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Parks priorities have been pared down by COVID-19

My hope is that this short column will inform Ashland residents about how the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission is using the capital improvement project funds that are available to the commission.

CIP funds are designated for projects that add to or replace the infrastructure of an organization. These funds are designated for things other than daily operational costs such as supplies, wages, permits and day-to-day expenses.

CIP funds are used by APRC to build parks, improve irrigation systems, resurface tennis courts and add amenities to existing parks and other properties.

The lion’s share of the CIP money available for APRC comes from the voter-approved food and beverage tax. The tax is 5%, and APRC receives 25% of it. This revenue is being used to pay for the remaining debt of past-completed projects, including Calle Guanajuato improvements, Garfield Park improvements completed in 2018, and the purchase of the Briscoe playground fields from the Ashland School District.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, APRC has had to dramatically adjust. We laid off six regular staff members and put a hiring freeze on temporary hires. We lost all of our 2020 recreation program revenue because we are not able to sponsor any recreation programs. We are reassigning personnel to jobs they would not normally be doing. And we are doing our job by adjusting our budget to meet the reduced revenue expectations due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 shutdown.

Over the past several months, the APRC board and staff have analyzed what our future funding levels might be as we move forward under the cloud of COVID-19. We know what our debt obligations are for the next several years. After we have accounted for these obligations, we needed to reevaluate our priorities on projects moving forward. Revenue dedicated to CIP projects for APRC currently amounts to about $550,000. We had a list of close to 10 projects for which we had created budgets and that we were intending to act on over the next couple of years. This list is now down to three.

Replacing the Daniel Meyer Memorial Pool has been our No. 1 goal for several years. We intend to honor our commitment to the public by committing $325,000 of our available project funds for the pool replacement. This is only a portion of the revenue we will need to replace the pool, but it will help us establish a funding base as we move forward with the project.

Second on our list is the design and phased construction of the neighborhood park on East Main, near Clay Street. This park is being planned to accommodate a second dog park, a bike skills facility, a community garden and other amenities. We have designated $125,000 to be added to a fund that we have for this project. This new park fills the void of a neighborhood park in this part of our town.

We are also earmarking $100,000 for resurfacing of the Hunter Park tennis courts. This facility is beginning to fail and needs regularly scheduled maintenance. Our goal is to bring the courts back up to quality status. We also hope to find a solution for relocating pickleball to a location that benefits both pickleball and tennis players.

While making necessary adjustments to our budget with regard to both personnel and projects, APRC wants the community to know that we are doing our best to meet the needs and expectations of the citizens of Ashland.

Mike Gardiner is chair of APRC.

Daniel Meyer Memorial Pool