Rolla voters have twice turned down a sales tax that would raise money to maintain parks, and the city is preparing for the worst on April 7.


Rolla voters have twice turned down a sales tax that would raise money to maintain parks, and the city is preparing for the worst on April 7.
“What is our plan if Prop P does not pass?” Mayor Louis Magdits IV asked in his opening remarks at a Rolla City Council workshop Monday night.
The answer was explored over the course of the next 90 minutes in a discussion led by Rolla Parks and Recreation Scott Caron with additional information provided by City Administrator John Butz.
In a nutshell, here’s what will have to happen, Caron said:
• Most parks and rights of way would not be mowed. Only Ber Juan, Schuman and Green Acres parks, the ACORN Trail and the cemetery would be mowed.
• The council would pass a motion to designate the parks that are not mowed as bird sanctuaries to conform to a city ordinance.
• Athletic field use would be curtailed.
• User fees for the fields would be increased by motion of the city council.
• The council would pass a motion to change its policy, allowing the charging of youth to use the ballfields.
• Playground equipment would be removed from parks as the equipment deteriorates and is deemed unsafe, for there would be no money for repairs or replacements.
“None of these are easy or fun things to do,” Caron said.
Caron gave a slide presentation that quickly looked at the holdings in the parks, the division of the parks from the recreation center, as well as revenues and expenses.
Revenue for the parks comes from property taxes, $240,000; fees and charges, $229,560; and the general fund transfer, $250,000.
“The parks department has no ability to generate additional revenues, aside from fees and charges,” Caron said. “If we did a 20 percent increase in fees and charges, that would raise $50,000.” That is not enough to cover the general fund transfer, which will have to be eliminated after this fiscal year, for it is needed for fire and police departments.
Parks expenses are $478,687 for personnel, $74,128 for services, $59,391 for supplies and $44,901 for maintenance.
“Staffing is our biggest expense,” Caron said. Seasonal full-time employees are the main ones that do the work in the parks daily during the spring, summer and fall. They pick up the trash in the 100 trash cans in the parks. In 18 of the 34 parks, they empty those cans twice a week.
There is also a mowing crew out every day during the season.
“It takes about an hour to mow an acre,” Caron said. The city has 325 acres of parkland, plus the 40-acre Rolla Cemetery.
If the tax proposal fails and more cutbacks are necessary, “we’ll mow less than 100 acres,” Caron said, and 40 of those regularly mowed acres will be the cemetery, although weed trimming around the gravestones will likely not be done with each mowing.
“We have more acres of parks than a lot of communities, and we spend less,” Caron said.
That’s likely the reason a public opinion survey on city services shows that “In every area, Rolla exceeds the median (among other cities in Missouri and Kansas) or sets the bar—except one, parks and recreation.”
There have already been reductions in the staff, both the permanent staff and the seasonal staff, and there will be further reductions if Proposition P fails; the next cut will be an equipment operator, leaving just one who will have to be on call seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, Caron said.
“We’ve taken water and electricity out of service in some areas,” Caron said. That wasn’t necessarily to make cuts; it was because of equipment failure and no money to make repairs..
Caron said selling parks is an option. He listed seven that might bring $75,000 on the market. The problem, he said, is that most of the parks have something that detracts from their selling price. For instance, Murry Park on 10th Street near the junction with Pine Tree Road has a sewer main running across it.
Butz said the financial woes worsen in fiscal years 2016, 2017 and 2018.
“Our first priority over the next three years is to rebuild cash reserves in the general fund followed by a competitive pay system for employees and then investment in deferred replacement items,” he said. Pumping $250,000 into the park fund hinders that.
Butz said the city’s “unrestricted cash balance” of $900,000 in the general fund is insufficient for the monthly cash flow, and often transfers and loans from other funds must be made to have the working capital needed to pay the city’s bills.
“To simply transfer more dollars from the general fund to the park fund is simply not an option for us,” Butz said.
Magdits said none of this information, while negative, should be taken as threats.
“This is about proving the need with the facts,” Magdits said. “We’re not here to threaten.”
Continuing, the mayor said, “We need Rolla citizens to turn out to vote.” A high turnout would likely help the city pass the tax, but Rolla voters do not generally turn out in high percentages to select their local government or vote on local issues in April.
“If Proposition P doesn’t pass, we’re going to have to implement (changes and cuts in services) almost the next day.” Magdits said.