Nov. 5, 2012
Kit Stolz, OVN correspondent
The Ojai Parks and Recreation Commission spent four hours, of its monthly meeting Thursday, considering next year’s budget.
Complicating the discussion about the future of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department was the resignation of former director Dale Sumersille two months ago.
The commissioners expressed mixed feelings about the current state of the Department, believing it has been slow to respond to the community’s desire for greater activity and involvement, but also that it has been hurt by recent cutbacks.
Two new members of the Commission, Robert Roddick and Sunday Rylander, both appointed in May, expressed surprise at the former director’s salary, which was about $94,000, not including benefits.
The Ojai City Council has not decided whether to launch a search for a new director and while the commissioners did not vote to make a recommendation, they repeatedly stressed their desire to be included in the decision-making process.
“I’m not necessarily opposed to promoting someone from within the department, such as [acting director] Sophocles Cotsis, and then rewriting the position so that he reports directly to the city manager and makes a little more money but not as much as the former director,” said Commission Chair Randy Haney. “But our attitude is that if you’re not going to fill that position, then who is going to pick up the slack? Are we going to bring in some part-time people? We want to see how the city is going to take that revenue and redistribute it.”
Since Sumersille’s resignation, Cotsis has run the department with help from Steve McClary, the assistant to the city manager. Together, they are interviewing candidates for a counter person in the department offices at Sarzotti Park. They said they expect to hire one of six final candidates this month.
Further complicating the discussion was the use of a different accounting method, implemented this year, that allocates administrative time to particular tasks and responsibilities. It took Susie Mears, director of the city’s Finance Department, two hours to explain the changes to the Commission.
Last year, it cost about $750,000 to run the Parks and Recreation Department. It recovered about 60 percent of its costs, according to McClary, meaning that the city is spending over $300,000 on parks and recreation.
“We’re already subsidizing the department with $331,000 from the general fund,” Mears said to the Commission. “It’s going to continue. That’s the way it’s been budgeted for 12 or 13 years, and I don’t imagine that’s going to change.”
At the Commission’s request, McClary and Cotsis compiled statistics from about 20 other cities similar to Ojai, to see how it compares in terms of expenditures, cost recovery, money spent on staff as a percentage of the recreation budget and amount spent per person on the participants in the city’s recreation programs.
With approximately 7,500 residents living within the Ojai city limits, and total city expenditures of $7,529,000, the city’s recreation budget of $758,000 was in the middle of the pack. With its staff costs equaling 72 percent of the Department’s total budget, Ojai was ranked 17th out of 22 cities. It’s costs of $101 per participant also placed it at the higher end of the comparison. Wealthy communities such as Mill Valley, in Northern California, spend as much as $249 per participant, whereas poorer communities, such as Fillmore, spend just $23.
The Commissioners thanked McClary and Cotsis for the research, which they said would help guide their decision-making process.
“Right now, Steve is doing an incredible job interfacing with us and with management. I don’t know what his position is on this responsibility, and I don’t know his salary, but he would be a position I feel we should look at, if we want to hire a person without a degree in recreation management, but someone who understands the financial aspects,” Haney said.
The Commission also heard of progress on a new “exchange of services” agreement, to allow community members to trade labor and material for reductions in fees.
“In the past, there was a lot of horse trading, and in a small community we feel that is pretty acceptable,” Haney said. “When Dale came on board, coming from a larger department, she started changing polices and procedures regarding that, which I can understand, but the community would like to provide these kind of services to reduce their costs, which has been done in the past.”
Haney explained that one group cut its rental costs by $1,500 this year by repainting and retiling bathrooms. The Department also had its horseshoe pits and seven picnic tables replaced by another group who rented the sports field this year.