Source: Sherman Publications

$20M community rec. center on Aug. 5 ballot

by CJ Carnacchio

July 23, 2014

When Oxford voters trek to the polls on Tuesday, Aug. 5, they’ll be faced with proposals to build a $20 million community recreation center at Stony Lake Township Park and partially fund its operations.

Ron Davis, director of the township Parks and Recreation Department, is hoping voters will see the benefits and approve the requests for new taxes.

“It will enhance your quality of life and unite the community through another facet of recreation,” he said. “It will give our seniors a place to go (as well as) our youth and our families. It will be another spot in the community that we’re proud to say that we have.”

Voters will be asked two questions.

The first is a bond proposal that, if approved, would give the township permission to borrow up to $20 million to construct, furnish and equip a community recreation center that’s approximately 60,000 square feet in size and would consist of two levels.

The township would have 25 years to pay off the debt. To do so, township and village property owners would be expected to pay an annual millage beginning with the December 2014 tax bill.

That millage would start out at 1.6 mills and after that, the estimated average tax rate to retire the bond debt would be 1.52 mills.

One mill is worth $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.

For property with a taxable value of $50,000, the owner would pay $80 annually. Residents whose properties have taxable values of $75,000, $100,000 and $125,000 could expect to pay $120, $160 and $200, respectively, each year.

In addition to the bond proposal, voters will also face a proposed five-year, 0.05-mill tax to help fund the community recreation center’s operations. If approved, it, too, would begin with the December 2014 tax bill and generate approximately $34,000 in its first year of levy, according to the ballot language.

For owners of property with taxable values ranging from $50,000 to $125,000, the proposed center’s operating millage would translate into an additional $2.50 to $6.25 annually.

The combined 1.65 mills for the proposed center is designed to eventually replace the 1.65 mills Oxford residents are currently paying to retire the library/fire bond debt.

If the center proposals are approved, the combined 1.65 mills for them would constitute a tax increase for both the December 2014 and December 2015 tax collections as property owners would be paying for both the fire/library debt and the community recreation center debt/operating tax.

It wouldn’t be until the December 2016 tax collection that residents would only pay for the center’s bond debt and operating millages.

“I don’t care if you vote ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ just know what you’re voting on – get out and vote,” Davis said. “Wouldn’t it be great if we had 100 percent of our voters go out and vote?”

What would the proposed community

recreation center include?

The proposed center would offer residents and non-residents amenities including three multi-activity courts, a three-lane track for walkers and runners, aquatic center featuring a community pool, men’s and women’s locker rooms, a family changing room, senior lifestyle center, fitness area, four multipurpose community rooms and administrative offices for the parks and recreation department.

According to Davis, the parks/rec. department currently lacks the facilities to meet the demand for youth, adult and senior programs.

The proposed center would solve that problem. It would also give Oxford a much-needed community pool, according to Davis.

“There’s still a need that’s not being met for the youth and seniors of our community as far as swim lessons and water aerobics,” Davis said.

Proposed pool features include a water slide, lazy river, indoor spray park and a three-lane lap area. The proposed pool’s maximum depth would be 4 feet and it would be kept at a temperature of 84-plus degrees.

The pool would be universally accessible, meaning instead of having a ladder or stairs to enter and exit it, it would be a zero-entry model featuring an edge that gradually slopes from the deck into the water. The slope becomes deeper and deeper with each step like a beach leading into a body of water.

How much to operate it?

According to estimates contained in the feasibility study the parks and recreation department commissioned for this project, it would cost $913,000 annually to maintain the center.

That includes $312,000 for utilities, $340,000 for center staffing, $161,000 for maintenance and $100,000 for insurance and contingency.

How would the operations be financed?

According to estimates provided in the feasibility study, the bulk of the operational budget would be derived from memberships purchased by both residents and non-residents.

Memberships would be separate and in addition to the property taxes paid to construct and operate the center.

The center is expected to derive $610,000 from resident memberships and $240,000 from non-resident memberships.

Annual membership fees would be as follows:

n $360 for resident families/couples.

n $480 for non-resident families/couples.

n $240 for resident singles.

n $480 for non-resident singles.

Figures contained in the proposed center’s 2015 operation budget show officials are projecting receiving:

n 1,620 resident family/couple memberships ($583,138).

n 300 non-resident family/couple memberships ($144,000).

n 111 resident single memberships ($26,579).

n 200 non-resident single memberships ($96,000).

Users would be able to pay their membership fees either monthly or annually.

Oxford residents who are senior citizens, which will be defined as age 65 and older, would receive free memberships.

Non-resident senior citizens would be charged for memberships like everyone else.

These membership revenue projections were not just pulled out of thin air.

“It’s based on doing research (with) the different community centers like Lapeer, Saline, Troy, Warren,” Davis said.

