Greenways Levy Money Used for AstroTurf

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Sun, Jun 30, 2013, 11:28 am  //  John Servais

March 25, 2013 City Council meeting - voting Greenways funds to resurface Arne Hanna swimming pool. See July 1, am comments by Anderson and Servais.

Update July 2, 9 am:   I will post more on Wednesday about the 6-1 approval to spend Greenways money.  I have not yet listened to the council discussion, and Gene's angry speech, because the BTV10 sound was dead for online live council meeting.  It was restored a while after I contacted the tech who did not realize there was no sound.  I spoke during the comment time, then sat watching the council have a crazy confused argument about road safety that made no sense to me - and realized that other than 5 students who probably had to be there, I was the only citizen not out enjoying a fine evening.  So I went home and intended to see what they said an hour later when they got to that item on their agenda.  Reading lips and body language is not enough.  Tomorrow.  Thanks Wendy for updating the info.  I suspect she was watching it on TV which I did not have access to.  

Update 8:30 am July 1:  Have added the graphic of the council using Greenways Levy funds for resurfacing the Arne Hanna swimming pool.   City Hall seems comfortable using our special levy fund for most any sorts of maintenance.  I will be looking for other projects that have used the funds this way.  We can now expect a comment saying I'm against swimming pools.  

Update 3:30 pm:   To quote a comment below from council member Michael Lilliquist:  "To answer your specific questions (from your blog and your email): now is certainly the time to raise any objections."   A further reply to his comment will follow this evening.  He nit picks but has no defense for this expenditure beyond the facts laid out in my article.

Update 1:00 pm:  If someone tells you that this $500,000 is not being approved Monday evening because it was approved last fall, then you should know that this bill enables the spending of the money that was budgeted last fall.  Same difference.  The vote Monday evening will effectively spend the money.  Confusing processes like this are what enable the city to spend money without our knowing about it.  As a very high ranking city employee told me recently - in losing John Carter to Everett, we are losing the only person in city hall who understands the budget.  Sad.

Posted 11:28 am

The Greenways Fund is again being dipped into by the Bellingham City Council to pay for AstroTurf at Civic Field. This is hardly the use we intended when we voted for this special fund.  We intended the fund for acquisition of land for trails and to preserve special forests and maintain them. 

"Greenways" is a direct reference to trails - and all the campaigning to pass the three multi-million dollar levies involved a promise that the funds would be carefully invested in our connecting trail system.  Now, the Greenways  Advisory Board is apparently just fine letting the City Council dip in to help pay for plastic grass on a football field. 

Western pays a very small annual fee to use the field for soccer and other sports.  User fees should be levied for the use of the field - to the school districts and anyone else who uses the field - so the plastic surface can be maintained.

The council said they did not have enough money left in the Greenways fund to pay more for the Chuckanut Ridge land purchase, so a levy has been passed in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city to pay $50 to $200 a year per household to pay off the balance. This council decision to spend $500,000 of the Greenways fund for plastic grass on Civic Field for Western means the poor households in Happy Valley are subsidizing the sports program for Western Washington University.  Anyone who cares to take issue with that, feel free. 

But this is not the first time.  In 2000, the city used almost a million dollars of Greenways funds to install the original plastic playing field at the stadium, a total violation of the promise made to citizens during the campaign for the levy. In the years since, I have asked Greenways Committee members about it and all have said it should not have been done.  Well, those same committee members appear to be quietly allowing it to happen again. Again, I raise the question - let them comment here and answer - or post somewhere else and I will link. 

I'm as green and enviro as they come, but next time the city asks for another Greenways Levy, we may all want to question what we are voting for. We may think we are voting for trails, park land, preservation of sensitive woodland, maintenance of trails and such, but in reality, we may simply be subsidizing other city projects that have nothing to do with what we were promised.

Any Greenways Advisory Committee members who want to comment or explain or defend this spending of funds for plastic grass for football and soccer, please do so.  And please also tell us why we should vote for the next Greenways levy if this is how past levies are being spent.  Heck, I invite any council member to comment as well.

