Parks maintenance plan sparks debate
Two Sacramento Parks and Recreation Commission members urged the City Council on Tuesday to consider asking property owners to pay for the maintenance costs of city parks.
The City Council decided it would weigh the issue next week because Councilman Darrell Fong wanted more information on the idea. Council members still heard the appeals of the Parks and Recreation Commission members at the meeting.
Commissioner Cynthia Cooke said that if the public pays an assessment, general fund money for public safety and fire protection could be freed up.
“We want to help you get parks operations and maintenance off the general fund,” Cooke said.
Setting an assessment would involve several steps. The City Council is in the early stages of examining the idea.
The City Council may decide next week whether it should hire an engineer to prepare a report “about the feasibility and timing of a new assessment district for park and recreation facility maintenance,” according to a Dec. 7 report written by city staff. The cost to hire the engineer would be $83,000.
Even if the City Council decides it wants to pursue the idea of a parks maintenance assessment, city property owners would need to vote on it.
Commissioner Jonathan Rewers pointed out that the city is in difficult budget times.
“We’re at a point where, at least in my opinion, it’s time for the residents of the city of Sacramento and our property owners to decide what services they want to support and what things they want to pay for,” Rewers said.
Parks and Recreation Director Jim Combs said in an interview Wednesday that parks maintenance has been slashed in the past three years. Over that period of time, more than 50 percent of parks maintenance staff has been cut, and more than half of the general fund budget for park maintenance has been cut, he said.
The idea of a new assessment on property owners is already controversial among certain City Council members. Councilwoman Bonnie Pannell expressed concern about the voters being asked to pay for various needs, and she said she would not support a parks maintenance assessment.
“How many times are we going to go to the public and ask for money?” Pannell said at the council meeting.
The Sacramento County Taxpayers League is already joining the debate, saying in a Dec. 7 statement that the assessment would be an unwelcome tax.
The plan “fails to to account for (or prioritize) the cumulative impact of recently approved and future proposed local government rate, fee and tax hikes on Sacramento's struggling residents and businesses,” the letter said.
Combs countered in an interview Wednesday that the assessment is not a tax because it involves asking property owners if they’re willing to pay the assessment.
Read the Dec. 7 report from city staff on the proposed parks maintenance assessment here.
Photo by Kathleen Haley.
Kathleen Haley is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press.