04/27/2010 Special Town Council Meeting Summary

This was a Special Joint Meeting of the Gilbert Town Council and the Parks, Recreation and Library Services Advisory Board. This meeting was held in Conference room 300 and not televised.
Before you read further, here are some facts about Gilbert’s Parks, Open Spaces, and Aquatics:
* According to the FY 2010 Budget – General Fund, the cost to the taxpayer to maintain Gilbert’s Parks and Open Spaces is $6.4 million. This is the NET cost after deducting for fees to users for field rental and lighting. The maintenance (mostly landscape) of our Parks and Open Spaces system is the single most expensive of any other Community Services program. Just like buying a horse, the cost of the horse pales in comparison to the cost of maintaining the horse. Part of the reason that Gilbert built so many parks, especially around the downtown area, was to prevent flooding. These parks are a wonderful resource. If anybody knows how to improve the return, please step forward!
* Gilbert has more HOA’s than virtually any other Arizona community. HOA’s offer park facilities to their homeowners. Gilbert has plenty of Parks.
* The net cost to the taxpayer to maintain all 5 of Gilbert’s swimming pools is $525,150. This is after deducting for fees charged to users for swim lessons, etc. Included in the swimming pool cost is $50k to maintain Gilbert Pool, which was closed to Gilbert residents for swimming (due to low usage). It is currently used only by Gilbert Junior High School students. However, it costs more to maintain a pool that is being used for swimming lessons, because the revenues do not come close to paying for the extremely high maintenance costs for a pool being heavily used. For example, the Mesquite pool costs $273,450 to maintain. Revenues from lessons, etc. are $86,650. The net support from the taxpayer is $186,800.
* The pools are open for usage from about May 15 – August 6. The pools must still be maintained, however, all year round.
* Before you think there aren’t enough pools in Gilbert, take a look in your or your neighbor’s backyard. Gilbert has thousands of swimming pools.
* Please note: My editorial comments below are in parentheses.
Currently serving on the Parks, Recreation and Library Services Advisory Board are:
Bobbi Smith, Chair (Member of the Citizens Budget Committee – Development Services.)
Eric Wilson, Vice Chair
Jim Bilas (Chair of the Citizens Budget Committee – Community Services. This is the CBC on which I served)
Cindy Barnes-Pharr (Spoke at our Community Services CBC in support of the Use Tax, and is a friend of Kelly Balthazor,who served on this CBC and who also supported the Use Tax)
Melanie Dykstra
Ted Kowalczyk
Von Payne
1) The meeting opened with a report from Jim Norman, Community Services Director, who reviewed the budget relating to the swimming pools and programs. He advised that everything was funded through the end of this fiscal year, and identified the new cost recovery, from 40% to 60%, as recommended by the Citizens Budget Committee—Community Services. Some of this will be achieved by raising prices for public swim, lessons, and swim teams; some by shifting toward lessons and away from public swim. He also discussed the problem of Gilbert Pool, which was closed during the 2009 season, due to low participation. However, it still has water in it and must be maintained ($50k per year). To fill in the pool/demolish it would cost around $75k – $100k. Jim noted that since lesson prices have gone up, sign-ups have gone down. Gilbert is the largest swim provider compared to surrounding communities. Melanie Dykstra stated that she thought the cost recovery of 60% was unrealistic and difficult. Why the emphasis on aquatics for cost recovery? What about other sports programs? She also stated the pools were not designed correctly, and this is why they aren’t successful for recreation.
2) Jim provided an overview of the proposed sports coalition fees for the upcoming fiscal year beginning 7/l/2010. Currently, neither the sports coalition nor the GYSA (Gilbert Youth Soccer Assn) are charged fees for use of the fields. In a meeting with the groups, they agreed that they will be paying fees for use. Further, instead of various fees for lighting, they will pay a flat fee. Thus, both groups will begin paying $7/hour per field, and $12/hour per field for lights. Anticipated additional revenue: $317,674
3) Recreation Superintendent Rob Giles reviewed the problems of deterioration of the infrastructure of various parks sidewalks that are eroding and exposing underground pipes. Basketball courts are aging and cracking in places. He showed the contrast between some courts, which were designed using high quality materials that don’t need maintenance for many more years, compared to those that are cracking and in need of expensive maintenance today. Playgrounds are aging. Linda Abbott asked about lawsuits/claims that might have been filed? Rob advised that he knew of none, but the potential exists. John Sentz advised that the Town should be budgeting for repairs and maintenance. Council will address this concern at a future Council meeting.
4) In an effort to relieve Gilbert Police from making frequent calls to the parks for minor noncompliance issues, the Gilbert Police recently partnered with the Parks Rangers to train them to issue citations. According to Senior Parks Ranger Becker, the program has worked well and the mere fact that Rangers have authority to issue citations has reduced incidences of noncompliance. This program has freed up the Gilbert Police to handle more serious issues.
5) The group discussed the need for a Parks Master Plan and the need for an updated Bike and Trails Plan. Jim Norman advised that this hasn’t been done due to its $100-$150k price tag. Dave Crozier asked if the price could be mitigated by using graduate students, much like was done by ASU students who designed a Mixed-Use Development Model (See GW 04/20/2010 Town Council Meeting Summary.) This suggestion was greeted with reasons why it would not work.
6) Bobbi Smith asked the Council to consider staggering the timing of Board terms, in order to assure that institutional knowledge is maintained on the Board. Both Mayor Lewis and Les Presmyk said they would look into it. (We need some Conservatives to get involved on this Board.)
7) “Leisure Pursuits” is going to be online only, as of 7/1/2010, and the Council wanted to be assured that it will be user friendly, and asked if additional costs will result for the work involved. Rob Giles advised that the Town staff possesses the expertise to handle it, so there will be no additional costs. Linda Abbott stated that it needs to accommodate users who do not have non-Windows-based operating systems.
8) Jack Blanchard, Executive Director of Human Resources for Gilbert Public Schools, requested $500k from the Town to erect lighting at several of the schools parks and fields, to increase capacity and allow for more utilization at night, especially during the hot summer months. (Fine time to be asking for $500k from the taxpayers.) Linda Abbott stated her concern about the cost, plus the rights of neighbors who were promised per zoning that those areas would not be lighted. Les Presmyk questioned the cost versus benefit to the Town. Jack Blanchard responded to these issues stating he thought the residents had a change of heart, the Town would gain capacity, and costs could be mitigated by field rental charges. Linda Abbott wondered if coalition programs were being funded better than aquatics.
9) The Council asked about the status of the site and the plan for the 4th of July Special Event. Jim Norman advised that the Gilbert Promotional Corporation hadn’t turned in their plan yet (dragging their feet), and the Council gave Jim authority to give the GPC a deadline (light a fire under them).
Chair Bobbi Smith wrapped up the meeting stating that Gilbert residents by the thousands use the parks, and every survey (statistically sound?) says that Gilbert residents support the parks and want to see them grow and expand. (How many parks is enough?)
(We love our parks, trails, ballfields, and lighting at night . But how can the exhorbitant cost to maintain them be reduced? “Whoever Benefits the Most, Pays the Most.” So, who benefits the most? I can tell you who pays the most: the Taxpayers.)