Some councilors oppose using lodgers’ tax, prioritize softball netting
The Roswell City Council approved two resolutions — one to replace and the other to refurbish the closed rocket slide at Spring River Park & Zoo.
The city staff explained the total financial consideration for the rocket plan is $115,000 from the city’s lodgers’ tax fund; this breaks down to $85,000 for new play equipment and $30,000 to refurbish the rocket into a sign to attract tourists and preserve the rocket.
A little over an hour of the six-hour full City Council meeting on Dec. 13 was dedicated to the councilors voicing opinions on the rocket and asking questions of the city staff with the manner wrapping up around 10:45 p.m. All 10 councilors were present at that meeting. Mayor Dennis Kintigh said two people were signed up to speak about the rocket during public participation, but informed him they no longer wished to speak and left during one of the recesses that night.
Councilor Caleb Grant initiated motions on both resolutions and Councilor Barry Foster seconded both of Grant’s motions. The final vote was 6 to 4 on both resolutions at Dec. 13’s meeting. Councilor Savino Sanchez, George Peterson, Angela Moore and Juan Oropesa voted against the lodgers’ tax budget amendment to replace the existing rockets with new equipment.
On the resolution to relocate and turn the rocket into a sign, councilors Oropesa, Peterson, Judy Stubbs and Sanchez voted against the measure. Councilor Stubbs said she felt the relocating plan was incomplete since it did not take other considerations for buying land to put it on, fencing or lighting and other features. Councilor Moore said she loved the relocating and refurbishing plan, but was concerned about the timing to replace with the new play equipment.
Elizabeth Gilbert, the city’s director of administrative services, said the rocket play structure is “nostalgic for many of our residents, however, it’s no longer up to our current safety standards for play equipment,” and is closed to the public. Gilbert said City Attorney Aaron Holloman has reviewed the lodgers’ tax to ensure the funds could be used in both instances. Holloman also said the master plan for the zoo is planned to be a tourist attraction and replacing the rocket was included in the plan.
The lodgers’ tax, which is an optional tax imposed by municipalities on short-term rental lodging, must be used for tourist facilities or related attractions according to state statute. The plan was reviewed by the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, General Services Committee and twice at the Finance Committee.
Councilor Jacob Roebuck has spearheaded the project to save the unsafe-for-play rocket slide. He has presented his plan to have a farewell event for the rocket, which is expected to be taken down this winter by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. In his proposal, the decommissioned rocket — after being converted into a sign — will be placed downtown or at the zoo. Roebuck said the zoo’s park will also be furnished with a new rocket play structure for future generations.
Roebuck said the rocket has “been a part of this community for a long time.” He said the plan is to ensure the rocket’s imminent removal is not similar to the closing of the Yucca Recreation Center and the Cahoon Park Pool, while giving the city an opportunity to be proactive rather than reactive. Roebuck said the value of the rocket can be maximized downtown and has the potential to add to the city’s space tourist theme.
Councilor Jeanine Corn Best was the first to bring up issues with the rocket replacement with refurbishing coming out of the city’s general fund and showed support for the plan now that it was coming out of lodgers’ tax. Councilors Grant and Roebuck were also in support of relieving the general fund. She said the new rocket sign directing people to the zoo made sense, with a new play rocket at the zoo, and compared the rocket to the newly installed alien sign at Dunkin’ Donuts. Oropesa said he disagreed with moving the rocket because the tourists won’t care and it would make sense to have it at the zoo.
“The zoo is certainly important — it has a lot of potential to be a great tourist theme for us,” Roebuck said. “And certainly the rocket, new and old, is something that is special. It’s not just an ordinary piece of play equipment. It inspires children to dream big and it has for generations.”
Roebuck said finding a location for the rocket sign was expected to take time and challenge the Department of Transportation. He said Bill Morris, the city’s community development director, is looking into this now. Gilbert said the city staff was tasked to present potential locations at the City Council’s February meeting.
Softball versus rocket
Councilors Oropesa and Sanchez have shared support for completing the netting project at the Charlie McVay Memorial Softball Complex at 1500 N. Grand Ave., also known as the girls’ softball complex. Both Oropesa and Sanchez voiced the need for the city to finish projects as well as the fact that there are other more important projects.
Councilor Sanchez asked if the $350,000 netting project for the softball complex can be funded with lodgers’ tax. In response, City Manager Joe Neeb said it could be done if approved by council and the lodgers’ tax fund has $363,000 at this time.
Sanchez compared knowing that lodgers’ tax can be used as an “open door” to getting more city projects done. Sanchez said the reason he hasn’t pushed for the softball project is because he was willing to wait to allow more important city projects to be funded and completed. He said he intends to propose the funding of the softball complex also come from lodgers’ tax.
Saying he was excited and wants to see the softball complex finished, Sanchez continued to say “opening a door” to use lodgers’ tax could cause problems because all of the councilors want to accomplish something, and want “more important things to be used out of lodgers’ tax.” Councilor Oropesa shared reservations with lodgers’ tax being used for the rocket saying it “goes behind the back door of trying to get it funded.”
Councilor Oropesa said urgency was a matter of opinion and brought up hearing from the Tennis Association that real bathrooms instead of porta-potties were a need at the city’s tennis courts. He suggested postponing the rocket and revisit it at the next budget cycle. If going through with the plan now, Oropesa said the city would be “making a mistake.” Oropesa said he was also concerned about lodgers’ tax being depleted when more projects would be using it.
Councilor Grant said the lodgers’ tax funds have to be used for “very specific” purposes and the city doesn’t have millions to dwindle away in the limited fund. He said Roebuck’s rocket plan was evaluated by staff and the council, and another plan to use such funds would also be needed.
On the urgency of the matter, Roebuck said softball is still being played, but the rocket is closed. Roebuck shared support to improving the softball complex and he said the councilors should “stop using it as this bludgeon to stop progress on anything else,” and could share their plans to council. In defense, Oropesa said he was not using the softball complex as a bludgeon.
“So as far as the urgency, I’m going to tell you something about urgency,” Roebuck said. “There are children who do not have a rocket to play on now — and they are growing up — and they grow up fast. I’m not going to on a council that drags its feet because we can’t get our budget priorities together and neglect those children an opportunity we’ve given generations of children to have a rocket there. I want my children and I want the other children in this town to have that same opportunity that the generations have had to have a rocket to play on.
“And that is an urgency because kids grow up fast and they are growing up. So we can table it, we can wait … besides, the rocket has to be moved anyway. That’s probably the most important urgency. Let’s give these kids something that is awesome. Let’s give our kids something to be very proud of and that other cities, other places don’t have. That’s the urgency.”
Oropesa said children will not be “damaged for not playing on a rocket” and said the history of a rocket at the zoo doesn’t have to be continued. He referenced a similar rocket in Carlsbad and said he understands the argument to have a rocket, but said there have to be funds to support it.
Councilor Peterson asked why the request for proposals process was not used in planning for the rocket. Gilbert said the city is using a purchasing process for the equipment and the costs for repurposing are below the threshold required for an RFP. Peterson said he would want to see the RFP process used and also suggested the rocket be placed on a corner near the zoo.
Peterson also said he believed the rocket should be fixed and was not as damaged as presented by the staff. Mayor Kintigh clarified that the rocket was found to be unsafe and couldn’t be opened. City Manager Joe Neeb said the city’s playground staff found it to be unsafe and an additional company confirmed the same issues. Neeb also said the repairs would be more than replacing the whole structure with new equipment.
City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at email@example.com.