Other Public Hearings
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
State Parks Recreation Grants Division
Park Grant Programs
Commissioners Hearing Room
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Headquarters
4200 Smith School Road
September 11, 2007
PRESIDING: Tim Hogsett, Recreation Grants Div.
MR. HOGSETT: The programs that we’re going to talk about today are the programs under the umbrella of what’s known as the Texas Recreation and Parks Account, and also our Recreation Trails and Boating Access Grant programs. The Texas Recreation and Parks Account was first created by the Texas Legislature back in 1993. For many years, many of you probably remember that our primary source of funding for local park grants was a penny per pack tax on cigarettes. That went from about 1979 until 1993 when the legislature decided that it made more sense to use a resource that’s more related to the parks and recreation business.
Hence, in 1993, the legislature established the Texas Recreation and Parks Account and began to dedicate a portion of the sales taxes collected on sporting goods sales. When you go to Academy and buy a ball or a bat, or go to Wal-Mart and buy a glove or some tennis shoes, any other items associated with outdoor recreation, a portion of that tax that you’re paying, that sales tax is reinvested into parks and recreation. It’s invested into the State Parks System and it’s also invested in your local grant program, and hopefully then is reinvested back into your local communities for facilities that will make sense for use of those kinds of activities.
We’ve been down in funding, as many of you know, for the last four years. What we used to call full funding for the Texas Recreation and Parks Account was $15-½ million annually and we had that kind of resource from 1993 up until about 2003, when the 78th Session of the Texas Legislature appropriated less than that in the amount of about $13 million a year for >04 and >05, and then the 79th Legislature appropriated even less than that, about $5-½ million for each of fiscal years >06 and >07.
Well, we’ve just wrapped up the 80th Legislative Session last May and the good news is that basically we’ve been restored to full funding at $15-½ million a year for the grant program. There’s a little wrinkle in that that I’ll tell you about in a minute.
One of the things that has happened, though, also as a result of the legislative session is the creation of an Urban Parks Account. I’m going to tell you a little bit more about that in a minute, but save it to say that what that does, it sets up a new program for the urban areas of the state and they will compete among themselves, and the rest of the balance of the state, basically everyone in this room, will be competing under a program that doesn’t involve working with urban facilities and doesn’t compete against urban parks and recreation units.
The wrinkle that I will tell you about in this legislative session which concerns me a little ‑‑ actually, it concerns me quite a lot, is that on top of the $15-½ million a year or $31 million over the next biennium, also the legislature has appropriated but mandated that we do $16.8 million worth of what are called appropriations riders. An appropriations rider is basically an earmark in the Parks and Wildlife budget. These are specific projects that will require us to make specific expenditures in specific communities in the state. It’s a list of grants that the Parks and Wildlife Department has been told that you will, in your budget, do these projects and they’re outside of the competitive process.
These are earmarks, if you will. If you are familiar with the way things work in Washington with the congressional budget, they are earmarked projects that we will enter into agreements with these grant sponsors and do these projects. The good news is that this is more money into local parks, so we’re going to make the very best projects out of these that we possibly can.
If any of you are interested in the specifics as to where any of these are located and the amounts, I’d be glad to get a phone call from you and we’ll be glad to send you a list of those.
Anyway, it’s something that is sort of unprecedented. We have had a few earmarks like this over the past few years but never to the extent of 18 projects for $16-plus million.
This group of charts depicts the sporting goods sales tax distribution. As I told you earlier, sporting goods sales tax is used not only for park grants but it’s also used in our State Parks System. The Texas Legislature in this last session basically took the cap off the sporting goods sales tax and are providing Parks and Wildlife Department with 94 percent of the revenue that’s collected on sporting goods sales tax and then are also providing 6 percent to the Texas Historical Commission for the transfer of a number of historic sites from Parks and Wildlife Department to the Texas Historical Commission.
Basically, some of the sites which don’t have a recreation component related to them, some of the historic sites that were in our State Parks System until September 1 of this year, the legislature has mandated that we transfer those to the Texas Historical Commission, and along with that, they’ve carved out 6 percent of the sporting goods sales tax and given that to the Historical Commission for the operations and administration of those sites.