He explained the percentage of revenue generated by memberships at these other facilities was plugged into budget projections for the proposed Oxford center.

“We took that and equated it that way based on our population,” Davis said. “I wanted realistic numbers.”

Oxford Township and Village combined have a population of approximately 20,000.

Not only are the center’s projected revenue numbers “realistic,” according to Davis, they’re also “conservative.”

“If it’s erred, it’s erred on the low end, not erred on the high end,” he said.

For example, Davis pointed out the $20,000 estimated to be generated by sponsorships and advertising is “probably on the low end.”

What happens if the center falls short in terms of projected membership revenue?

“I’m not even worried that this is not going to be met,” Davis said. “There is no concern at all.”

However, “if it’s starting to look like we’re not going to” meet those projections, Davis vowed to “do everything I can” to cover the center’s costs, from seeking corporate sponsorships to instituting additional programs to creating new special events.

“Our track record speaks for itself,” he said. “This department is fiscally responsible.”

No comparison to Orion’s center

Davis finds it “really frustrating” to have the community center in Orion Township, which has been struggling financially since opening its doors in spring 2012, compared to the proposed community recreation center in Oxford Township.

To equate the two is “one of the biggest misconceptions” among voters, according to Davis. “They’re two different, stand-alone animals,” he noted. “They’re not even comparable, from the benefit standpoint.”

The main differences, in his view, are function and amenities.

“They have four walls (at the Orion center),” Davis said. “They have a couple meeting rooms and they have very little fitness center (area). And very little programming.”

In contrast, Davis said Oxford’s proposed center is more heavily recreation-oriented because it’s “going to have (a) walking track, activity courts, senior center, community rooms (and) swimming pool or aquatic facility.”

“You can benefit year-round (at the proposed Oxford center),” Davis said. “Can you actually take an entire family and go down there (to Orion) and do something? No, you can’t. It’s a community center. Ours is a recreation center, just like Lapeer’s (center).”

Davis said Oxford’s proposed center is similar to centers in Lapeer, Saline and Troy.

“You can look at any of those other ones (for a comparison),” he said.

Davis said another big difference between Orion and Oxford’s centers is the parks and rec. department here invested approximately $30,000 to have a feasibility study conducted to examine what it would cost to build and operate such a facility.

Orion did no such thing.

“They didn’t do their due diligence,” Davis said. “We did.”

Why build it at Stony Lake Twp. Park?

“We own the property,” Davis said. “Why would you go out and buy more property?”

He noted other properties costing $3 million to $4 million were looked at as potential sites for the proposed center.

But it would have required additional funds to purchase private property and once it became government land, it would be removed from the tax rolls.

For those reasons, Davis said that option made “no sense at all.”

Having the community recreation center at Stony Lake would allow the 13-acre park, purchased in 1899, to be open year-round, an added bonus to residents, according to Davis.

Right now, it’s only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day because the parks and rec. department can’t staff it year-round.

The township board chose to keep Stony Lake a residents-only park, therefore it requires staffing at the front gate to check identification and keep non-residents out.

“I couldn’t staff it year-round,” Davis said. “You can’t pay someone to sit in that gate-guard shack in the winter.”

But if the park had the proposed community recreation center and it was open to non-residents, a gate guard would no longer be required and the park could be open year-round, allowing for activities such as ice skating and ice fishing.

Other bonuses, according to Davis, include the township no longer having to pay $12,000 annually in property taxes on the park because it’s closed to non-residents and the ability to apply for grants. “It would allow me to write grants then through the (Department of Natural Resources) to make improvements up there,” he said.

Boat launch and beach staying put

Davis said he’s heard rumors that if the center proposals pass, Stony Lake’s boat launch and beach will be removed.

“That’s not true,” he said. “We’re not going to get rid of the boat launch or the beach . . . Those are two of the gems of the park that will be enhanced (by the project) . . . Those two areas will not come out.”

No clear-cutting

There have also been rumors the proposed center would require Stony Lake Park’s trees to be clear-cut.

“Are you kiddin’ me?” Davis said. “I’m a naturalist. We’re not going to clear-cut.”

Davis said it’s true some trees would probably need to be removed in order to accommodate the center, but the park would first be surveyed by an arborist to help determine which should stay and which could go.

“I’m not going to go in there and clear-cut this thing,” he said. “That’s a ludicrous statement.”

Pavilion shuffle

If center is built at Stony Lake, Davis said two of the existing pavilions, named Albertson and Martin, would be removed and relocated to Seymour Lake Twp. Park.

“They (each) seat 30 people,” he said. “They’re too small. When they built them probably back in the 1950s, they were perfect. Now, they’re too small.”

The large Brabb pavilion, which seats 120, would be relocated within Stony Lake Park.

It won’t all be parking

Davis made it clear he’s not planning to turn Stony Lake Park into a giant parking lot.