Don't like this expenditure?  Let the council and mayor know.  Phone, email or attend Monday's meeting and speak.  With this post on NWCitizen, they will all have read it by Monday afternoon and will be waiting to see if anyone is concerned.  My posts on this website are just shouting into the wind and easily ignored by city council if readers do not act on the information that bothers them.  Posting your thoughts here will help.  I assure you, they do read them.

Related Links:

-> City Council bill 20036 - $500,000 Greenways for civic stadium plastic grass
-> Greenways Levy presentation to city council Jan 23, 2006 - civic field mentioned but not in budget

Marian Beddill  //  Sun, Jun 30, 2013, 1:30 pm

I am in agreement with John.  Artificial turf on a sports field is not my idea of an environmental greenway.

Please show up at City Council on Monday - 7:pm - open comment period, and express your objection to spending Greenways Funds for the Civic Field stuff.


Michael Lilliquist  //  Sun, Jun 30, 2013, 3:14 pm

{Copy of an email reply sent from my City of Bellingham email address.]

John,

You raise some issues that deserve discussion. Although I do not have all the information to answer at the moment, let me offer a few observations, clarifications, and an opinion or two.

To answer your specific questions (from your blog and your email): now is certainly the time to raise any objections. The project was given “budget approval” last December, but that is not the same as actually awarding the contract for work. Monday’s agenda has two items: 1) awarding the actual $400K bid award, and also 2) the budget amendment to free up the $180K to help pay for the project. By my calculations, that leaves $300K to be paid for by other means (300K + 180K = 480K total estimated project cost). That $300K is slated presumedly to come from Greenways III (out of a total $500K authorized in the 2012 budget).

By the way, it’s somewhat inaccurate to describe the $180K as “general funds,” in that the source of that money is WWU, as annual payments for use of Civic Field, and should therefor be used only for expenses related to Civic Field. Given this, I would say the $180K is the least controversial aspect of the funding scheme. [By the way, approx. $30,000 is not a “very small” annual fee by my estimation.]

As you know, Greenways III was not all about acquisition nor was it all about trails. The name exists for historical reasons, but has become somewhat misleading. In Greenways III, a proposed $13.7 million (31% of total) was targeted for development of currently owned park properties. The 2006 ordinance refers repeatedly to parks and greenways and public open spaces, not just trails. Moreover, some of the original named projects are not trails at all, but traditional “destination” parks (Squalicum Creek Park, Northridge Park, Cornwall Park, and Lake Padden fields). In other words, just because Civic Field is not a trail does not mean that it is necessarily inappropriate for Greenways. I think it is an open question based on the voter-approved allocation scheme; a matter of judgment and choice within broad limits set by that allocation scheme.

In addition, it is important to realize that the original allocation scheme was not set in stone. The revenue total was based on projections and estimates. Some projects have not gone forward, some have cost more or less than expected, and some properties have been dropped from the strategic plan by the Greenways Committee and the City Council. This means that monies have been re-assigned within the broad categories—but not, to my knowledge, between categories.  In other words, I certainly hope that the funds for Civic Field are coming from the “development” portion, not the “acquisition portion.” I also hope that these funds do not come at the expense of any of the development projects initially outlined in the 2006 ordinance. These are points worth pursuing for clarification. Many of those development projects have seen considerable progress if not completion. This is just background. It sets the stage for answering the question: is there $300K available in Greenways III development portion to spend?

So here are my opinions. First, separate from the funding issue, I am in favor of the Civic field project. Civic Field is a general community benefit, for schools and clubs across the city and county, as well as for private entities for rental. In that regard, it is the same as all our other major parks and recreational facilities. Second, I would support the use of Greenways funds for this project only if they come from the development portion, and only if they do not come at the expense of any of the projects originally on the list. Those projects have a clear priority claim. Which brings us back to the key question in my view: is $300K available? I will make my final decision based on the answer to that key question.

