City manager wants to treat APRC funding the same as other city departments
By Stephen Floyd, Ashland.news
The Ashland Parks & Recreation Commission (APRC) has concerns about a new budgeting strategy that would manage parks funding through the city’s general fund instead of a separate account.
During the commission’s regular meeting Wednesday, April 12, City Manager Joe Lessard and Deputy City Manager Sabrina Cotta explained how the city intends to change-up its budgeting procedures as planning for the next fiscal biennium begins April 27.
Lessard emphasized the Ashland Parks & Recreation Department (APRD), overseen by APRC, is not being defunded, but will be treated the same as other city departments.
“All general fund departments are in the general fund,” he said.
Cotta said this new budgeting strategy would not change the way dedicated APRD funding is spent, such as revenue from food and beverage taxes, and these monies would be tracked to ensure they are spent as intended. The funding primarily impacted would be revenue originating from the general fund, which would remain in the fund as a parks line item.
Lessard said the difference would be that any general fund revenue APRD does not spend by the end of the fiscal year would roll over back into the general fund and could then be appropriated in the next budget to any general fund-supported departments such as police and public works. When asked what advantage this budgeting strategy gives the city or APRD, Lessard said the current system of managing park funds from a separate account offers no advantage.
“It’s more of a case that there is no benefit of keeping it,” said Lessard.
APRC Commissioner Leslie Eldridge said the idea of unused parks funds rolling over into the general fund did not sit well with her. Eldridge said many APRD projects require long-term planning and an accumulation of funding, and this new system would impair their ability to plan ahead for parks improvements.
Cotta said long-term projects are common to all city departments and it is normal to set aside funds in project-specific accounts that accumulate over time, so the new system would not impact APRD project planning.
She said the rollover would come from expenses like maintenance and payroll the department plans to spend by the end of the fiscal biennium but does not. Cotta said this type of budgeting helps keep departments accountable for the projects and priorities they set for the year, because if the funding is not spent it could be reappropriated to another department.
Eldridge said this seems to take authority away from APRC when citizens have elected commissioners to manage APRD resources and set priorities.
“I don’t think this parks fund should be dissolved,” she said. “I think it severely impairs the ability of parks to control and manage our funds as has been stated in the City Charter.”
Eldridge said she hopes the council can be trusted to support the department’s priorities in this new system.
Commissioner Justin Adams said he also believed APRC has been given unique authority over APRD by the City Charter, which mandates an elected board to manage department resources and policy. Cotta said “every department thinks they’re special, too,” and they are still able to perform their objectives through the general fund.
APRC Chair Rick Landt said, despite practical reasons for moving APRD funding to the general fund, there was “a symbolic negative to getting rid of that fund.” APRC Director Michael Black also said the symbolism of the new budgeting strategy mattered, but that Lessard and Cotta bringing the issue to commissioners was a “right step in the direction of working together.”
The city and APRC have clashed recently over park funds, including in the 2022 General Election when voters were asked to consider re-assigning a significant portion of food and beverage taxes to the general fund. Voters rejected the measure by a wide margin, as well as a similar measure that would have moved APRD staffing management to Lessard’s office rather than APRC.