Director of Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities Allison Van Guilder said her department is analogous to an event planning firm.
“We do all of this behind the scenes work so that the general public doesn’t see anything going wrong so to speak. The only time we come up on the radar is when something goes bump, like vandalism or a pipe breaks,” said Van Guilder. “It’s kind of like we’re event planners and everyday we’re putting on this event for the community.”
Duties for the daily “event” include everything from filling potholes and maintaining medians to facilitating youth sports and offering after school programs. Even the Turlock Municipal Airport falls under Van Guilder’s purview.
“You’re responsible for everything from potholes and parks to planes,” said Mayor Gary Soiseth at the City of Turlock workshop Tuesday evening.
The workshop, which focused solely on the Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities Department, is the manifestation of Soiseth’s 100 day promise to review City services every other Tuesday in an accessible public forum.
Since fiscal year 2010-2011, Park expenses have declined by 23 percent. While this is indicative of the City doing more with less in the aftermath of the recession, Van Guilder said it will be some time before she seeks to compensate for the stress placed on the department.
“At this point moving into the next fiscal year, we are not at the point where we are proposing we add more positions. We are definitely at our maximum in terms of not being able to reduce any further and we are stretched extremely thin. I definitely am seeing that,” said Van Guilder.
While the parks are vital to the community, their “passive use” prohibits the City from capturing much revenue.
“We do have some rental income that comes in from when people rent the parks, but that is nowhere near what it takes to maintain them,” said Van Guilder.
Also, rentals are exclusive to community parks and not neighborhood parks.
With several retirements likely in the next few years, Van Guilder said that through attrition she is hopeful the department will be able to backfill lower level positions to save money. Generally, the department takes a more conservative approach to its budget because there is a more direct impact on the general fund.
“We always try to stretch resources as much as we can,” said Van Guilder. “We drive our pickups for 20 years and there is definitely this sense that we know we have to make it last.”
While this conservative approach has translated into a “resourceful staff that uses sheer team work to continue to do what we do for the community,” there is always work to be done.
In 2014 alone City staff removed 845.5 tons of leaves, repaired 1,009 potholes, and replaced 227 signs.
While concerns from the public of overwatering the medians and the prevalence of poor road quality prevailed, City staff assured the public their comments did not fall on deaf ears. As the “event planner,” Van Guilder assured the community that the best way to get something fixed is to inform the City: “As a community you’re our eyes and ears.”
The next public workshop will take place on March 31 and will focus on the City of Turlock’s Building Department.