outreach on the survey,” she said. “They have to d a ‘cold read.”

So, Jones wasn’t surprised when BZ3 residents didn’t respond to the survey in a positive way.

“They get surveyed but they do not understand what it is,” she said. “They think the city does the landscaping. If they don’t have the information, (they) are blindsided. (They)  don’t understand, so it’s an automatic ‘no’ by default.”

Weissman said he never saw the November survey, but his wife completed it and mailed it back. “She would be OK with the assessment increase,” he said.

But he later obtained a copy of the survey from the district and had issues with the questions.

“The way the survey was worded – it didn’t give you much information that your park is going to die if you didn’t do something,” Weissman said. “They didn’t come out and say, ‘we can’t keep the parks up if you don’t do something.'”

He also quibbled with the way one question was phrased in asking whether residents would support an increase in fees to maintain or improve facilities.

“That should have been two questions: ‘would you be in favor of an increase to maintain our parks?’ and the second question, to improve what we have – there’s a big difference.”

Brinkman with CSD defended the neutral tone of the survey and the information presented on the fact sheets.

“We’re not allowed to advocate for raising funds,” she said. “It’s up to the property owners. Our job is to help educate.”

She said the fact sheets accompanying the surveys did warn residents of the consequences of the revenue shortfall.

“Cuts have been made, the reserve is running out,” Brinkman said. “We need to continue to reduce services.”

Steve Sims, CSD park superintendent, agreed that it has been difficult to get the word out.

“Based on feedback from residents, there is a general lack of understanding about how park maintenance is funded,” he said in a statement.

“Helping residents understand that the Landscape and Lighting assessments they pay specifically fund their neighborhood parks, and cannot be fund parks outside of the specific Benefit Zone in which they reside, has been a challenge.”

Brinkman noted that the district has held two workshops, Does Money Grow on Trees? Park Maintenance Funding 101, one in August and one in September this year. Their purpose was to help residents understand how park services are funded in the district, and why an increase in the assessment fee is needed in BZ3 and BZ6.

“We hope to do a few more,” she said of the workshops.

Brinkman also said the district posted a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about the financial troubles of Elk Grove/West Vineyard on the CSD website.

“We’re just here to educate people on how their parks are maintained, which is separate from park construction,” she said. “There is a lot of good information on the website.”

However, she admitted that the new information about BZ3’s issues was only put online this summer.

The signs posted at the various parks in Elk Grove/West Vineyard are also part of the public education effort.

But Weissman didn’t think much of the district’s intentions with the signs.

“Putting up a sign saying your parks are going to hell in a hand basket is not outreach,” he said.

Brinkman said CSD staffers have gone out to community events, such as National Night Out to answer questions from residents.

Jones said she wasn’t impressed by the district’s efforts to educate the public about how park maintenance is funded.

“You can’t say we did these random events,” she said. “They don’t initiate anything, only respond. What is needed is a stategic outreach and communication plan – how can we coordinate with the homeowners in Benefit Zone 3? They don’t have that.”

Chan argued that CSD is being lazy in just putting out information on its website.

“Most of the people are not going to look, they do not want to go online,” he said. “They want to go to the park. Whey couldn’t they (CSD officials) come to the parks and have a meeting?”

Chan suspects that the district is unwilling to do so because it would take up time and they may not like to hear what the residents have to say.

“They don’t want to hear those people – it’s disheartening to hear those people,” he said. “People are going to complain.”

CSD Efforts To Cut Zone Expenses In Other Ways

Due to the ongoing funding deficits in both BZ3 and BZ6, the district looked at different ways that some expenditures are charged to the individual zones so that different areas would pay less.

One was to change how each zone paid for part-time labor. In the past, their salaries were charged to the district, which in turn, split the costs among the zones.

“We organized the crews a little differently this year,” said Manges. “We charge each benefit zone directly. They were charged to the zone where they work, which made it easier to do the accounting.”

If fewer people worked in a particular zone, then that area would pay less in salaries for part-time labor.

Last year, Elk Grove/West Vineyard was budgeted to spend $98,692 in salaries but wound up paying $100,904. This year, the zone is expected to shell out $206,710 for labor.

Over in BZ6, the zone paid out $35,849 in salaries and benefits last year. It’s projected labor costs this year is $69,444.

But Manges warned that the apparent increase in the amount each zone is paying for salaries doesn’t reflect the changes that were made to reduce costs.

“We can’t compare last year to this year because of the change,” she said. “When we do the salaries, we do not see the cut as much because of the increase in salaries and workers compensation.”

For one thing, part-time workers got a 2% pay raise this year, thus pushing the costs up, even if fewer people might be working in a particular zone.

Another change that CSD made this year is altering the way how much each zone pays for district wide expenses.  In the past, it was based on how many EDUs are in an area. This year, that was switched to how many acres in each zone that CSD maintains in way of parks, trails and streetscapes.

“Both Zone 3 and Zone 6 have high EDUs,” said Manges. “When we shifted to acres, there is less a percentage needed. That realignment helped the zones. Had the changes not been done, we would have had more drastic cuts in Zone 3.”

