Parks and Rec district talks on tap

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Restoration of the Garcia House, which will house the Jack O'Donnell Visitor's Center, is close to being completed and will have a grand opening June 4 at the San Benito County Historical Park. In the weeks leading up to the opening, volunteers and park s

Commissioners to host public workshop March 13
Commissioners to host public workshop March 13

San Benito County residents will have a chance to find out more about a potential special district that would support parks and recreation and possibly library services at a community workshop March 13, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the San Benito County Board Chambers, 481 Fourth St. in Hollister.

    At the meeting, residents will learn about the different types of special districts, the process to establish a district and funding mechanisms.

    The idea of creating a special district to fund parks and recreation in San Benito County has been bounced around for years, according to county parks and recreation commissioners Dan Dungy and Don Kelley.

    “We came to the realization that parks and recreation will be the first things cut,” Kelley said. “The community voiced an opinion that they want us to provide it in a form that can be consistent. The funding (of a special district) would be specific to those elements and guarantee that things get accomplished.”

    The meeting is hosted two weeks after the San Benito County Board of Supervisors held a public hearing on the 2012-13 budget in which they heard from County Administrative Officer Rich Inman that the county budget will likely face a $5.8 million shortfall. It also comes as the commissioners await word on a variety of state grants that could support the development of such facilities as a new regional and river parkway, a partnership between the county and Tres Pinos School for sports fields, and a renovation of Veterans Memorial Park.

    Janelle Cox, a management analyst with the county who works with the parks commission, said they have not yet put together a cost for the services because they want to gather input from residents about what level of service they want and what programs they want incorporated – such as library services or city parks and recreation services. The meeting on March 13 will be informational only with no discussion or policy decisions being made.

    “Citizens will identify what services and at what level,” Cox said, noting that a district could include just county parks, or city and county parks.

    San Benito has some special districts already established, including water districts and a mosquito abatement district. Neighboring counties have various special districts that provide funding for different recreational areas. Several in Santa Clara County were established decades ago, such as the Guadalupe Coyote Resource Conservation District in 1943 and the Rancho Rinconada Recreation and Park District in 1955.

    The Monterey County Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District, for example, was approved by voters in 2004.

    “It’s always a good idea to take a look and it’s always a good time to look,” Dungy said. “We want to provide what the community wants and needs effectively and efficiently.”

    As the commissioners were creating a master parks plan that was approved in 2010 and then last year when they were gathering public input from the community as they prepared to write grant applications, they received a lot of feedback on what residents want.

    “People really want that opportunity to recreate,” he said. “We have a really good recreation component – it’s so good we don’t have room.”

    He was referring to Veterans Memorial Park, where baseball and softball games pack the park during the summer and spring.

    “But there aren’t places to go walk or ride your horse,” he said. “It touches on other parts (of the community) such as health and property values.”

    Kelley, too, stressed that vibrant recreation opportunities can be beneficial to bringing in new businesses.

    “We’ve gathered all the information from public outreach and there are very defined wants and needs,” he said. “Now we have to implement it and make it viable. We don’t want to build a facility and have to close it down.”

    Kelley and Dungy both said a consistent source of funding could open up the opportunity for more partnerships with private and nonprofit organizations, such as the YMCA or a business that might want to sponsor maintenance of a facility.

    “It can lead to additional corporate sponsorship,” Cox said. “We could look for donors.”

    Kelley said the commission decided to include library services as an option because he sees “recreation as more than sports. It is so many elements.”

    The county library is one of the non-mandated programs that have been discussed for closure in recent years. It was mentioned at the public hearing on the budget Feb. 28 as a possible way to cut costs again in 2012-13.

    County Supervisor Margie Barrios said at the meeting that she would be saddened to close the library and parks.

    “If you make it dynamic and keep things moving, they just keep growing,” Dungy said.

 

The San Benito County Parks and Recreation Commission is hosting a community workshop, “Understanding Special Districts” March 13, from 6 to 8 p.m., in the San Benito County Board Chambers, 481 Fourth St. The meeting will include information on the difference between a parks and recreation district and a community services district; types of districts; pros, cons and risks of each; the process to establish a special district and funding mechanisms.

By the numbers:

County parks maintenance – $170,000

County parks revenue – $25,000

Total cost – $145,000

County library services – $709,000

County library revenue – $100,000

Total cost – $609,000

New regional/river parkway estimated maintenance for 40-acre regional park and the first phase of the river parkway – $170,000-$200,000

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