Another point of clarification. The Council did not say that there was not enough money in Greenways to pay for all of Chuckanut Ridge; that would be a great oversimplification. There was more money available, but payment of the total bill for that one acquisition would have come at the expense of other acquisition efforts. It would have drained the bank, so to speak. Greenways program also has southside acquisition goals in the Samish Crest area, NW Galbraith Mt, South Chuckanut Bay area, and in Padden Gorge, in addition to previous acquisitions near the Interurban Trail. Council discussions revealed that we were very concerned about these other “south side” Greenways’ projects. We were also aware of the Greenways Committee’s draft proposal to spend only $4.2 million for acquisitions in the “Fairhaven Highlands” area. The Council’s final action was close to, but not identical, to the Greenways Committee’s recommendations. The point is: $4.5 million was not exactly a limit set by the available money, but a limit set by council policy out of respect for other program needs.

If you look at the updated 2011 Greenways Strategic Plan (See appendix 1 of + Link), you will see that the $4.5 million for Chuckanut Ridge comes from the $2 million Fairhaven Highlands set-aside for Southside, and from $2.5 million from the $6 million total for other Southside acquisitions. That leaves $3.5 million for other south side acquisitions, plus $1.5 million for Samish Crest acquisitions (totaling $5 million in Greenways funds for non-Chuckanut, southside acquisitions—more than was spent on CR from Greenways). As of 2012, approximately $2.8 million of that $5 million had been spent, leaving $2.2 million still available over the life span of the levy for other non-CR south side acquisitions. This is the money that was theoretically available to pay for Chuckanut Ridge, but which the Council did not dip into. If we had, we would have (in my opinion) unfairly short-changed the other program goals for Samish Hill, Interurban, NW Galbraith, etc.


John Servais  //  Sun, Jun 30, 2013, 4:23 pm

From Michael’s email we now know that Western is paying $30,000 a year and, although that is about 1/3 what is required to upkeep the plastic grass, Michael does not think it is “very small”.  Let us pursue the numbers.  At $30k per year times 13 years since 2000, that would yield $390,000 plus interest in the fund.  Yet only $180k is being taken from the fund for upgrading the turf. 

Can Michael or someone with the city please inform us of how much is in the fund at this time, how much Western has paid in total over the years, and what else the funds have been used for. 

Michael tells us that now is the time to speak up.  Yes, as I wrote, it is now of forget about it.  This went on the council agenda Friday afternoon, will be voted on Monday evening and will never see the light of a council agenda again.  All legal, but virtually impossible for a citizen to anticipate or know what is coming up for a decision.  The council could delay this vote at least two weeks to allow more public involvement.


Aaron Brand  //  Sun, Jun 30, 2013, 8:31 pm

There are many people who think that the city spends too much of our money on parks. I am not one of them. I’m sorry that you feel so strongly that we spend too much public money on programs that support the health and well being of the public. I wholeheartedly disagree with your assertion that these public funds supporting Civic Field benefit WWU and no one else.  I recall some of my earliest memories as a child in the 1980s in those bleachers, cheering on my uncle who would go on to win gold in the men’s running competition in the Special Olympics. I marched regularly for four years on that field in the Sehome Band (Go Mariners!) before joining the Husky Band as a freshman at UW. Just last week my elementary-school-age children attended Mariner Track and Field camp, a great program run by high schoolers and coaches for youngsters from all around Whatcom County. And we plan to compete often on Mondays this summer at the All Comers track meets. You make it clear that the city has spent a lot of money, for at least the last 13 years (and, likely, for much longer) maintaining Civic Field. While I would agree that our leaders must be accountable, at least there is not the precedent for real grass as I believe that would require a significantly larger amount of money to maintain. And, I believe, the current expense is justified to continue to support all the programs supporting health and fitness of the general public which is free to use the field for so many things.


Wendy Harris  //  Sun, Jun 30, 2013, 8:38 pm

The City Council passed an ordinance, the “Greenways III Expenditure Guideline Summary”, before the Greenway III Levy vote to clarify how the levy funds were to be spent. It provided the public with information on allocation of the funds between general, but specified projects.  While the city included language that allowed for subsequent modification, in fact, the city has consistently re-confirmed its commitment to the allocation of funds established when the levy was approved.