Part of the reason is that each zone is expected to pay its share of district-wide costs, even if it has to make cuts in its own zone expenses.

“Everyone uses those (district-wide) parks, so all the zones are responsible,” Manges said. “If you make one zone not pay into it, it would make other zones pay more than their fair share.”

The under-funding of BZ3 and BZ6 has already impacted CSD plans.

“Typically, we would have to reduce the amount of projects district-wide,” she said. “With the short funding in Zone 3 and Zone 6, we know we can’t afford them in the budgets.”

This year, there is a special project – the replacement of the artificial turf at Bartholomew Sports Park – which would require funding from all the zones. Since BZ3 is having to make budget cuts this year, it may have to take out a loan to pay its share of that project’s co

“It could take a loan from another benefit zone,” Manges said. “There is special financing for government agencies.”

But Elk Grove/West Vineyard would have to cut more in expenditures the following year so it can repay that loan.

Manges said that at this point, it’s too early to tell whether BZ3 would have to borrow any money,since its share of district-wide expenses is not calculated until the end of the fiscal year.

In the meantime, the amount of projected district-wide costs could change, if projects come under budget, get postponed or canceled.

For 2018-2019, Elk Grove/West Vineyard is on the hook for $410,617 in projected district-wide costs.

Over in Central Elk Grove, the zone is expected to benefit from the switch in the method of calculating how much it would owe for its share of district-wide expenses.

The projected contribution – $100, 457 – is much lower than the $429, 353 it paid last year.  BZ6 plans to put the expected savings from this year’s allocation for district-wide costs – $234,982 – into its reserve fund, putting the zone back in the black.

CSD board candidates at a recent political forum: (left to right), Jerry Braxmeyer, Rod Brewer, Jaclyn Moreno, Koi Rivers

CSD Board candidates’ views on funding shortfall in BZ3 and BZ6

Jerry Braxmeyer said residents need to understand how park maintenance is funded in the district.

“It’s an education thing, not a budgeting issues,” he said. “We have to educate property owners what the money entails and what the money is spent for. A lot of individuals don’t realize that the Landscape and Lighting (funds) can be used for parks, but not used for anything else.”

He praised CSD for holding the two workshops on park maintenance funding earlier this year.

“They want to educate the public, but you have to have participation,” Braxmeyer said. “I think it’s a partnership that we all work for the same common goal.”

But he noted that the district needs to do a better job of explaining how assessment fees can be increased.

“it’s not that property owners are unwilling – just that they don’t understand the process that has to take place,” he said. “The CSD can’t say, ‘we can increase the assessment’ – the property owners have to agree of their own volition.”

His take on the issue?

“We all should get involved with the community,” he said.

Rod Brewer, who is up for re-election to the CSD board, said he worries about the impact that the under funding of BZ3 and BZ 6 would have on the district.

“It’s a question of fairness,” he said. “It’s not fair to other neighborhoods to lose their ability to add to their neighborhood because of other neighborhoods being unable to pay their fair share.”

Brewer also urged residents to get involved in getting the park maintenance funding issues resolved.

“We have to look for neighborhood champions to get people concerned,” he said. “We know people care, but we need to begin the process of organizing neighbors to show the importance of increasing the L&L fee assessment.”

Brewer said he learned firsthand what it difference makes to not have sufficient zone funding. He lives in BZ9-Waterman/Park Village, which voted down a fee increase of $156 in 2009.

“We have Jennie McConnell Park, and we saw an immediate decline in our park,” he said. “It took us eight years to reorganized and get our L&L fee improved.”

Brewer said in 2016, 71% of the residents in Hampton Village voted for an overlay fee of $189.

“It was enough for our parks to be renovated, our greenbelt to be remodeled,” he said. “We also saw a new headstone for the neighborhood park. When it was vandalized, it was taken down and a new headstone was placed, and it was the result of the increase.”

Jaclyn Moreno said she would take a more hands-on approach in educating the residents on how the L&L money fees are used.

“I come from an organizing background, and I would organize the neighborhood,” she said. “Whenever you have transparency, you can get things done. We have to be transparent on where the fees are going, how the fees are being spent, and break that down.”

Moreno said she would be willing to go out into the neighborhoods and hold town hall meetings.

“I would be present and answer questions,” she said. “I would help with that campaign.”

Moreno said CSD is informing the residents by holding the park maintence funding workshops but needs to do more.

“They’re not taking the extra step,” she said. “We need to be more proactive in engaging the community.”

There is one thing she would like to do if she gets elected to the CSD board.

“I would like to do an audit on how we’re using our fees to maintain parks,” Moreno said.

“How much money is going to third-party contractors? We use diffeent third-party contractors in different zones. I would like to know where we are.”

Koi Rivers said she would focus on educating residents in BZ3 and BZ 6 on why assessments needs to be raised.

“The district has to be more transparent about the effects and what they need to do as a solution,” she said.

