In a Pinch

“In all due modesty, I’m the father of the Sports Center,” Monterey Mayor Clyde Roberson says. Usage of the facility remains just below half of its pre-pandemic levels.

Just three-and-a-half months ago, Monterey City Manager Hans Uslar presented City Council with some welcome news: Due to revenues far exceeding projections in the 2021-22 fiscal year, there was an approximate windfall of around $10 million over what had been expected. The council then elected to put much of that money into a series of reserve funds, including one to pay for future sea level rise-related projects.

On June 7, Uslar presented to City Council an entirely different proposition while previewing the city’s proposed budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year: Take $2 million out of next year’s $4.96 million Neighborhood and Community Improvement Program budget to address deferred maintenance to the Sports Center. The city-owned gym still hasn’t rebounded, attendance-wise, post-pandemic.

In order to take money from the NCIP fund, per the city charter, it requires a minimum of four votes on the five-member Council. (That happened in 2020, when City Council took approximately $9.5 million out of the NCIP fund to help the city navigate the mid-pandemic financial squeeze. That involved defunding several projects that residents – volunteers for the program – had spent years working on.)

Uslar’s proposition did not go over well. Mayor Clyde Roberson helped found both the NCIP and the Sports Center in the 1980s, and in his opening comments stated he didn’t support the proposal, and asked if another council member would join him in opposition. Councilmember Dan Albert immediately joined him, suggesting the city’s staff could find money in other places, like the reserve fund the City Council set aside for maintenance of the Monterey Conference Center.

Roberson is confident the city can find the money without drawing from the NCIP fund, including looking at the city’s parking fund and conference center reserves. “We can get creative, we’ll find the money,” he says.

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There’s one possibility that would not have to rob Peter to pay Paul, as the saying goes. On June 16, the NCIP Committee will meet to rank proposed neighborhood projects for the upcoming fiscal year. Among them are a series of projects that would address deferred maintenance issues in the Sports Center, mostly related to its pool.

“I am optimistic,” Uslar says, adding that he thinks the NCIP Committee members will “understand the Sports Center is a jewel,” and allocate funds to it accordingly.

Jean Rasch, vice chair of the NCIP Committee, says she has no clue how the committee will vote on ranking proposed projects and if the Sports Center will make the cut. But she believes that if the City Council does ultimately decide to take $2 million from the NCIP, it will be the death knell for a program that is funded by the city’s transient occupancy tax, and is essentially run by volunteers who give hours of their time to help facilitate the city’s improvement.

“It’s been a frustrating seven years for me,” Rasch says of her time volunteering with NCIP. “If it gets worse, why would the best and brightest [want to be involved]?”

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