To better serve the community and improve the park system, the Jefferson City Parks and Recreation Commission approved keeping more than $1 million in its 2019 budget to help fund projects in the parks master plan.
During a special meeting Thursday, the commission approved labeling the $1,060,000 debt service payment as a "master plan implementation" line item in the budget. Earlier this year, the commission received a finalized parks master plan, which lays out improvements to the Jefferson City parks system over the next 20 years.
"That money is in the budget to spend. That money is in our fund balance," said Todd Spalding, Jefferson City Parks, Recreation and Forestry director. "That way we can go ahead and get started on the time-sensitive projects, like Community Park."
This would allow Parks staff to also grow accustomed to working with that amount in the budget ahead of a possible debt service and shows the commission's intention to reinvest that money into the community, Chairman Brad Bates said.
"I'm more than just changing the wording," said commissioner Bill Plank, who proposed the change. "I want to make sure we build those funds into the budget, put taxpayer funds to good use. If that becomes debt service at some point, then we can know that we can operate with it comfortably. In the meantime, we are implementing the master plan, providing features from taxpayer dollars that we collect."
This amount will act as a placeholder, commissioners said, until they can decide which projects they hope to implement from the master plan.
"I feel we need more time to vet the projects and the scope of work for each," commissioner Bob Weber said in an email to the commission.
While Weber agreed with keeping an amount in the budget as a placeholder, he requested a bond payment be decreased to $530,000 a year, while doing $7.5 million worth of projects. If the commission decided to do a $15 million bond for 20 years, he said, the commission would pay $6.2 million in interest.
There are still many hoops the Parks department must jump through regarding the debt service payment and bond, Spalding said. The City Council also would have to approve any debt service payments by the department, he added.
"Whether or not we approve this dollar amount in there, it still has to go through many, many processes before it's approved," Spalding said. "This is just a way to give you an idea of what it would look like in our budget if we kept that number."
By reinvesting money into the parks, Bates and Plank said, they hope the department will see a return on its investment in the long run. However, the money must be used to better the parks, Plank added.
"If we can increase usership and the number of people active in our community, and position Jefferson City in a good spot, I think the bonds make sense," Plank said. "If we do it just to make our parking lots prettier and that doesn't help our community, that doesn't make us good stewards."
The commission also approved adding a program specialist to the budget for $50,427.
Weber questioned the large number of pink sheet requests "with the narrative of buying these items now, so future monies could be dedicated to the master plan." Pink sheets are funding requests from city departments.
Spalding presented the Parks department's proposed budget earlier this month to the Jefferson City Budget Committee, including the department's pink sheets.
In the mayor-approved budget, Mayor Carrie Tergin funded all of the Parks department's pink sheet requests — nearly 60 pink sheets for a total of more than $1.8 million. That included the $1 million debt service, computers, picnic tables, heavy-duty bucket truck, benches and grills.
The Parks department has not "spent much on capital items," Spalding said, because it wanted to hold back funds for The Linc wellness center, a partnership between the department and Lincoln University that opened in February 2017.
"Now we see a strong (Parks) fund balance again," Spalding said. "We have The Linc paid for, so let's look forward and try to catch up (on capital expenditures)."
Spalding presented the commission-approved budget to the budget committee Thursday, causing some confusion among committee members as there was conflicting information and typos between the mayor-approved budget and approved Parks commission budget. City staff plans to work with Parks to correct some of the typos in the mayor-approved budget and the budget committee.