Sebastian committee wants more flexibility in funding parks

SEBASTIAN —  A Sebastian committee is considering asking the Sebastian City Council to make changes to the way new developments fund parks.

The Sebastian Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee discussed modifying the rules for how recreation impact fees could be used throughout the city. Currently, when a new development comes into the city, its recreation impact fees – those fees assessed to offset the impact of the new homes – are earmarked for that area’s parks and recreation needs.

The city is split into four recreation zones for that purpose. The committee briefly considered recommending to the Sebastian City Council to discontinue the recreation zones, but in the end decided to keep them.

Committee members said that the zones help to safeguard the areas, making sure that each gets its share of recreation and one isn’t favored over another.

But instead of restricting the city to only spending recreation impact fees in those specific zone, the committee supports allowing one zone’s funds be reallocated to another zone under certain conditions.

“I think it’s a good idea,” member Jo Ann Webster said.

As it is, one zone has nearly $300,000 that needs to be allocated to projects within its area within the next few years or else the city runs the risk of having to return the funds to the developers who paid the recreation impact fees.

The current rules would not allow the city to transfer those funds out of that zone and into another one – even if the residents in that zone did not want or need any additional parks or recreational opportunities.

City Manager Al Minner told the committee that the proposed change to the ordinance would require the Sebastian City Council’s approval to shift the funds around.

“I think it could be a tripping stone later,” Minner said explaining that the proposed changes would provide flexibility but could also stir debate amongst the residents if their funds are moved to another part of the city.

“It’s not a bad thing,” Joann White said of the debate, “because it’ll get people looking at their parks.”

The city has run into some resident opposition to parks projects, which has stymied the allocation of that zone’s funds, according to the committee.

White suggested that if that zone were informed that the earmarked funds could go elsewhere, it might spark a change of heart.

The committee is expected to get a copy of the final version to proposed changes to the ordinance at its November meeting. Members could approve the proposal then and send it to the Sebastian City Council for consideration.

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