Parks and funding - it's all in the details

Fiscal Sustainability column
By: Michele Hutchinson Special to The News Messenger
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FSC column Parks and funding revisited with clarity Details, it is all in the details By Michele Hutchinson Special to The News Messenger During the fiscal sustainability committee outreach, a question regarding parks in Lincoln Crossing continuously was asked, “What happened to the money for our yet to be built parks?” Attempting to answer the question, we met with city staff who shared their working documents with us pertaining to park projects and other city-wide improvements. What we misunderstood: the fund balance details provided to us were actual figures plus projected future final build-out funded figures. This was reflected in the $9,445,656 figure used in the article. It was wrong and made a huge difference. First, let me be very clear: The fiscal sustainability committee never meant to imply there was malfeasance, nefarious dealings, personal enrichment, or revenue allocated improperly or transferred illegally. Our city staff and City Council did nothing wrong. The decisions made at the time were based upon the economic climate of the time and were entirely proper. Many of us during those times also did not see the coming economic disaster. Instead of my saying “so they thought,” perhaps a better choice of words would have been “or so it was thought by many of us,” referring to the projected economy continuing to grow leading to acceptable decisions being made with a larger budget in mind. Think about this: Have many of us made some financial decisions that, in hindsight, should not have been made? Just as the appreciation on most all real estate went up so quickly, it fell just as fast and depreciated values became the new normal. Now, here is the clarification promised to you in last week’s article (page A8, Jan. 26 News Messenger, “When committee is wrong, we admit it”) and at the Jan. 24 City Council meeting: The figure for Public Facility Element (PFE) fees reported should have been $8,931,208. The difference of $514,448 represents fees yet to be collected for the future build-out of Lincoln Crossing. So one might ask then what is in the $8,931,208? In this number is $5,258,331 for parks and trails; $2,902,094 for facilities; $732,381 for a future city-wide aquatic park and $38,402 for a bridge over the Auburn Ravine. Of the $5,258,331 paid by the developer for Parks Projects, $5,178,700 was spent by the city on Parks and Trails in Lincoln Crossing. Those completed parks are Sheffield Park, Pete Demas Park, Auburn Ravine Park, Linear Park (along power lines), Peter Singer Park and Machado Park. Bottom line: There is only a $79,600 difference between funds collected and funds. Furthermore, in our article, we used the number $6,444,559 as having been spent on parks and trails in Lincoln Crossing. This was also an inaccuracy on our part. The difference of $1,265,859 ($6,444,359 – $5,178,700) represents a final payment of $660,000 made in 2011 for the Peter Singer Park and $605,859 for the Machado Park paid by the 3D development company, which is Lincoln Crossings’ neighboring development. Machado Park was built to be shared by all citizens of Lincoln. Meanwhile, it is also important to note that the Parks and Trails collected by the city that are based on Development Impact Fees (DIF) were based upon a 2002 development impact fee (DIF) analysis and schedule, which indicated a projected cost of $156,000 per acre for parks. This number was used to calculate the Lincoln Crossing contributions for its parks. The Lincoln Crossing Parks were completed between December 2006 and March 2009. The DIF was adjusted in 2006 to reflect the then-current cost to build a park: $536,000 per acre. A very significant increase as all of Lincoln was caught up in the escalated costs of construction. You might say it was a condition of the times, however, because even today, the current draft DIF report update for PFE fees has the cost to build a park as $425,000 per acre. All of the PFE programs are citywide, regardless of the funding source. Since the PFE programs are city-wide, the fees collected from a development are not only applied to improvements located within the developments boundaries. Just as Lincoln Crossing residents have paid fees for an Aquatic Center, so have others and when there are sufficient funds, an Aquatic Center will be built for all of Lincoln to use. It is perfectly correct to use development fees paid to the city for projected costs of parks, infrastructure, etc. within a district or community. Mello-Roos language makes it clear that funds are to be used within a development or the entire community when they come under Public Facility Elements (PFE). They are not always exclusive to the district. As an example, we have Foskett Regional Park, a win for all residents and our entire community. It was obvious that the bubble had burst and Lincoln, like so many other cities, counties, and our state, was facing a financial crisis of a very large magnitude. Just think how all of us have had to rethink our financial priorities during these challenging times. It is that balancing act again: fixed costs and discretionary costs versus actual revenue. The discretionary costs usually end up being put off until a better time. Lincoln is no different than any normal family. Michele Hutchinson is a fiscal sustainability committee member. This column may or may not necessarily express the opinions of The Lincoln News Messenger.