“The information is there, but when it’s not touching them (the residents), when it’s not in their face – the grass is dying, the courts can’t be re-surfaced – they don’t know what it means. Until it is tangible, until it affects you, you don’t understand.”

Rivers said the workshops on park maintenance funding are a good first step, but she believes the district can do more.

“How do we engage the community more and not wait until something is wrong? “she said. “Continuing education and awareness are key. I needs to be continued year-round.”

Rivers said more residents should be attending CSD board meetings and noted that not everyone uses social media.

“They should not rely on certain medium, and figure out other ways for outreach and be committed to it,” she said. “People need to be engaged, and the board needs to be accountable to the community.”

Rivers said one of her goals is to go out to the neighborhoods.

“We need to knock on doors and talk to people,” she said. “If they need to increase fees, it would be a community choice. We need to engage our neighbors. It has to be a community effort.”

Two Possible Overlay Districts In Elk Grove/West Vineyard

Since there was not enough support in either BZ3 or BZ6 for zone-wide fee increases last November, some residents are now focusing on creating overlay districts so that maintenance of certain parks or amenities could be funded.

CSD staff had estimated there may be 23 potential overlay districts that could be created in the two benefit zones, according to a report submitted to the board on Oct. 17, 2018.

“The district is saying, “you guys voted down the increase, so it’s your fault” and I’m not buying that argument at all,” said Weissman.

“If you look at any kind of business and halfway through the cycle, you can’t pay the bills, how long can you stay in business? We don’t want to get to the point that we have to spend more money to bring the park back than to maintain it.”

Weissman and Chan are trying to get a community champion group together in the Perry Ranch neighborhood to create an overlay district. This overlay district would pay for maintenance of Perry Park.

“Our focus is where we live – Perry Ranch and Perry Park,” said Weissman. “Other areas have their own set of problems. We want to take care of our neighborhood first.”

Chan agreed. “If my zone won’t vote to increase the funding, I want to save what I can save,” he said.

Chan said he was inspired by what the Hampton Village residents did in 2016  by approving an overlay district to maintain Jennie McConnell Park.

“I read about McConnell Park and how the neighbors banded together,” he said. “It was gorgeous. What did it look like before? It looked very much like Perry, but the one they have now is very nice, not what we have (which was built) 20 years ago.”

But Chan said he had a closer example of what could be done.

“I go over to Jordan Park and the grass is green,” he said. “It looks like a new park, and now people know they have an overlay.”

View of playground and grass at Jordan Family Park

Jones said her community champion group, Save Our MacDonald Park, is further along in the process. It has a design meeting for Phase II development of the park scheduled for Nov. 1.

The design meeting would enable CSD staff to calculate the assessment needed to restore services at the park.

“It would give us a dollar figure,” said Jones.

“The money was collected by developers to construct Phase II. The new assessment would pay for maintenance only for Phase II and new construction and rehab of Phase I. Our playground is at the end of its life and it’s very small.”

But she said it would take months before the staff could come back with an assessment figure. It would be even longer before an official survey would go out.

“It’s going to take  forever,” Jones said.

However, she was upset that CSD staff had proposed adding an extra step into the process earlier this month.

The CSD staff had proposed that community groups had to circulate petitions and get 50% to 75% of residents to support a fee increase before the district would proceed with an official survey.

‘They said they didn’t have any money to do the survey,” Jones said. “They said they didn’t have the money to do the vote.”

She said her group showed up in force at the CSD meeting on Oct. 17 to oppose that proposal.

Jones said the district should have learned from what happened when residents circulated a petition several years ago to show neighborhood support for a fee increase to help develop Sheldon Place Park.

“It looked like there was overwhelming support,” she said.

But when the official survey went out, it failed miserably.

“CSD was shocked when it happened,” Jones recalled. “Door to door petitions don’t give accurate information.”

The main reason is that many residents would sign a petition in support of parks or a fee increase if they see that their neighbors have signed it, but may express a different sentiment on an official survey, she argued.

Jones said that CSD staff suggested that the costs of the assessment determination, the survey and the ballot can be recovered from the benefit zone. The costs would be recovered by taking them out from the money generated by the new fees.

It would cost the district about $30,000 to do the work involved in creating an overlay district of 800 households, according to Manges.

Jones said 500 households in the Camden Pointe neighborhood are interested in the idea.

At the same October 17 meeting, CSD officials said the district plans to hire more staff to help the community groups go through the process, according to Jones.

In the meantime, Jones and 25 members of her group plan to get the word out to residents of Camden Ponte to attend the design meeting for the expansion and renovation of MacDonald Park.

“This is the first stage,” she said. “We have four groups that have gone before us, and it was a success (for each of them. We will look at what other groups have done, take the best practices, and see what needs to be duplicated.”

Funding shortage sign at Edie MacDonald Park


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About The Author

Tillie Fong

Tillie is a recovering news junkie and real life Lady Bird. She is a former staff writer for Rocky Mountain News in Colorado, and former on-call reporter for The Sacramento Bee.

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