Financial shell game with Riverfront Park Development funding continues

Earlier this month the Spokane Park Board voted to divert $2.5 million of expected interest revenue from the $64.3 million Riverfront Park (RFP) Redevelopment bond to support additional design and construction costs for the new U.S. Pavilion . It’s easily demonstrable that the $2.5 million is not new revenue. Once again, the game of three card monte continues with the public being the last to know or be consulted.

What’s really going on is two-fold. First, by implying that the $2.5 million is new revenue, the board avoids telling the public about RFP Redevelopment projects that will be cut to free up additional funding for the Pavilion.

Second, the move buys time for the long game, which is to propose a bond measure for a North Bank parking garage and establish an enterprise fund for the park. The bonds give leadership hope of securing additional funds to avoid future cuts they don’t want to talk about. And the enterprise fund protects the city park system from future Riverfront Park loses by putting the city treasury and taxpayers on the hook.

This article explains the current state of funding cards being flashed. The next will explain why new bonds and the enterprise fund are a high-risk riverboat gamble that should not be pursued.

The city council must investigate and demand accountability for the current paper shuffle, which includes the following:

1) A June 2017 budget document Parks and Rec shared with the state estimates that interest from the RFP Redevelopment bond will be $2.26 million. This interest had already been assigned to supporting other projects. Reallocating these funds to the Pavilion neglects to tell the public which park projects will be cut or eliminated.

2) Increasing projected interest from $2.26 million to $2.5 million dollars two months later is speculative, particularly as principal on the bond is being spent down as construction progresses.

3) A portion of this same interest has been identified as being used to cover Rotary Fountain costs. The same dollar cannot be used in two places at once. So is it the Pavilion or the Fountain?

4) The June 2017 budget also shows available funding for the Pavilion at $19.5 million, not the publicly stated $21.5 million. With or without the extra $2.5 million, the public still does not know how much funding is available for design and construction of the Pavilion because the numbers keep changing.

Making matters worse and defying all appropriate good governance principles, the board has neither voted on a complete and updated Riverfront Park Redevelopment Budget or shown the public an updated site plan since May 2016. Even more remarkable, the budget voted on in May 2016 was only partially approved.

A lack of government oversight lies at the heart of the shell game. Taking individual votes on line items saves the board, staff, and a distracted city council from the transparency and accountability of showing the public or anyone else the whole of what’s being done.

Here are highlights of what’s been cut back so far from the May 16 budget:

1) No Canada Island landscaping

2) No East/West Promenade and Centennial Trail

3) No landscaping on the eastside of Havermale Island

4) North Bank development, which includes the regional playground, cut by $1.3 million.

5) No new or renovated park shelters

I often hear city council say the Park Board is autonomous and there is nothing they can do. This is simply wrong. This is budget season and the council must approve the Parks and Rec budget before submittal to the Mayor for approval. The council can deliver a clear message that a 2018 budget for Parks and Rec will not be approved without the following being provided for Riverfront Park Redevelopment:

· a full accounting of what’s been allocated and spent to date,

· a full revenue and expense budget that’s been approved by the board,

· a site plan showing what will be built.

There are checks and balances available. We need a city council willing to use them and share results with the public.

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