FORT BRAGG, 10/23/23 — When C.V. Starr Community Center opened in 2009, it seemed a crown jewel of a recreation facility with its lazy river, swimming pool, and more. There were ambitious plans for a golf course and an off-road facility. But a long-term foundation to generate revenue for its maintenance and upkeep never underlaid those ambitious schemes, and capital expenses continue to mount. On Monday at its normal 6 p.m. meeting, the Fort Bragg City Council will consider hiking C.V. Starr Community Center user fees by $8 per month and drop-in fees by $3 per visit for resident adults. The proposal also features increases to a variety of other fees such as lane and facility rentals and group use fees.
Said a staff report prepared for the council, “If approved, based on the current membership count and daily passes, an additional $180,000 annually of operating revenues is estimated. The additional funds will help offset the cost of the day-to-day operations of the C.V. Starr Community Center.”
The following table indicates current and proposed fees:
“Tax revenues alone cannot sustain the daily operational costs of the C.V. Starr Community Center or set aside reserves to fund the increasingly extensive list of capital improvements needed that total $2.6 million in the next five years,” the city staff report states.
A year-long effort by Mayor Bernie Norvell, Vice-Mayor Jason Godeke, City Manager Peggy Ducey, recreation administrator Moneque Wooden, and City Finance Manager Isaac Whippy to rethink the center has come up with many ideas ranging from integrating with schools, the medical community and promoting tourist use.
But first, the city says the fee hikes must be approved to pay for capital repairs such as a $1.7 million air conditioning replacement project. Operational costs have skyrocketed, especially propane and employee starting salaries. Fees have not been revised in a decade.
City took over operations at the beginning of October
The C.V. Starr Center is an elephantine swimming and exercise facility with a lazy river, competitive swimming lanes and more amenities than one would expect in a place like Fort Bragg. The problem is it also turned out to be a white elephant.
With an attached skate park, dog park and community garden, the steel- and glass-dominated complex fills up a block in a town with mostly Craftsman housing and old wooden buildings. The Mendocino Coast Recreation and Parks District (MCRPD) terminated its agreement with the city to run it this August. The city took over all operations on Oct. 1. The MCRPD once had grand plans including a golf course and an off-roading facility that were supposed to support the complex. But none of the MCRPD dreams ever worked out and instead the MCRPD found itself entangled in questionable audits, board member controversies and insufficient revenue.
Fort Bragg voters approved a ½ cent sales tax measure in 2012. But despite the sales tax funding, the district still found itself in a cash crunch, unable to qualify for state grants due to audits and other controversies.
The idea that fees might be raised and changes made to group schedules at the pool galvanized residents. More than 60 people packed the C.V. Starr multi-purpose room on Thursday after city officials, led by Norvell, called an impromptu meeting of the C.V. Starr Ad Hoc Committee composed of Norvell and Vice Mayor Jason Godeke. This is a much bigger crowd than the council usually sees for its regular meetings. The committee members had already met with the Sea Dragons swim team and others who requested meetings, Norvell said. Other users of the facility, including seniors, asked that they be able to voice their concerns about the fee hike before the council meets on Monday.
At the Thursday meeting, finance manager Whippy and recreation administrator Wooden, who now runs C.V. Starr for the city, said that yearly fee increases were never done. The staff report says that the current C.V. Starr fee schedule dates back to 2012. Wooden contacted swim centers around California including the Arcata Community Pool and the Mendocino Sports Club, located across town in Fort Bragg. The Sports Club is a private business offering a pool, other amenities and workout equipment.
According to the staff report, Ukiah Valley Athletic Club’s monthly single membership is $89, while couples are $185 with a one-time initiation fee of $225. Arcata Community Pool’s monthly cost for a single membership is $100. The Mendocino Sports Club charges $65 per month with a $50 initiation fee, according to its website.
The new proposed rates for C.V. Starr would cost adults $70 per month and couples $120 a month.
Among a long list of ideas by Wooden and Whippy of how to increase C.V. Starr’s revenues is a plan to once again offer corporate memberships. Whippy wishes to keep the popular Silver Sneakers program in place. This allows seniors to use Medicare Part C or Medicare Advantage to access the facility. What Is the SilverSneakers Program? | Medicare & Medicare Advantage Info, Help and Enrollment The seniors in the audience expressed relief to hear that the city was negotiating to keep Silver Sneakers (other cities have dumped it because of low reimbursement rates).
By the numbers
The City of Fort Bragg took the C.V. Starr Community Center title in 2012 and set up the mechanism to pay the sales tax revenue into the rec center’s operations. The MCRPD no longer had any claim to the land but ran the center. The city also entered into a property tax-sharing agreement that allows the city to allocate certain revenues for the operation and maintenance of C.V. Starr.
In the most recent year available, 2022, Measure A generated $1.1 million and property tax revenue was $268,596. Total tax revenues amounted to $1.5 million with operating revenues of $578,000 down from $703,000 pre-pandemic.
The center was closed in mid-March 2020 due to COVID-19 and remained closed into summer 2022. Taxes continued to come in, but the facility wasn’t using propane or water. The center built up reserves to $2.2 million by July 2022 from the $702,000 the center had in the bank prior to the pandemic. This influx included relief funds provided to special districts by the state of $602,000 and savings in operating expenditures, particularly utilities and personnel costs. The $1.7 million approved in this year’s budget to replace the HVAC intake system will deplete reserves to $520,000 with more capital improvements needed.