Elk Grove News

Elk Grove struggles to tailor big projects to fit budget

Entrance to the unfinished shell of the Promenade Mall in Elk Grove photographed on Tuesday, March 19, 2013. Construction halted on the much-ballyhooed Promenade Mall in 2008, as the economy soured.
Entrance to the unfinished shell of the Promenade Mall in Elk Grove photographed on Tuesday, March 19, 2013. Construction halted on the much-ballyhooed Promenade Mall in 2008, as the economy soured. mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

Elk Grove marked its 15th anniversary of cityhood this year with ambitious plans for the future.

On the drawing board is an array of public works projects, including a multisport complex, animal shelter and a civic center planned to incorporate an aquatics complex, veterans hall and senior center.

But the city is struggling to make the projects fit its budget, leading City Council members to call for a community conversation about priorities.

“We have balls in the air, and we don’t know who is going to catch them,” Councilman Patrick Hume said during a Sept. 23 update on plans for the multisport complex proposed for construction on city-owned property outside city limits on Grant Line Road.

Mayor Gary Davis suggested asking city voters to approve a sales tax increase to fund projects, and the city has contracted for a survey to gauge community support for such a measure.

Economic development, Davis said, means investing money to generate revenue. Done right, he said, projects like the sport complex could provide the city with tremendous economic opportunities.

Players, parents and coaches during the Sept. 23 meeting urged the council to move ahead with a 12- to 16-field multisport complex and community building, saying such a facility is needed to accommodate the 6,000 soccer players in the city. The complex, as proposed, would be among the best in the nation, they said, bringing tournaments and revenue to Elk Grove. But city officials have not determined how to fund the estimated $46 million to $57 million construction cost.

The council approved an additional $500,000 toward further study and design work. The city is working to annex the property before construction, and staff members said they anticipate seeking bids in fall 2016.

We have all these things we would like to do, but we don’t have the money to do it … We can’t pursue everything at once.

Councilman Steve Detrick

City Manager Laura Gill informed the council in October that staff members also are re-evaluating plans for the aquatics complex, veterans hall and senior center, all proposed for the new civic center and community park site just east of Big Horn Boulevard and south of Elk Grove Boulevard.

Some residents complain that projects are progressing too slowly, while others warn against incurring debt and mortgaging the city’s future.

“It’s like a dog chasing its tail,” June LaVine said of the city’s effort to pursue so many large projects at once. The City Council decided a year ago to establish a local animal shelter, instead of contracting with Sacramento County, as it does now, she said. In October, LaVine launched a petition drive, in the community and online at change.org, urging the council to deliver on its commitment. As of last week, nearly 500 people had signed the online petition.

“We need a little less talk and a lot more action,” she said.

City officials said staff members since January have been trying to find a suitable building for a shelter and are investigating the cost and feasibility of constructing a shelter at the city’s corporation yard. In the meantime, the city has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for the project.

LaVine said the GoFundMe idea may have been well-intentioned, but it makes the city look silly. In a little over two months, it has generated $265 in donations.

As for the other projects that have stalled:

  • Aquatics complex: Bids came in nearly $10 million over the $15.4 million budgeted, according to city budget manager Andrew Keys. About $15.3 million will come from community facility district funds and a little more than $100,000 from the parks fee program. The council rejected all bids and staff members are re-evaluating the project.
  • Veterans hall: City staff members reported that the architect has completed construction documents and plans, but with an updated construction cost estimate that “greatly exceeds” the $4.3 million available for construction. Funding for this project comes from parks fees and developer impact fees. A city staff report also noted that the roadway needed to access the veterans hall location was included in the aquatics complex bid, which was rejected. Staff members are working with the architect to reconsider the veterans hall location and design, and to deliver a project within budget.
  • Senior center: A feasibility study is underway, and a public outreach meeting is to be scheduled this fall, followed by presentation of the proposal to the council. The senior center will be considered as part of a larger civic center discussion involving funding priorities, programming and site planning, according to a staff report.

City spokeswoman Kristyn Nelson said updates on these projects likely will be presented to the council in early December.

We need a little less talk and a lot more action.

June LaVine, advocate for a city animal shelter

“We have all these things we would like to do, but we don’t have the money to do it … We can’t pursue everything at once,” Councilman Steve Detrick said in an interview.

The city needs to determine which are the most viable, he said, adding that the aquatics complex probably is the closest to becoming a reality.

Part of the problem, he said, is that the city is being asked to fill gaps in services that are the purview of other agencies. Those agencies, not the city, receive tax dollars to provide those services, he said. The Cosumnes Community Services District is responsible for parks and recreation in Elk Grove, but it doesn’t have enough soccer fields to meet the demand. The Elk Grove Unified School District has built high schools without swimming pools, so those that have swim or water polo teams use community services district pools or other facilities, Detrick said.

Although he would have preferred more council discussion before pursuing a survey, Detrick said he thinks voters would support a sales tax increase if they knew it would go toward specific projects.

The challenge may be coming up with projects that a majority of voters support. Nan Mahon, a member of the city’s Committee for the Arts, said she would favor a sales tax increase if she could be assured a portion would go toward facilities for the arts. With a 160,000 population, Elk Grove ought to have a performing arts center like Harris Center for the Arts in Folsom or Crest Theatre in Sacramento, she said.

“It seems like this is all for soccer fields and other sports-related venues,” she said. “We need all these things, but not at the exclusion of the arts.”

Cathy Locke: 916-321-5287, @lockecathy