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Future of Parks, Arts Commission uncertain
Public art is one issue that goes before the Parks, Arts and Recreation Commission. In September 2018, the Commission considered three options for the future maintenance of downtown statue Califia. The PARC recommended removing the water feature from the statue and having a tile covering placed over it, with the original artist having the first right of refusal to do the work. The City Council approved the PARC’s recommendation.

Less than six years after it was formed, City of Turlock officials are recommending that the Parks, Arts and Recreation Commission be temporarily disbanded in light of recent budget woes.

Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities Director Allison Van Guilder sent an email to PAR Commissioners on Jan. 15 which informed them the City Council would decide at their Jan. 28 meeting whether or not to temporarily disband the commission. According to Van Guilder, City staff conducted an analysis of the activities of the PAR Commission over the last few years as part of ongoing efforts to identify opportunities for efficiencies and cost reductions within the City budget.

The City has been struggling with increased expenditures and dwindling reserves over the past couple of years, and in June 2019, the Council adopted a budget that resulted in a drastic tightening of the City’s financial belt with significant impacts on what services are provided to Turlock residents.

As a result, the City’s fire, police and parks services, among others, have taken hits. Now, the PAR Commission is at risk.

“We found that the low level of activity by the Commission may need review due to the amount of staff time involved. The lack of resources available for park development projects and recreation program growth has significantly limited the amount of opportunities for the Commission to engage in,” Van Guilder wrote in her email.

Van Guilder added that the majority of time spent at meetings is due to staff providing information updates in order to keep the Commission informed of department activities. While there have been some opportunities for the PAR Commission to provide advisory recommendations to Council over the last few years (the most recent being whether or not to relocate the Califia statue in downtown Turlock), they have been intermittent at best, she said.

“Despite staff’s efforts to identify opportunities to further engage the Commission, we have recognized without funding there is little activity to direct to the Commission,” Van Guilder said. “As a result of these findings we are recommending the PAR Commission be temporarily disbanded until our financial situation improves.”

If an item related to Parks, Arts or Recreation need to be reviewed, she continued, it will be heard by the Planning Commission.

“I understand this news may be disappointing however during these financially challenging times, it is essential we take a critical look at how we are using our finite resources,” Van Guilder said.

The announcement comes just weeks after the City put out a call for applications to fill two seats that will soon become vacant on the PAR Commission. Commissioner John Snoke, who is up for reappointment, was shocked by the news and noted the topic was not discussed with the PAR Commission before being placed on the Jan. 28 City Council meeting.

Snoke added his opinion that the Planning Commission is too busy making decisions regarding the City’s cannabis pilot program to take time for PAR Commission items.

“The Commission is made up of seven volunteer community members who want to serve the City in this capacity,” he said. “…I think it would be very unfortunate if the City Council makes the decision to end the Commission that has community members who are hard working and are trying to make a difference by making Turlock a wonderful community for residents, businesses and visitors.”

The PAR Commission was originally formed in April 2014 when the Parks and Recreation Commission was combined with the City’s Arts Commission. Snoke said that he and other Commissioners plan to speak at the Jan. 28 City Council meeting in an effort to sway the Council’s decision.