The Greenway Levy funds were intended to be spent as follows:
• Approximately 60% of the levy funds were intended for allocation to land aquisition,
• approximately 31% intended for development and improvement of parks and Greenway properties,
• and approximately 9% of the funds were set aside in a Greenway Preservation Endowment to accrue interest, with interest earnings allocated to maintenance of properties acquired or developed with current or prior Greenway levy funds.

More specific allocation breakdowns are provided in Exhibit A of the “Greenways III Expenditure Guideline Summary.”

It is clear to me that the astro turf is a maintenance expense. So the question is whether the $500,000 comes from the interest on the endowment, and whether the civic field is a property acquired or developed with Greenway levy funds.  The answer to both questions needs to be yes before this expense can be appropriately paid for with Greenway III funds.

From the City website
City Council Enabling Acts & Initial Projects

2006 Levy Authorization
City Ordinance 2006‐03‐033 of March 13, 2006. Continuing the Greenway Program, providing for submittal of the Greenways III property tax levy and stating an intended usage of funds according to an exhibited set of “Greenways III Expenditure Guideline Summary” and coincidental Council Resolution 2006‐06.
+ Link

2006 Levy Resolution
City Council Resolution 2006‐06 of March 13, 2006. Reiterating Council’s reliance on “Greenways III Expenditure Guideline Summary” and indicating Council support for allocating $2 million in undesignated levy funds for a corridor through the Fairhaven Highlands development site, contingent on negotiation of a reasonable purchase agreement.
+ Link

2006 Levy Projects
The original Greenways III Project Descriptions, March 2006. With map; summary distributed to public supplementing the Greenways III Expenditure Guideline Summary and campaign information.
+ Link


John Servais  //  Sun, Jun 30, 2013, 8:46 pm

Aaron,  you misread the article.  Civic Field is a civic asset and should be supported by our general taxes, park fees and user fees from those institutions, such as WWU, that use it.  Aside from Western, fees may be collected from school districts.  I don’t know all the funding sources. 

But the Greenways Levy is not one of the sources of funds for maintaining the playing fields of Bellingham.  The Greenways Levy is pitched to voters as a special fund to acquire and maintain trails, quiet and wild land, land use buffers, shorelines, scenic backdrops and promontories. 


John Watts  //  Sun, Jun 30, 2013, 11:35 pm

Greenways fund are completely appropriate for Civic Field.
The comments offered by Lilliquist and Harris are accurate.
As someone who was directly involved in both the failed ‘Civic Pride’ bond vote and the successful 2006 Greenways 3 levy, I recall enough to weigh in on this article.
Since Civic Pride’s narrow defeat, WWU has dropped football entirely.
And since the ‘AstroTurf’ all-weather playing surface was installed, the utility of Civic Field has increased by a factor of six, with commensurate savings involved in maintaining a grass field.
These facts are readily verified, but you do have to actually inquire - preferably before launching such a misleading rant.


John Servais  //  Sun, Jun 30, 2013, 11:55 pm

Thank you John, but you also miss the mark.  The issue is not whether civic field is a good public asset.  It is the surprise - unknown to virtually everyone - that the Greenways Levy funds will be used to replace the plastic grass. 

And, you know, when you were on the council years ago, you privately called this site Whiner.net - so your attitude has always been against what I try to do here. 

I could not get onto this issue sooner because there was zero information about it for we citizens.  It was quietly being developed by staff and council members without any notice to we the public.  Nada.  So, thank you John, but when we are notified on Friday afternoon of what will be a done deal on Monday evening, then I will post over the weekend.  So, thanks for inviting me to be quiet, but I will continue to speak out.


Rick Anderson  //  Mon, Jul 01, 2013, 7:49 am

If replacement of the artificial turf at Civic Field is a legitimate Greenways expense (and I am NOT saying it is) does this mean that repairs at Bayview Cemetery could also be considered a Greenways expense?  How about rebuilding the 5th green at Lake Padden Golf Course?


