Too little green " on the field, in the bank
A crowd of angry people crowded the Buttermaker’s Cottage Wednesday night at Western Gateway Park to hear how the park district’s board plans to salvage the popular but financially strapped park.
In recent months, two board members have resigned, and the high cost to maintain the park’s ailing infrastructure has come to light. Past efforts to raise parcel assessments to support the park have fizzled.
Out in the fading sun, men played basketball and couples walked their dogs around fields of brown grass.
“I just think it’s bogus … They pretty much just let it die,” said Sherry Strong, who lives nearby. She came to the meeting to find out why the park board let the grass die around the play structures where her children used to play when they were small.
Residents who use the park voiced frustration over problems such as tennis courts that need resurfacing, a history of disconnect between the board and the community and confusion over how the special district operates separate from county government.
Others said they loved the park and wanted to help, but didn’t know how.
“We want to help, but we want to know where the money is going,” another woman said, suggesting fundraising concerts could be held on the park’s pavilion stage.
Greg Peterson, a retired sheriff’s lieutenant from Sacramento, and bookkeeper Valerie Lashbaugh were introduced by chairman Bill Howland as the selected choices to fill board seats vacated by Gerri Garcia and Michael Green.
“This thing’s a gem, and we ought to make it good,” Peterson said.
Some in the audience of about 40 people expressed disappointment that the park did not post notices of the available positions in the newspaper. Instead, the vacancies were posted in front of a local Penn Valley store and at the park for 15 days, as required by the Nevada County Elections Office.
“I don’t understand why you posted in these little places,” one woman said, adding she commutes to work and doesn’t always shop at her local market.
Others scrutinized the park’s budget and questioned why basic maintenance wasn’t getting done.
Each year, the 88 acre park subsists on a budget of $105,000 that comes from property taxes and mitigation fees. Of that money, about $70,000 covers the salaries of two and a half employees, said Mary Lee Allen, district business manager for the park.
“Trust me, I don’t think you would like to get paid what I get paid,” Allen said.
“Maintenance is deferred everywhere in this park,” she added.
In May, an irrigation system pump and controller broke. By the time the park repaired the outdated equipment, the grass had turned brown.
The county is holding onto about $300,000 for the park to use for improvements once it establishes a master plan, but that money is not meant to be used for maintenance.
“It’s like I have my hands tied behind me trying to maintain the park,” Allen said.
Next week, a special meeting has been called and board members will vote to install Lashbaugh and Peterson and deal with a number of other items, including establishing volunteer committees to move the park forward.
To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4231.
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