Council Seeks More Information on Parks, Recreation Options

At the heart of the debate of Menifee's parks and recreation maintenance is the presence of ...

At the heart of the debate of Menifee's parks and recreation maintenance is the presence of Valley-Wide Recreation and Parks District, which has this office at Wheatfield Park.
It is becoming more and more apparent that the complex situation regarding control of parks and recreation facilities in Menifee is not going to have a simple solution.

After listening to concerns voiced by seven public speakers and discussing their own concerns for nearly an hour, Menifee City Council members Wednesday chose not to approve a Phase 1 staffing plan for the city's newly formed Community Services Department.

The reason? An overwhelming belief by council members that additional staffing devoted to the city's parks and recreation shouldn't be considered until it is determined whether the city will even be controlling any of those facilities. In other words, the debate over how much control Valley-Wide Recreation and Parks District should have over the city's parks remains a key factor.

Here are the key points of a somewhat confusing issue:

-- At its Feb. 5 meeting, the city council approved only part of city's staff's recommendation to take control of all the city's parks and recreation facilities. Council approved the formation of a city Community Services Department and termination of the city's contract with Riverside County to maintain parks west of Interstate 215. However, council members did not approve a recommendation to end the city's relationship with Valley-Wide, which manages parks and recreation on the east side of the city.

-- At that meeting, council members expressed a desire to become more familiar with the benefits Valley-Wide provides. A request was made of city staff to organize a workshop that would help council members determine whether, in the long term, it would be more beneficial to the city to control the parks or to extend Valley-Wide's influence to the entire city.

-- On Wednesday night, city staff presented a proposal to expand the new Community Services Department from its current staff of three to a total of 12 full-time positions. The intent, said city manager Rob Johnson, was to prepare the city for the demands of running west-side parks once Menifee's contract with the county expires on June 30.

-- With the additional nine staff positions, expenses for the Community Services department would total $934,114. However, the city would save $650,000 by ending its contract with Riverside County. Finance director Terri Willoughby said she believed revenue generated through recreational programs sponsored by the city would offset the additional cost.

-- Council members Wallace Edgerton, Tom Fuhrman and John Denver questioned the wisdom in approving the additional staff positions to handle west-side facilities because it still has not been determined whether Valley-Wide would eventually be approved to run all the city's parks. The proposed workshop to study this situation has never been scheduled.

-- The motion eventually approved by unanimous vote Wednesday night was to instruct city staff to approach Riverside County about extending the maintenance contract for west-side parks, at least month by month, until an assessment of the city's parks and recreational offerings versus Valley-Wide's can be made. Staff also was instructed to schedule as soon as possible the previously mentioned workshop, in which both city officials and Valley-Wide administrators would provide specifics about finances and recreational benefits.

"Before we proceed, we need to have the workshop," Edgerton said. "Valley-Wide should be there so we have a clear picture of what they can offer. We need to know what Valley-Wide can do on the west side of town versus what the city could offer."

City manager Johnson said the city has requested a cost analysis from Valley-Wide three times and has not received complete information. Council members spoke directly to Valley-Wide general manager Dean Wetter, who was seated in the audience, asking him to make sure that information would be available at the workshop.

Fuhrman suggested the open date of April 30 for the workshop to expedite things, but no actual date was set. A two-week window might not be enough for both sides to get their presentation together.

"It seems like the direction the city wants to go is to flat-out take control of all the parks without giving Valley-Wide a chance to give us a cost for adding the west side," Fuhrman said. "These should be brought out at a workshop before we make this decision."

Johnson responded that his understanding of the Feb. 5 council action was the direction of staff to take a city-wide approach to maintenance of the parks, focusing first on a plan to run the west-side parks after informing the county of the desire to end their contract June 30. It is clear, however, that there is much opposition to expanding community services staff for half the city when those employees might not be needed if Valley-Wide takes over.

"I thought staff was going to come back with the type of recreational programs they would offer for the west side, not all the staff you would add," said Denver.

Among the public speakers was Jimmy Canales, who has been involved for years as a coach and participant in Valley-Wide programs.

"Mr. Johnson, you've got a lot that needs to be investigated," he said. "The question is, do we give it all over to a well-oiled machine like Valley-wide or do we get our hands dirty and try to figure out how to run a parks and recreation department."

Neighboring cities have taken different approaches to the issue. Hemet and San Jacinto contract with Valley-Wide to run their entire parks and recreation facilities. On the other hand, Temecula and Murrieta established their own city-side departments.

The date of the workshop will be announced here as soon as it is determined.

This city document lists proposed salaries for Community Services Department employees. It was not approved.

Related

Valley-Wide-Recreation 7989748020398636582

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