John Servais  //  Mon, Jul 01, 2013, 8:18 am

Rick, correct.  In fact, a very reliable person has written me the following.

“The Parks and Recreation Department appears to have a lot of leeway when it comes to spending Greenway money. At a recent meeting to approve spending Greenway money to resurface the pool at Arne Hanna Center the parks director was asked by Jack Weiss if he had discussed the proposal with the Greenway Committee. The director said he hadn’t discussed the expenditure with the committee, he didn’t think it was necessary. I wonder if he has discussed the turf expenditure with the Greenway Committee. The vote was postponed to the the March 25 meeting when spending $138, 804 in Greenway money for the pool was approved.”

So, yes, not only can the Greenways money be used for anything the city wants it used for, apparently this has happened and we are simply unaware of it.  It would be nice if we had a daily newspaper to report all this for us. And I have found the March 25 city council minutes and posted a screen shot of it.


Clayton Petree  //  Mon, Jul 01, 2013, 10:40 am

I was doing a little digging on cob.org and noticed they used $700,000 in 2000 from the Greenways Levy to install the current “grass” and resurface the track.
+ Link

Civic Stadium Turf

Photographs

Description

Improved the field playing surface and resurfaced track at Civic Stadium.

Funding

Greenway Levy: $700,000
Grant: $150,000
Western Washington University: $100,000
Real Estate Excise Tax: $100,000

Status

Completed 2000


Wendy Harris  //  Mon, Jul 01, 2013, 2:58 pm

I just received an email from the Parks Department stating that it was authorized under the 1997 Beyond Greenways Levy to put in the astro turf.  I reviewed the levy, and it contains the same funding allocation and restriction as Greenways III.  90% of the Beyond Greenways fund are for acquisition and development and 10% were put into an endowment fund for use on maintenance of property acquired or developed with Beyond Greenways funds.  The Beyond Greenways and Greenways III endowment fund were combined into one fund.

A map in the 2011 greenway strategic plan on the parks website indicates that the Civic Field was not a greenway purchase. Unless the Parks Department has specific evidence that documents the authorized use of Beyond Greenways funds for the astro turf, it remains an unauthorized use of levy funds.

It should not be such an outlay of time and effort to obtain transparency and accountability from the Parks Department. Apparently, citizens need to watch dog the city at a micro-management scale.  In any event, I hope that Council will provide the public additional time to work through this issue before approving the release of funds.


Rick Anderson  //  Mon, Jul 01, 2013, 3:34 pm

From watching the committee proceedings this afternoon, it appears a done deal.  Parks, Council and Admin all seem to consider this maintenance project as falling under the heading of development and thus authorized in the original levies.  Most businesses would consider the two as separate categories.  Mr. King referred to the funds as “a pot”.  Need I say more?


Wendy Harris  //  Mon, Jul 01, 2013, 9:56 pm

The funding passed 6-1, Weiss opposed. Knudsen made an angry speech about how people always come in at the last minute with objections, and that objections should have been made when this was disclosed a month or two ago.

What concerned me about the discussion was that lack of reference to the actual levy language, and the failure to distinguish between allocation of funds for acquisition, development and endowment interest.  These are matters specified in the levy approved by the public. If it does not mean anything, then the public is being misled.


Gene Knutson  //  Tue, Jul 02, 2013, 8:16 am

Let me start out saying how unhappy i am with myself for getting angry last night. I have been around long enough for that not to happen and for that i apologize to all. My biggest concern it that we have been in so many greenways battles that it is getting to the point that another levy will be out of the question if this does not stop.As the parks director said last night all projects from the 1997 levy have been completed and this 300,000 that is left can be spent on new turf.Again the funding for the new turf is 180,000 from Western and 300,000 from the 1997 levy. Seth also pointed out that in the 1997 levy 1 million was identified for this kind of project. One last point we used to spend 200,000 on the grass at civic this new turf will last about 10-12 years.One last point i fully understand we can’t ask people to follow every move we make and at budget time it is in December and people are getting ready for the holidays as they should. Have faith in us to make the right decisions it is not easy up there but are hearts are in the right place.


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