Council Workshop Produces Lots of Information, No Solution

City council members were greeted by another overflow crowd Wednesday night when a workshop was held to discuss options for parks and recreation control on the west side of Menifee.
Well, at least no one can say the Menifee City Council hasn't studied this issue carefully.

At the end of the most detailed discussion yet among several meetings that have addressed the situation, council members decided Wednesday night that they needed one more gathering before making a decision on control and maintenance of parks and recreation facilities on the west side of the city.

With the June 30 termination of the city's contract with Riverside County for west-side parks maintenance rapidly approaching, council members held over a decision until their May 7 meeting, indicating a final decision would be made then. Meanwhile, they did their best to calm the fears of several public speakers concerned about the possible disruption of summer programs traditionally held at facilities west of the 215 Freeway.

"For those who deliver those programs, please continue your planning and proceed as usual," Mayor Scott Mann told the audience before adjourning the meeting. "Rest easy; your programs will continue."

Many among those who addressed the council were local residents who have worked for Riverside County for years in directing and maintaining the preschool, after-school and summer programs at the Lazy Creek Park Recreation Center. Others included parents who spoke passionately about the value of those programs to their families.

Both parties involved in the discussion assured those residents that the programs would continue and at least some existing staff members would keep their jobs, no matter which entity controls the seven west-side parks and Kay Ceniceros Senior Center (left). But that still doesn't answer the big question:

City of Menifee or Valley-Wide Recreation and Park District?

Valley-Wide has contracted with area cities for more than 40 years to provide parks and recreation services. All parks east of the 215 Freeway in Menifee are maintained by Valley-Wide. Virtually no one has a bad thing to say about Valley-Wide's performance in the city.

At issue is whether, upon assuming control of west-side parks from the county, the City of Menifee should contract with Valley-Wide to maintain those parks as well. City staff for months has urged the city council to approve a plan in which the city would control the west-side parks.

Council has already approved formation of a Community Services Department. The City has hired Robert Lennox as the department's director and has re-classified two city employees, giving that fledgling department a staff of three. The staff proposal calls for the addition of six more full-time employees to run the department.

In a presentation to the council, city finance director Terri Willoughby reported that the city projects revenue of $207,660 in 2014-15 if given control of west-side parks, including fees paid by the participants in parks and recreation programs. Expenses are projected to be $678,901.

In his presentation to the council on behalf of Valley-Wide, general manager Dean Wetter reported that the cost to the city to contract with Valley-Wide for those services would be $586,104 per year -- more than $90,000 less than the city's estimate.

But there are many other factors involved when trying to compare the benefits of city-controlled parks vs. Valley-Wide parks. Council members also had trouble comparing the financial aspects. City staff presented a packet with pages of financial analysis. Valley-Wide's presentation was much simpler, stressing its years of success and potential for improving west-side parks, and included only three dollar figures: Cost of landscaping, cost of parks and center operation, and the total cost to the city.

What council members want to see in the May 7 meeting is a comparison, line by line, of the financial details of each proposal.

"I'd like to see both groups come back with the same numbers on the same piece of paper, so we can truly compare," said council member John Denver. "How can we compare three numbers to 3,000 numbers?"

Council member Greg August finally made a motion to hold over the discussion a week until the next council meeting, at which time a vote would be taken on the issue after more detailed discussion.

"I understand the urgency of this," August said. "My suggestion is we take a break from this for a week, do some more homework, then come back for a straight-up vote. We've spent enough time on this to make a decision by then."

Council member Tom Fuhrman, who was out of town Wednesday, will be back next week to give the council a full voting body.




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