Why sell park space just to buy more?

A week of brainstorming by a fiction writer couldn't produce a better example of irony than the one local officials have created.

The city of Kingman has begun the process to rezone and sell 160 acres of park space, while at the same time proposing that taxpayers cover $6.43 million in bond debt to buy more land for new parks and to revitalize existing ones. This comes after a November survey that found park space to be the No. 1 city need, according to residents.

Adding to the irony, not a dime of the profit from the sale of the city land is going toward the acquisition of new parks.

Three months ago, Special Projects Director Rob Owen warned City Council that the number of recreational areas in Kingman meets neither the city's own goal nor the population's needs.

City Manager Paul Beecher asked Owen at the conclusion of his presentation, "In summary, we're not meeting our own standards. Is that correct?" Correct, Owen said.

Neither Council nor city staff has taken action on Owen's report.

So the city knows what it needs, and according to the survey, residents know what the city needs, too.

Asked to vote on which future needs should be prioritized, residents responded by calling for more parks and recreation areas above all other possible priorities.

The need for parks beat out the other 15 items, with 75 percent of the 167 respondents showing support. Fifty-two percent of residents supported Kingman Crossing.

Park space these days, though, especially 160 acres of it in one place, isn't easy to come by.

For example, Council voted last week to allow 154 acres zoned for parks and open space to be rezoned and subdivided for a residential community. The city failed to acquire this property for a public park, Mayor Les Byram said at the meeting. Located north of Oak Street downtown and south of Cerbat Cliffs Golf Course, the land will now be subdivided and gated off for a "signature" community. This will include a private clubhouse. Council approved the rezone unanimously.

Luckily for the affluent future homeowners in this 99-home community, there will be a park, but it will be inside the development and off limits to the public. As an incentive to approve the rezone, the landowners donated not quite 11 acres south of the proposed community on Eighth Street that the city can use for a park.

The state of the 160 acres of city park space at Kingman Crossing is dire. It's a quarter-mile of hills, craters and trash. Being less than ideal for a playground, given the close proximity to Interstate 40, begs the question of how beneficial such a park would be to the city of Kingman?

Several residents have proposed using the property not as a playground but for hiking, horseback riding and ATV trails.

Officials, however, scoff at the suggestion. They say that sales tax from the land is too vital to the government's ability to provide services to residents.

Residents have countered with the suggestion the city move east down the interstate a mile and a half to Rattlesnake Wash, where the same traffic interchange and same commercial district can be developed - in essence, where the same sales tax revenues can be generated from commercial development.

A resident said Tuesday at the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting that it wouldn't be difficult for the city to have Rhodes Homes pay its 30 percent construction costs for an interchange at Rattlesnake Wash, as Rhodes' developments in the area would directly benefit from an interchange and retail mall.

Without support from the city, which is obviously not there, the possibility of a Rattlesnake Wash interchange is years down the road.

The $6.43 million debt for parks to be issued to homeowners is part of a $45 million capital improvement package currently being pushed by Council and city staff.

It's worth noting that the city is in a financial crisis, according to officials. Revenues haven't dried up, but they're lower than projections - to the point of limiting future growth and possibly the ability to provide basic services to future generations if the population outpaces commercial growth. Finance Director Coral Loyd will be giving a presentation Monday at the Council meeting on the financial status of the city.

But one minute they're talking about a "crisis," the next they're allowing salary and payroll increases for themselves of more than 24 percent in two years. From 2004-05 to 2006-07, the city payroll budget jumped more than $5.1 million, topping out at $14,885,371.

The city isn't exercising anything that even slightly resembles responsible spending of taxpayer money.

So, what exactly are the city employees' priorities and needs? And do they reflect the public's priorities and needs? Perhaps another survey could tell us.

A government can cut excessive spending or increase taxes to combat lulls in incoming revenue. Considering the payroll increases in city employee compensation, it's evident that the latter option looks more appealing to the officials who are creating the budget.

Luckily, the taxpayers, who also vote, have the final say over every dollar of the $45 million capital improvements package. And they might want to keep Council from selling away valuable park space in the near future.