You take that 94 percent that’s left and you take that down another level ‑‑ and the chart on the upper right does that ‑‑ it shows you that of the sales tax from sporting goods that’s coming to the Parks and Wildlife Department, that approximately 74 percent of that will go into the State Park Account, a rather sizable increase, that will help basically fix a broken system.
The State Parks System, if any of you have visited state parks recently, is being well maintained by a wonderful group of professionals, state parks people, but we’ve really been struggling with infrastructure in those sites, things that you don’t see: old decrepit restroom facilities, sewage treatment facilities that no longer work, roofs that leak. Basically, we’ve not had the resources in really the last ten years to do the major repairs and renovations that needed to occur in the State Parks System. We have considerably more money now and are hopefully going to be able to do some of that kind of work.
The remaining 26 percent is divided among a 1 percent dedication sporting goods sales tax that goes into a capital account for new construction, major improvements in the State Parks System, and then your 25 percent share in the Texas Recreation and Parks Account. That money then is divided and the third pie, that 25 percent of the overall sporting goods sales tax, is divided by the legislation that was just passed in the 80th Legislature into two pieces with 60 percent or approximately $9.3 million annually, into the traditional Texas Recreation and Parks Account for which all of you are eligible to compete, and then 40 percent into a newly created program that, for lack of a better name so far, we’re going to call the Urban Parks Account.
The Urban Parks Account, by law, will be available to cities and counties in Texas of populations of 500,000 or more: Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, El Paso; also the counties in which those reside would be Travis, Bexar, Dallas, Harris, El Paso, and Tarrant, plus Hidalgo County. Those 13 sponsors will be eligible to compete on their own for that remaining 40 percent of the money, about $6-½ million, $6.2 million.
So the way we see that is it will truly take that group of folks out of the mix and leave a substantial amount of money for the balance of the state, for the folks in Luling and the folks in Round Rock and Hays County, and entities like river authorities to compete among themselves for. And hopefully the Urban Parks Account folks will be able to pull together their own set of program rules, their own scoring system, and you guys won’t have to worry about them.
It’s the six largest cities: Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, and El Paso, and the counties in which they reside, which would be Dallas and Tarrant, Harris, Travis, El Paso, Bexar and Hidalgo.
FEMALE SPEAKER: What about the smaller communities within those counties? In other words, where do they fall?
MR. HOGSETT: The question was what about the smaller communities within those counties: Garland, Taylor here in Travis County. They fall under the Texas Recreation Parks Account. They will fall under the 60 percent, $9.3 million. It will only be those local municipalities, those cities, and the county governments within those counties.
Some of those counties, we’re not really sure that they have active parks and recreation systems. Tarrant County, for example, they have a couple of small parks. Dallas County has done some park work but it’s been predominantly acquiring open space property and then turning that open space over to the jurisdictions in which they buy those properties. Travis County has a real active parks department, Harris County does, a few of the others do, so it will be interesting what kind of a mix we have.
We’re going to do a summit meeting next month. We’re going to pull together a meeting of those thirteen sponsors down at Texas State University and spend an afternoon and evening and then the following morning, bringing those folks in and letting them have the opportunity to pull their own set of rules together. Hopefully we’re going to come out of that summit meeting with a draft of what’s eligible for Urban Parks work and a scoring system that we’ll use to evaluate applications from that group of thirteen.
So unless you guys want to talk about that more, if you do, we can take a minute and do that, but unless you do, I think probably enough said. That program will be meaningful to you in that it will provide additional parks and recreation facilities in Texas, but what we’re really here about today is talking about the other 60 percent, or $9.3 million a year for the next two years.
Anything else on Urban Parks?
MR. HOGSETT: This is the money situation. Again, the legislature has restored funding to where we were in 2002 at $15-½ million a year, divided 60-40, $9.2 million for the Texas Recreation and Parks Account.
We’re doing five public hearings. This is the first one, probably will be the worst one in terms of our staff presentation because we’re just now getting started. You guys are going to be great. We’re starting here; we’re going to Arlington on Thursday of this week; next Tuesday is Odessa, I believe; then The Woodlands; and then a week from Tuesday down in Harlingen.
