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Commission gives budget priority to parks and recreation

Sheila Gardner

County commissioners agreed to leave intact $2.5 million in room tax-funded projects within the parks and recreation department budget, setting high priority for Topaz Lake and Lampe Park playground renovations.

Commissioners also voted Thursday to remove $1.6 million set aside for Dangberg home ranch and $240,000 for a recreation center out of appropriated reserves to expendable funds.

Appropriated reserves cannot be spent during the current fiscal year. By moving the items to expendable funds, the board cleared the way for the money to spent.

Scott Morgan, director of community services-parks and recreation, said the goal of his department was to bring forward already funded projects that would enhance the system without adding burdensome operation and maintenance costs.

“Heavy emphasis from the Parks and Recreation Commission was placed on facilities which generate additional revenue above and beyond expenses, and those projects which do not adversely affect operation and maintenance cost,” he said in a presentation to the board.

In approving $17,000 for improvements to the Douglas County Fairgrounds, commissioner Kelly Kite urged greater promotion of the facility.

“We probably have the best fairgrounds in the state of Nevada,” he said. “I don’t believe it’s promoted enough. It would be a huge revenue generator if we allowed it to be. The fairgrounds could bring in a lot of big money.”

Morgan said the fairgrounds is reserved almost every weekend and plans are under consideration to create a campground at the Pinenut Road site which would bring revenue through hookups. Kite urged the department to market the facility so it’s used all week.

“If it’s used every weekend and we still have a $100,000 operating loss, then our fees must be too low,” said Commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen.

Funds for the Lampe Park playground, totaling nearly $60,000, have been carried over for three years to accumulate sufficient money for a complete restoration.

“We have one new playground structure and the rest are old, metal structures that we can’t get parts for,” Morgan told commissioners.

He said the sand “fall protection” is not acceptable under federal standards to make the area accessible for people with disabilities and needs to be replaced.

Morgan said the Topaz Park project could begin as early as this summer depending on what South County residents decide they want.

The board also approved budgeting for a $221,000 covered pavilion at Aspen Park which will be funded through set-aside residential construction tax funds.

The day-long budget policy workshop included presentations on the East Fork Fire and Paramedic districts, vehicle maintenance and motor pool, and other capital improvement programs to be funded from the county construction, ad valorem capital improvement and general fund.

Commissioners have scheduled public hearings March 25-27.

Commissioner Don Miner told department heads and elected officials to come prepared to tell him what services and personnel they can eliminate to cut revenue.

“If it’s up to me to make that decision, I will decide, but I probably will be wrong,” Miner said. “I’d much rather managers come forward and identify the areas in which we can make the reductions.”

Clerk-treasurer Barbara Reed asked commissioners to identify “sacred cows” which would not be cut to avoid last year’s conflict that occurred when department heads spent time eliminating programs only to have the board put them back in.

District Attorney Scott Doyle emphasized the importance of the board making their budget decisions under public scrutiny.

“It’s absolutely essential that you discuss this publicly so the people we serve understand what’s going to happen,” Doyle said. “The board will make hard decisions after the department managers make hard decisions. You’ll get plenty of recommendations, you’ll have to chose among them.”

Miner concurred.

“I think this dialogue is absolutely necessary,” Miner said. “People need to feel the pain until they can invest in the future of Douglas County. We have to do what we have to do for the future of Douglas County. If the general fund is $500,000 out of balance, then we have to reduce expenditures accordingly until the revenue returns or we create new revenue.”