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Parks and Rec has changes in mind

Jenifer Ragland

A group of South Shore community leaders are determined to change the future of recreation.

Packed into a small room at the Recreation Complex Wednesday, about 15 people representing a variety of local agencies heard options, brainstormed ideas and began to feel the energy of a movement.

At the end of a nearly two-hour discussion, the group came to consensus – pursue forming a Recreation Joint Powers Authority with several South Shore government agencies and campaign for a special tax to fund the JPA.

“We have a significant opportunity to change the dynamics of what recreation is in this community,” said Carl Ribaudo, director of Strategic Marketing Group. “I think there’s an opportunity to really change the world here.”

The steering committee was formed a few months ago to research and investigate possible funding sources and alternative management for the South Lake Tahoe Parks & Recreation Department.

Hit hard by city budget cuts under Destination 2000, the department will be forced to become self-sustaining in two to three years, as the city’s annual subsidy for recreation is reduced by $400,000.

“We can’t stand still – we either move forward or we fall back,” said Don Radford, the Parks and Recreation Department director whose position will be eliminated due to budget cuts. “We know we need to do something.”

Other options the group considered were a recreation district for the South Shore of Lake Tahoe and the possibility of including parks and recreation under the jurisdiction of the South Tahoe Public Utility District. The primary concern of the group has always been finding some form of steady revenue source, most likely in the form of a tax or fee imposed on residents.

In analyzing the options in terms of legal, political and financial feasibility – and taking into consideration the recently passed Proposition 218 – City Attorney Dennis Crabb recommended to the group the option they eventually agreed upon.

According to Crabb, the JPA should include the city of South Lake Tahoe, El Dorado County, Lake Tahoe Unified School District and the Lake Tahoe Community College District. Members of each governing board would either serve or appoint someone else to serve on the Recreation JPA board.

If a special tax measure is passed by two-thirds of voters turning out at the polls in June 1998, the assessment – an amount likely between $20 and $50 per year – would be paid by all property owners in El Dorado County within the Lake Tahoe Basin, Crabb said.

Assuming there are about 50,000 parcels in that area, $20 per year could generate as much as $1 million toward recreation improvements, including new bike trails, more sports fields and completing the Bijou Community Park Master Plan.

The group agreed a study would be done to outline the area’s recreation needs and indicate projects that would be doable in a reasonable amount of time.

While the opportunity to finally build Golden Bear Park was also discussed, members of the committee agreed not to include the controversial topic in the campaign.

“You can say no to a specific project, but you can’t say no to the idea of more recreation,” Ribaudo said. “That’s like voting against mom and apple pie.”

City Councilwoman Margo Osti concurred.

“There is much more that we need in this community than Golden Bear,” she said. “If we make it a Golden Bear fight, we’re going to be in trouble.”

After some debate over how much the tax should be, when the campaign should be run and whether a JPA was the best alternative, the majority of the committee seemed enthused to take action.

“I don’t want to wait until ’99. It can happen now – I think we can do it,” said Kerry David, a member of the County Service Area 3 board and the LTCC board of trustees.

Each representative will go back to their respective agencies and introduce the concept of a JPA, with the intent of meeting again on July 2 to report the reactions.

Because the county’s involvement will be critical, Steve Yonker, president of the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce and member of CSA 3, was directed to “float” the idea to El Dorado County Supervisor John Upton, who represents Tahoe.

Upton, in a previous interview, indicated his willingness to explore ways of bettering recreation in the basin.

“Maybe recreation needs to be looked at another way, and I think an independent single-purpose mission may be appropriate,” he said. “Certainly there will be some issues of difficulty – it’s not by any means a minor task, but it is certainly something worth looking at.”


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