We are past the election and have our new commissioners on board, as of January 1st. Some things are the same: we still have wonderful parks and we have islanders participating in all kinds of active sports including hiking, soccer, horseback riding, softball, skateboarding, etc. And some things are different: we have a refined and redesigned accounting system, a General Manager with a professional background in finance, we are playing on some bright new ball fields, we have survey results that tell us what you think, and we have two new commissioners (Scott Harvey and Doug Ostrom). Oh, and thanks for re-electing me, as well!
True, those fields at VES (the former Vashon Elementary School) have come at a steep price from your VPD tax dollars, but almost half was actually paid for with money outside of Vashon Park District (VPD) funds, including some very generous Islander cash and volunteer donations. And now we can track those dollars much more reliably with our updated accounting system and accounting staff.
Regardless of how we got here (mostly reduced annual levy money and taking on the VES Fields Project), I have seen our actual recovery coming for several months. We are just beginning to come out the other side, and it is exciting on a number of fronts.
First, we are moving beyond the VES Fields project. We have one final permit lingering that requires us to finish some work before mid 2015. However, we expect to complete that work this year. This is psychological, as well as financially responsible. Doing this work will finish the required work on the fields in the most cost effective and expeditious manner possible.
Second, per one of the recent WA State Audit’s recommendations, we are committed to paying off all of our debt, and creating a cash reserve. This is a new way of thinking, supported by the majority of our commissioners (myself included). Even though past WA State audits from 2001 through 2009 never found a problem (known as a “finding” in audit-speak), with VPD using this $400,000 line of credit (aka the “Tax Anticipation Note” or TAN), we are now committed to eliminating this practice. This is a multi-year process, and will only continue as long as the majority of VPD commissioners support it, but it is refreshing to have this philosophy as we move forward with financial planning. And, as we recover, we are projected to finish this fiscal year with a comfortable margin of cash in the bank.
To this end, we are also moving more slowly on ramping up staff and starting new programs. Elaine Ott, our General Manager, is slowly building her VPD team, and we, the commissioners, are reticent to take on new activities this year. Let’s cost effectively manage what we have, then, at a later time, we can consider taking on new activities. And, because we continue to keep the status quo, Elaine, by her own admission at our last board meeting, is quite comfortable with her current staff, and is carefully and methodically evaluating the need for new additions.
We are also taking this opportunity to improve internally. Elaine and our maintenance manager, Jason Acosta, just came back from a conference trading new ideas on maintenance management planning with colleagues from all over the United States. They sat in on classes related to turf management, risk management, play area safety, creating a culture of innovation, and time management, among others. There is no question this investment in professional development will save VPD money and improve our efficiency in the area of park maintenance.
Your thoughtful responses to the survey we sent out last fall were very impressive. Your message came through loud and clear about fiscal responsibility and fiscal stability. Note our efforts in creating a refined accounting system, hiring a manager with a finance and accounting background, and our vision of eliminating debt. But I think an overarching theme was a sense that Vashon Park District has some work to do to regain your trust. We are working on that. And we look forward to proving to you that you can continue to trust us with your tax dollars and that we, as your elected representatives, represent your park and recreation interests here on Vashon.