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APRC approves funding plan

The Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission unanimously approved a funding source plan Wednesday, in response to impending discussions with the City Council about instability in the general fund — APRC’s primary funding source.

The commission’s approval of funding distribution changes in the city budget, which went into effect July 1, secures a complete funding stream come this time next year, said APRC Director Michael Black.

Under the approved budget, 98% of food and beverage tax revenue will be dedicated to APRC by 2022.

Three years ago, the city’s general fund began to reveal significant vulnerabilities, Black said, prompting a 20-cent reduction to APRC in the funding rate from assessed property value down to $1.89 per $1,000. The reduction totaled about $680,000 a year.

“We made the reductions necessary to absorb that, but we worked with the city of Ashland to ensure that this was just a temporary thing,” Black said. “Well, the financial crisis continues.”

Identification of a dedicated funding source, Black said, was necessary to protect parks services that Ashland residents hold dear to their community identity, and the infrastructure that supports higher property values.

Commissioner Julian Bell said that from his perspective Ashland residents appreciate that their parks are already maintained in a “lean and efficient way,” without reckless spending or imposition of improper fees, and voted in favor of the plan.

The proposed 2022-23 budget for APRC includes $4.5 million from the general fund and just over $2 million from the food and beverage tax, totaling about $7 million with miscellaneous revenues and operating transfers.

“With those two funding sources, plus our other funding sources through recreation and fees for services, we would be able to remain whole and we would have a dedicated funding source that we could count on, and the commissioners could truly have control and management of funds that are coming to APRC as the charter says,” Black said before the vote. “The pie is the same as far as the dollars that are available.”

According to Black’s report, the commission initially agreed to the funding source change with conditions that the food and beverage tax be extended by 10 years to 2040, an ordinance is adopted dedicating a percentage of collected property taxes to APRC, and an evaluation is performed regarding the designation of APRC as a contracting review board.

Conditions also stipulate that one-quarter of food and beverage tax revenue go toward major maintenance and new projects, while 73% may be used for operations at the commission’s discretion.

APRC Chair Mike Gardiner said the assurance of stable funding is the only way to “make serious, competent decisions” about parks activities and operations going forward.

“Us pursuing this direction allows the City Council to accomplish one of their goals, which is a reduction in how the general fund is distributed, by allowing Parks and Rec to take the chance with food and beverage taxes,” Gardiner said.

According to budget documents, food and beverage tax revenue dropped by more than one-third in the initial phase of the pandemic, and is projected to regrow by 10% annually through 2023, depending on the tourism market.

Black said approval of the plan signifies APRC will postpone consideration of forming a parks district and will prioritize the transition to food and beverage tax funding for now.

APRC will convene a special meeting Aug. 4 at 6 p.m. A joint public meeting of APRC and the City Council is scheduled for Aug. 23 to discuss the general fund and priorities during funding source transitions.

Commissioner Leslie Eldridge was absent from the APRC meeting Wednesday.

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497.