Under the proposal, the amount of parking would be increased from 250 to 350 spaces.

Davis assured the additional parking would not infringe on any open space or recreational areas currently being utilized.

Why not build at Seymour Lake Park?

“It’s just not feasible,” Davis said.

One of the main obstacles to building it there would be access to utilities.

“Seymour Lake Township Park is currently outside of the (township’s) water and sewer district limits,” wrote township Engineer Jim Sharpe in an e-mail. “Meaning that the (township) does not plan on extending water and sewer to that area in the near future. The current water and sewer systems are not designed to extend out that far. So, to extend those utilities out there would not only require the cost of installing the pipes, but also additional well sites and sanitary sewer pump facilities. Not to say it couldn’t be done, but the associated costs would make the project prohibitive.”

Sharpe noted the cost alone for building a safety path to connect to Seymour Lake Park would be approximately $900,000.

As for the natural gas and electricity a center would require, Sharpe wrote he’s “doubtful” the existing services “in that area would support a facility of this size without upgrades.”

Davis argued Stony Lake is superior to Seymour Lake as a potential site because the former is located in the “central, almost pinpoint middle of the township” and is easily accessible by pedestrians from neighboring subdivisions, the village and downtown.

“It’s on the main street,” said Davis, whereas Seymour Lake Park is “at the western end of the township.”

Besides, Davis said there’s no room at Seymour Lake to build a 60,000-square-foot center. “What are you going to take out of that park to build it there?” he said. “You going to take out soccer fields? Baseball fields?”

Some say build it on the 14 acres the parks/rec. department purchased and added to the park. But Davis argued that space is needed for parking for special events such as Seymour Celebration and various sports tournaments that draw thousands of visitors and participants.

Contrary to what some believe, Davis said Seymour Lake Park is not under-utilized.

“There’s 2,500 people in that park every given night (during the summer),” he said.

Impact on local businesses

Davis said he’s heard that if the community recreation center is built, it will negatively impact local businesses. “It’s just the opposite,” he said. “To say that it’s going to ruin businesses, it’s totally not true.”

There are many small, local businesses that offer classes, such as karate and tai chi, through parks and rec. and rely on the department to handle their registration, he explained.

With a center, these businesses would be able to run their classes/programs at their own establishments and/or at the recreation center.

In general, Davis said local businesses favor of the proposed center.

“You won’t find a business that we’ve talked to that hasn’t been supportive, so far, as far as the idea of it coming,” he said. “I have yet to have a business person call me in opposition to the whole concept, and if there is, that’s fine. I welcome them to call me.”

Everything out in the open

Davis said there have been plenty of opportunities for public input regarding the proposed center at township board meetings, parks/rec. commission meetings and community meetings. There was also an on-line survey advertised in the Leader.

Folks can visit www.oxparkrec.org to learn more about the proposal. “Everything is there,” Davis said. “The department is transparent, especially with this project.”

If the answer’s no, it’s done

Davis said if the center proposals fail, he’s not going to move forward with the project and try to raise the money on his own.

“To make a correlation that if this millage goes down, Ron Davis is going to go out and raise $20 million, you’re nuts,” he said. “It’s just not going to happen.”

“I’m pretty good at getting partnerships and corporations (to) fund stuff, but $20 million is a little out of my reach,” Davis noted.

Prediction?

The last time a community center proposal was on the ballot in Oxford, it was 1998. Back then, the parks/rec. department was asking voters to approve a $17.9 million bond proposal to build a 95,000-square-foot center.

That proposal was defeated 1,384 to 997.

“I thought it was going to pass hands down in ‘98, but how wrong I was,” Davis said. “It wasn’t needed then. In ‘98, the proposal was based on architects telling us what they wanted to build for us, not based on need.”

An on-line survey was conducted earlier this year to gauge the level of public support for a center and help determine the type of desired amenities. A total of 385 people responded and of those, 84.4 percent felt there’s a need for a community center.

“We’ve been asked to put it (back) on the ballot since (1998),” Davis said. “It’s not just something (where) we sat around and said, ‘Oh, let’s do it.’”

“A lot of people have said, ‘Right now is not the time,” he noted. “When is the time?”

Memories of the 1998 election still color, to some degree, Davis’ view of how the current proposals will do at the ballot box.

“I’m little apprehensive right now. I’m being cautious,” he explained. “Is it a need? Yes. Do I think there’s a lot of support? Yes. Will those people who support it verbally to me or this department or the (pro-center) committee, go out and vote? That’s the question.

“It’s hard to convince people that they need to take that responsibility and go out and vote.”

All you have to do is ask

To those folks who still have questions or need something clarified, Davis said, “If you’re not sure, call me.”

“All people need to do is pick up the phone and call our office and I’d be more than happy to talk to them or meet with them.”

Davis can be reached at (248) 628-1720.