That challenges us, as staff, to pull together a set of draft rules from the comments that you give us today and through the survey that we’re going to ask you to fill out and that we’re going to make available statewide that we’ll talk about a little more in a minute, and pull together a set of draft rules to take to our commission for adoption in January. And these rules have to do with everything from deadlines and program ceilings, application ceilings, to all the scoring systems, and that’s what we’re hoping that we can get from all of these meetings today is your input on what we should be doing in terms of administration and our scoring.
I want to talk a minute about a program that has been suspended for the last two years; it’s called the Regional Park Grant Program. We were given the authority about six years ago to begin to do Regional Grants. These were grants that were larger than normal, larger than our traditional $400,000 or $500,000 Outdoor Grants, that were designed to do different things that what our traditional programs could do. They were designed to be projects that either had a very strong conservation element or were very large complexes of recreation, something like a very large municipal soccer complex or a large water park or something like that.
Frankly, most of the projects that we’ve done with this program, until it was suspended two years ago, were big conservation projects. Most of them were linear, greenbelt kinds of projects. For example: we did the assistance with El Paso County with the development of a portion of what will eventually be about 60 miles of trail along the Rio Grande River; we worked with the City of Arlington to do a major connectivity piece of the Trinity River Corridor between Dallas and Fort Worth; we’ve done several projects along the bayous in Houston; we partnered with Williamson County to do a phase of the development of Brushy Creek which is the county line, basically, between Travis and Williamson counties. These were projects that involved expenditures of from a $1 million to $2 million apiece.
When our grant funds were reduced from $15-½ million to $13-½ million and then down to ultimately $5.6 million a year by the legislature, and also when our Federal Land and Water Fund Conservation Program was really unreliable in terms of federal dollars being able to be used to also fund park grants, we didn’t think, and at that particular time our customers didn’t think that it made a lot of sense to continue to do multimillion-dollar Regional Park Grants, so we basically put that program up on blocks for the last two years.
They were matching grants, they typically had a multijurisdictional component to them, they were partnership kinds of projects between public and public partners and public and private partners, it had to have one grantee to take the lead. But, for example, that project in Williamson County along Brushy Creek ‑‑ Jim Rogers is here representing Williamson County, so help me if I’m wrong on this, Jim, but it was Williamson County, it was the City of Round Rock, it was the City of Cedar Park, and at least three municipal utility districts along that corridor that all pulled together and partnered in terms of match resource, in terms of planning, and I think we did about a $2 million grant for that project which will ultimately carry a trail ‑‑ if you’re familiar with north of here ‑‑ along Williamson Creek from Round Rock all the way to Cedar Park.
Those are the kinds of projects that Regional Grants involve.
These are as summary of the scoring criteria that we used when we were funding those projects. We’re going to be doing this with all the programs, we’re not going to attempt to go through criteria by criteria with you. You have copies of all of this to take home. But what we do want to do is open up a discussion with you on each of these programs related to these criteria and for you to have the opportunity to tell us if you think that the criteria that we currently use are really out of line.
All of our programs involve compliance review, compliance on the active projects and past projects. Regional involved a lot of points for acquisition; it involved money being from multiple partners for the match; it involved programming by multiple partners; gave priority to projects that involved public and private partnerships; it gave priority to water-based kinds of activities ‑‑ the river corridors that I was referring to are a good example of that; it gave priority to linking multiple political jurisdictions, physically linking those by parkland.
Our thinking on Regional is that it may be time to restore that program. I don’t know that $9.6 million among the Regional Park Grant Program and the other Texas Recreation and Parks Account programs which are Outdoor, Indoor, Community Outdoor Outreach, and Small Communities ‑‑ all of which we’re going to talk about this morning ‑‑ whether that’s still enough money at $9.6 million annually for us to be able to open the doors for that program. We’ve also got a lot of work to do, creating a new Urban Parks Account program and going about setting up and changing rules for those existing Texas Recreation and Parks Account programs.
