Fresno City Council members got a cold dose of reality Thursday as analysts presented them with the estimated price tag to replace worn-out equipment and facilities at city parks within the next 10 years: a whopping $113 million.
And that, planning manager Sophia Pagoulatos said, doesn’t include the everyday costs of maintaining and operating parks, playgrounds, swimming pools and community centers across the city. Nor does it include how much it will cost to make any upgrades or improvements to existing parks and facilities, or the capital costs and ongoing maintenance costs for any new parks that the city develops in the future.
Pagoulatos’ presentation was a workshop to acquaint City Council members about the needs of existing parks as the city forges ahead with a new Parks Master Plan. The plan, when it comes to fruition later this year, will establish a long-range vision for the recreational needs of city residents as well as spending priorities on existing and future parks facilities.
An inventory of the city’s parks assets, not counting the value of the land itself, shows a preliminary estimate of value of $266 million. “Of that, how much do we have to spend to replace assets that are going to be so deteriorated that they’ll be at the end of their useful life in 10 years?” Pagoulatos asked. “That number is $112.7 million.”
Pagoulatos described how the 10-year replacement costs represent the first, and most critical, of three “buckets” of money that will be considered in a parks master plan. Bucket 2, to which a dollar value has yet to be assigned, would deal with the costs of any improvements or upgrades to park facilities – beyond replacement of existing equipment – that are identified as community desires in the parks plan. Examples, she said, might include replacing a wading pool with a splash park or a swimming pool, or taking out a tennis court and replacing it with a basketball court.
We’re in Bucket 1, and it’s going to be difficult just to come to grips with that.
Fresno City Councilman Paul Caprioglio, on the cost for upkeep at city parks
Also unknown at this point is how much would be needed in Bucket 3 for what Pagoulatos and City Manager Bruce Rudd described as “visionary” plans such as investments for new parks in the city. That will depend on an analysis of gaps in service and geographic disparities of park access to be identified in community meetings planned for this spring.
“The reason we’re bringing this to you, before we go into the community and have these conversations, is that it’s important for you to know what this number is,” Rudd said of the Bucket 1 replacement costs. “We want to temper expectations with the reality of the situation for people in the community who are going to come to us on any Thursday and ask us to build new parks. … There’s got to be a conversation around maintaining what we already own.”
The numbers were nothing short of eye-opening for the city council. “I’m in shock; this is a shocking reality,” Councilman Paul Caprioglio said. “We’re only in Bucket 1, and it’s going to be difficult just to come to grips with that.”
Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria said it’s important to be realistic about the upkeep costs of current parks and facilities. “But I don’t want the community to not be able to envision what our parks system can be,” she said.
We want to be realistic, but I don’t want to discourage the community from having a great vision (for parks).
Fresno City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria
While the capital estimate doesn’t include operating and maintenance costs, the discussion prompted Councilman Steve Brandau to think aloud about the prospect of privatizing park maintenance as a means of saving money. “I’m not talking about privatizing the parks,” he said. “But could we trade naming rights for any individual park (in exchange) for maintenance of that park?”
Council President Clint Olivier floated an even more radical idea: splitting the parks department off as its own public agency, separate from the city “with its own elected board so it can set its own agenda.” Such a proposal wouldn’t necessarily reduce costs, but it would shift them out of the city’s budget.
“With the budgetary reality, and facing a recession that we know is coming, it doesn’t bode well for hanging on to parks,” Olivier said. “Something drastic and revolutionary is needed if we’re going to deliver the kind of parks that our community wants.”