SAN BERNARDINO >> Directors of the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, formed to handle long-range water supply issues for a 353-square-mile area, are starting to chafe at the realization they may spend as much as $100,000 per year to maintain a park in the city of San Bernardino.
The frustration started to boil over at a meeting of the district’s park management and property committee workshop this week, one month after the newly constructed Bryce Hanes Park opened to the public.
“We’re using the taxpayer money from the whole valley to maintain this one little park,” said June Hayes, the board member whose vision includes Rialto, portions of Fontana and San Bernardino. “Does my attitude show?”
The attitude from some water district members is because, from their perspective, they did the city a favor — handling the $5 million state grant to build the park because the state Parks Department refused to give it to the bankrupt city — and now the city is abusing their generosity.
“It is a great park and we’re glad it’s built, but we agreed to fund it until the city could afford to take over,” said Gil Navarro, chairman of the park committee and the water board member whose division includes the park. “The city is coming out of bankruptcy, and now they can afford it.”
Not all the board’s members feel the same way.
“Certainly, we’re hoping that the city will be able to take over the park soon, and we’ll celebrate that day when it comes,” Susan Longville, the president of the water district and a former San Bernardino City Council member, in an earlier interview. “But if they don’t, I wouldn’t characterize myself as unhappy about that. It’s their decision to make, and until they do, we’re prepared to fulfill our obligation.”
The water district’s budget includes $100,000 for the park in the 2017-18 fiscal year — an estimated $5,250 per month in regular maintenance and operations, with another $37,000 available for major repairs, Longville said.
The total figure is still uncertain, given that the park has been open for barely a month.
“We hope it doesn’t reach that ($100,000), but that way we won’t have to increase it,” Longville said.
In addition, time spent by water district staff on the park so far is equal to $207,339 in salary, according to a water district calculation.
Neither the money nor the time impedes the water district’s other responsibilities, according to Longville.
The water district’s responsibility for the park stems from 2013, when its then-president, Pat Milligan, offered to handle the $5 million state grant to build the park.
The city had qualified for a Proposition 84 grant meant to build parks in areas severely lacking in recreational space, and community members said they wanted the park, but the state initially rejected the application because of the city’s bankruptcy, filed one year earlier.
So water district members and the City Council agreed to use a joint powers authority set up 15 years earlier for an aborted project called Lakes and Streams. The authority consists of water district and city officials.
The 2013 agreement, signed by Milligan and then-Mayor Pat Morris, is clear that the city will take over the park when it can — but vague on what that means.
“It is expressly agreed that the city will use reasonable efforts to assist with the ongoing administration, management and maintenance of the municipal park developed on the property,” the agreement states. “At such time as the city is reasonably able to allocate the funds necessary to do so, the city will fully assume the responsibility for the ongoing administration, management and maintenance of the municipal park developed on the property, or, if feasible, the city will create a maintenance district for such purposes.”
Mayor Carey Davis, who is set Monday to attend a meeting of the joint powers authority that oversees the park, said Friday that he wasn’t familiar with the water district’s objections.
“It’s really premature to be having that discussion at this time, given the park has been open for what, less than two months,” Davis said. “I need to avail myself of some of the language that’s in those original (agreements). It needs more review on my part as well as the city attorney’s part. ... We need to make sure we honor it.”
Water district members also considered other ways to pay for the park, such as a special district that would collect money from people who live in the area of the park, but the idea got little support.
“I personally don’t think burdening the people in this park’s district with a special tax is something I would ever support,” Longville said.