So kind of our thinking today is that if we continue to receive Land and Water Conservation Fund federal aid ‑‑ which is a matching funds grant program from the Department of Interior, it’s an annual, or at least potentially is an annual apportionment that each state receives from an annual appropriation by the U.S. Congress that can be used for projects that are very similar to what we do with the Texas Recreation and Parks Account ‑‑ then if that program is continued at its current level or even goes to a higher level from Congress appropriations ‑‑ which currently give Texas a couple or three million dollars a year ‑‑ that we would probably use that resource, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, to fund the Regional Park Grant Program.
We’re thinking that’s probably minimum six months out, maybe a year, but we would like your input today and in the immediate future, if indeed you feel that that makes sense to restore Regional Grants, what do you think about the scoring criteria and what do you think about deadlines and what do you think about terms of ceilings for the amount that could be applied for.
Traditionally, Regional Grants we took once a year, we didn’t have a ceiling on what you could ask for, but we did cap the amount that we would grant in the neighborhood of $2 million for a project. We typically did one or two projects a year.
Does anybody have any comments at all on Regional? Okay, Elaine. Would you mind doing the microphone thing here? It’s going to be a little struggle logistically, but if you guys don’t mind, if you would just step up to the mike, that way we can get it out to the folks, hopefully, that are listening on the web.
MS. DILL: I’m Elaine Dill. My question for Regional Grants is I know there are reservations of types of acquisition you can make with Land and Water money, and if you’re considering that as the sole source of funding, that would, of course, eliminate certain types of transfers of property between political jurisdictions. So obviously that’s something you can deal with and you’re going to have to have restrictions of some sort, but when you’re considering regional projects that you’re wanting to have multiple sponsors, that might have some limitations on how the sponsors could work together.
MR. HOGSETT: I think what Elaine is referring to is that when we submit grants to the Land and Water Conservation Fund on your behalf to the National Parks Service, the rules for them are slightly different than the current rules that we use for the Texas Recreation and Parks Account, specifically having to do with acquisition.
And one of the specific areas that is different is that under the Texas Recreation and Parks Account programs, the Outdoor Recreation Grant Program, Indoor, you have been able to use land that you already own that was not parkland. Let’s say you’re a community and you’ve got a piece of surplus property, like an old sewage treatment plant or something like that that’s no longer usable for its intended purpose and that now you could maybe use as a park. The value of that land under the Texas Recreation and Parks Account programs has been able to be used as a match. The Feds won’t let us do that for the purposes of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
So that would definitely affect one of the criteria that we have in the scoring system currently for Regional Park Grants which did give some additional priority for what we call sponsor-owned non-parkland. So yes, that’s something we will need to take a look at.
FEMALE SPEAKER: Are you referring to this only outside of those urban areas?
MR. HOGSETT: What do you mean? I’m not sure I understand outside of the urban areas?
FEMALE SPEAKER: The Urban Parks Account, so this Regional grant would be outside of those six cities and those six counties.
MR. HOGSETT: Actually, in this scenario it would be outside of either the Texas Recreation and Parks Account or the Urban Parks Account. It would be contingent upon us receiving Federal Land and Water Conservation funds, and conceivably, at least, it would be a statewide competition which everyone would be eligible for, large or small. Does that answer your question?
Does anybody have a problem with that? A show of hands, does that sound okay?
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: Other comments? Dale?
DALE: Thanks, Tim. I guess maybe just to follow up on that point, so an urban area could apply in the Urban Parks Account, also as a Regional participant, or also fit in with the TPRA?
MR. HOGSETT: According to the law, the 13 eligible sponsors for the Urban Parks Account cannot participate in funding for the Texas Recreation and Parks Account. Those are separate and distinct funds.
Where we were talking about for Regional, though, was that anyone could apply for that money, regardless of the size of the community. It would be a separate and distinct program with a separate and distinct funding source that had nothing to do with the Texas Recreation and Parks Account or Urban Parks Account, and everybody would be eligible and it would be a level playing field.
