The resounding No from the Livermore Recreation and Park District to the city of Livermore on the subject of a joint venture was notable.
The park district has been brutally hit by the state decision to shift property tax revenue to education that took place a number of years ago. It’s been a $6 million hit to the park district from its primary revenue source—property tax. Unlike cities that have multiple sources of tax revenue, the park district survives on property tax plus user fees for its services.
With the state diverting up to 60 percent of that revenue stream, the district has survived with a lean staff. Its boundaries largely overlap with the cities and the vast majority of its constituents are also residents of Livermore.
The city had proposed a sensible approach—set up the park and recreation district as an enterprise fund within the city operation. Enterprise funds (similar to water and sewer designated accounts) operate as stand-alone funds independent of the general fund.
The city and some forward-thinking park district directors (notably the now retired Scott Kamena) had suggested a merger given the tough finances of the park district and the city’s broader revenue stream.
By becoming part of the city, the property tax shift would have been reduced to the city’s level, returning more local money to the parks/recreation operation, according to the city viewpoint. It appeared to be a win-win, except for the board of directors who presumably would move into an advisory role without direct accountability to the voters for budget and operations.
District officials debate whether the calculation on the property tax shift would change, arguing that it would not.
From a bit of a distance, it has the appearance of turf protection instead of looking out for constituents. If the property tax calculation would work, that would mean as much as an additional $4 million for district operations. If that doesn’t happen, consolidation should save overhead from office and administrative staff allowing for more money to go to services for residents.
The city had a demonstrated record of balancing varying interests—it’s easily the smallest city in the county that operates its own library and has done so for decades in good times and challenging economic times.
It’s unfortunate that the park district directors did not at least have the conversation. Checking out options always is a good idea and it’s ironic that they flat out rejected that opportunity in a community that has pioneered cooperation between its public agencies.