By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
A matching grant program was spared a big cut Tuesday night.
Members of the Keizer Parks and Recreation Advisory Board were faced with the possibility of having to cut $9,000 out of an already limited budget for their matching grant program, which matches dollars and labor put into projects at parks around Keizer.
When Tony Weathers recently got out of his contract to operate the filbert orchards at Keizer Rapids Park, the $9,000 in rent he paid the city annually to use the city-owned land had to be removed from the parks budget. As mentioned previously in the Keizertimes, Weathers was concerned about potential litigation of pesticides sprayed on the orchards wafting onto the Big Toy, which was built last month by community volunteers in part of the orchard.
One possibility was for the funds to come out of the matching grant program, now in its second year. Parks Board members have pushed hard to increase money for that fund and ended up with $15,000 for this fiscal year. Of that total, $5,000 has already been pledged to the sand volleyball courts being built at KRP by Hans Schneider, leaving $10,000.
At their meeting Tuesday evening, Parks Board members didn’t even discuss the idea of cutting $9,000 from that fund and instead focused on other places to make the cut.
Public Works Director Bill Lawyer said he had some ideas of where to cut, but didn’t want to steer Parks Board members toward a particular decision. J.T. Hager opined the need to cut was being unfairly placed on the laps of Parks Board members.
“What’s our time frame?” Hager asked Lawyer. “This is a blindside thing. I saw the figures in the budget, but didn’t know we needed $9,000 cut from the budget tonight. Now you’re asking me where to cut? I’m supposed to look through here and make that decision? I don’t think anyone here will blindly jump at what you suggest.”
Lawyer said technically Parks Board members have until next June 30 to make the cuts, as that’s the end of the 2015-16 fiscal year. Upon another request, Lawyer spelled out some options.
“The least desirable is you don’t redo the Willamette Manor tennis court,” Lawyer said of the projected $11,000 project. “I don’t support that, because that means a $40,000 to $50,000 project in the future. More realistically, we could cut a little here and a little there.”
Lawyer said that could include cutting about $3,000 in materials and supplies, between $3,000 and $5,000 for Keizer Little League Park maintenance and reducing contractual services by $2,000. Lawyer also suggested letting staff keep a close eye on the budget and make cuts as necessary.
“So your recommendation is to cut a little here and there?” Richard Walsh asked. “So just holding the purse strings a little tighter?”
Lawyer replied affirmatively.
“The public won’t notice the cuts, but we’ll feel it,” Lawyer said.
Walsh noticed leftover money not spent in categories like materials gets put into the ending fund balance and is reallocated in the general fund budget the following year.
“I say move that back into parks,” Walsh said. “I’m saying not moving that into the ending fund budget. I make a motion to reallocate the $9,000 back into the parks budget, to give us time to figure it out.”
Lawyer said it was too early to tell if there would be $9,000 once all expenses from 2014-15 fiscal year were accounted for. Hager supported Walsh’s motion but predicted a lack of success at the council level.
“I understand the high probability it won’t fly,” Hager said. “But it’s prudent of us to at least make the effort. It behooves us to assume it won’t work. For us, $9,000 is a lot to cut out. It’s just insane. We have to try this, but at the same time we’ll put our heads together to see where we can find more money.”
Walsh’s motion was approved unanimously.
Several Parks Board members expressed displeasure about having to make any cuts, with Clint Holland being the most vocal.
“I think the problem goes back to city council,” Holland said. “They knew the potential was there. Why should parks suffer for what is happening? Why can’t council find somewhere else? Put it back to the council, see where else they can cut. We have a tight budget anyway. That’s my recommendation, to cut from somewhere else.”
Lawyer noted he’s already had discussions with city manager Chris Eppley about the budget.
“There’s nowhere else to cut,” Lawyer said. “There’s no more money. This revenue (from the orchard lease) was specifically given to parks. If it was specifically given to parks, why should another part make it up?”
Council liaison Brandon Smith, who was the Parks Board chair until rejoining the Keizer City Council in January, suggested board members come up with a place to cut the budget.
“There’s a lot of passion for putting it back on council,” Smith said. “I can appreciate it and would probably be saying the same thing if I was still in your position. But that $9,000 was dedicated specifically for parks. A majority of the money is to the grant program, which I have been in favor of since it was started. I’ve gone through the entire budget. There’s not any extra money. If you send this to council (with no recommendation), I suspect they will deal with it in the grant program.”