Friends & Neighbors,
In my Shine a Light Report last week I asked for your support during the current budget cycle to ensure the City makes wise choices regarding the future of our parks and recreation programs. Boiled down to basics the issue is this: Shall the city spend parks tax revenue to pay for current salaries and expenses related to existing parks and thereby make available more general revenue to spend on street repairs OR shall the city apply the parks tax revenue for new parks facilities and recreation programs?
The current draft budget for 2020 shows revenue at $4.9 million; total spending at $4.4 million of which about $1.5 million is devoted to street maintenance and repairs and other capital improvements (including streets and other types of capital improvements). The draft budget proposes to hold onto parks tax money for use in creating new parks facilities as described below.
The Board of Aldermen are going to review the draft budget on Tuesday, Nov. 5 during a special workshop meeting. The meeting begins at 7:00 pm but we will not take up the budget until 8:00, so if you want to observe the discussions or to make your opinions known, please plan to attend at 8:00. The budget will be considered again on Wednesday, Nov 6. The business meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:00. We provide the public the opportunity to speak during Open Forum, so you can share your views with the Board of Aldermen on Wednesday at the 7:00 meeting.
The Aldermen and I want to hear from you. Please come to City Hall on Tuesday and/or Wednesday to share your views with us. Let us know if you agree with the path forward for parks and recreation.
A path forward for parks and recreation
The Dardenne Prairie City Hall Park is a destination visited by residents and non-residents. You know how popular it is during any day the weather permits outdoor activities. The city financed the park’s construction along with the City Hall. Some citizens complained about the cost at the time that project was started but we hear no complaints now that the finished product is enjoyed by so many patrons.
We have the opportunity now to create another destination park by expanding and upgrading the Ball Fields next to City Hall. In late 2015 the Board of Aldermen approved an agreement to receive the donation of title to the 4.5 acre Dardenne Athletic Fields next to City Hall in exchange for the City to make capital improvements to the fields and a commitment to use our best efforts to promote youth sports, particularly baseball and softball. The details and costs of those improvements were to be determined later.
In 2016 the City hired a design firm to help develop designs for expanded parks facilities. We learned that the cost of new parks and recreation programs would require additional revenue. In 2017 the City asked the voters of Dardenne Prairie to approve a one-half cent sales tax to fund Parks and Stormwater projects. Among other things, we told the voters that the extra revenue could finance expansion of facilities and programs so we could serve a broad spectrum of ages and interests beyond youth softball and baseball. We specifically mentioned a Community Center as an example of such new, expanded facilities.
We proposed the sales tax instead of a property tax because sales taxes are paid by residents and non-residents alike, just as patrons of our park facilities are residents and non-residents.
In 2018 we hired a consulting firm to develop a Parks Master Plan which recommended expanding the ball park and sports facilities, expanding walking and biking trails and building a community center.
With patience and prudent planning, the City can deliver all three components of an expanded parks and recreation program.
The City is participating in the Great Rivers Greenway/St. Charles County Master Plan for walking and biking trails. Two likely elements of the master plan affecting Dardenne Prairie would be (1) connecting the greenway path in Bluebird Meadow to the path across Dardenne Creek in O’Fallon and (2) repair of the walking trail along Henning Road. Because the master planning process is still underway and priorities will be set by GRG and others and not unilaterally by Dardenne Prairie, I see the trail project coming to fruition in several years.
The idea of a community center is still being considered. We have examined some alternatives including a partnership with one or more entities to share the cost of construction and operation. This is a project that may be ripe for development in a couple of years.
The Ball Field Project is in front of us now. The Board of Aldermen approved the purchase of an additional 2 acres to enable us to build a new field, a modern restroom facility and a maintenance garage for all the city’s equipment. We are revising the scope of the project in order to reduce costs from the architects’ projected cost of $3.1 million. It is now clear that the $1.5 million estimate we developed in house was too low. The $3.1 million estimate from the architects is too high.
We are tasking our construction manager to develop a new estimate by reviewing the most expensive elements of the project. The maintenance shed: Currently estimated at $552,000 based on a design of 80 X 60, red iron building furnished with offices, HVAC, Electric, and plumbing. We will ask for a new estimate based on a 60 X 60 building, pole barn with short wall on three sides, (expandable in the future if needed) wired for electricity and stubbed for plumbing. We will weigh the option of a concrete floor versus a gravel floor. This should reduce the cost below $200,000. The Parking Lot: We can save about a third of the cost of paving the parking lot if we use asphalt instead of concrete. Modern restroom facilities: We can reduce the cost of the restroom/storage building by eliminating the covered “lanai” with shaded outdoor seating area. (although that was a very nice feature)
We have some opportunity to save more money if we do not improve fields 1 & 2 and leave existing fences there. The possible consequence of cheaping out on the project is loss of participation in the spring and fall leagues. Installing new lights on field 3 but leaving the old lights on fields 1 & 2 require 2 different electrical systems, reducing the net savings.
We have considered lights other than the Musco lights that would run $400,000 for 3 fields. We note three things: The savings would likely not exceed 25%; the ambient light produced by lesser quality lights is noticeably greater than the Musco LED lights (significant to the people in Wyndham Meadows) and the maintenance and warranties offered by Musco are superior to competing companies.
Our City Hall Park is a destination visited by residents and non-residents. An improved sports field (including pickle ball/tennis courts) would also be a destination if it is done well. For that reason, I have rejected a suggestion that we leave the existing cinder block building and continue to use porta potties in order to save the cost of the new restroom/storage facility.
How do we pay for ball fields and a community center with new programs, and trails? I still consider financing to be a prudent choice. We can have the means to pay for construction starting in 2020 and recoup what we spent to purchase the additional 2 acres thus adding to a growing balance in the parks tax fund. That growing reserve could be applied to the community center project. If that project proceeds we can put up for sale the city-owned 10 acres at Post and N ) adding seven figures to the funds available for the community center project.
The Parks and Stormwater funds will continue to accrue (there is no sunset) enabling the city to support new projects and, in due course, to tackle a bridge across Dardenne Creek to connect walking trails.
If, instead, the city spends Parks tax money on current operations, we will not accrue funds sufficient to tackle parks and recreation projects. Let’s work together to develop a plan to finish the ball field project, to develop (if possible) a joint use community center, and to improve and expand walking and biking trails.
“Shine a Light on City Government”
DAVID C. ZUCKER
City of Dardenne Prairie, MO