DALE: Thanks for that clarification. I did have a couple of comments. One is that it’s real encouraging to hear staff considering the prospect of re-funding or at least creating a mechanism for the Regional Program to be back in the game, if you will. I think we all know that in today’s world, partnerships are the way you get things done and that certainly doesn’t just mean with private partners. In fact, a lot more ground can be gained when you deal with multiple governmental jurisdictions working together.
So I think that would be real fundamental still in these rather tight financial constraints that we here in Texas are all faced with, with the public funding. So it is encouraging to hear consideration and certainly our agency, the San Antonio River Authority, would be very much in support of re-instituting some funding capabilities for those Regional Grants.
And I think probably the scoring criteria and other things that might need to be tweaked, depending on how this goes, generally are in good shape. It may be worthy of looking at lowering the cap, the maximum amount of the grant, given, again, the limited funding that’s available. Two million dollars is a big chunk of change and if there is still a very limited amount to pull from to begin with, maybe until there’s some increases to available funds, it would make sense to perhaps looking at lowering a maximum grant amount under that program.
I would like to ask a question that if the concept of dedicating Land and Water Conservation funds as the sole source, does that include then that all of the Land and Water Conservation funds coming to Texas would be set aside to fund the Regional Grant Program?
MR. HOGSETT: The answer is probably not. Two things that I see there. I think that probably some of the Land and Water Conservation Fund money, particularly if that program grows, becomes more robust than $2- or $3 million a year for Texas, that some of that money will be potentially used by our commission in the State Parks System. And I think that also at some point we will have to consider maybe a trigger point that we set which may be kind of arbitrary but that if the Land and Water Program really grows and becomes truly robust, $10- or $15 million a year program, that we would have to supplement the traditional grant programs that we’re talking about the rest of the day: Indoor, Outdoor, Small Community.
Land and Water money, really in the last ten years or so, has been looked at by Parks and Wildlife as a supplement or a supplemental fund to the more traditional Texas Recreation and Parks Account. We looked at it as an opportunity to do things that we couldn’t do or an add-on to those programs that we already had in existence.
And frankly, you would apply for a grant and you were applying for generically a grant, and in a lot of cases we would make the decision, staff-wise, which program to fund your grant out of. It really made little or no difference to you, it was a seamless kind of situation.
DALE: And to kind of pick up on that, if that evolved to be the case, then it might be somewhat counterproductive if we’re trying to revive the Regional Grant Program that it’s so restricted to one source of money that is going to have other uses considered for it. So perhaps some consideration back to either also being eligible for the Texas Recreation and Parks Account monies when budgets are more healthy or a more generic system as existed in the past might be warranted.
MR. HOGSETT: Let me ask a question ‑‑ not of you, Dale, but just of the group in general ‑‑ related to that. Nine million available for TRPA, $6 million available for Urban, at those levels, by show of hands, yes, you think if we revive Regional that we ought to take some money out of those accounts as well as from Land and Water, or no, you don’t. Let’s see yes, you do think we should take money out. And then no, we shouldn’t. It looks pretty overwhelming that if we’re going to dedicate money for Regional that it should come out of the Land and Water Program.
That’s one of those things that’s a work in progress. We wanted to not spend a huge amount of time on it this morning, but I think I’ve got enough. Jill?
MS. PARRISH: Would it make sense for there to be a threshold of our Land and Water Conservation Fund apportionment: if it reaches X number of million dollars, then the Regional Program would kick in? Does that make sense? And then funds below that amount would be available to supplement the TRPA Program. That’s something we discussed. Think about that, and if you have any comments on it, please feel free to share them in the survey that we have in the back.
MR. HOGSETT: Yes, sir.
MR. VISCOLA: Mike Viscola, City of Laredo. Concern really on the scoring system. Basically, I can think of a couple of projects that in the City of Laredo continue to rank high in our citizen surveys when we’re updating our master plans, and we would definitely probably be able to qualify for this Regional Parks grant. The concern there is the programming criteria for private-public partnership. That’s been the one that has held up some of these projects, as a matter of fact, for at least a couple of years, and I can mention water park, municipal golf course, different things like that.
MR. HOGSETT: What’s been the problem with the criteria, in your view?
MR. VISCOLA: Well, rather than putting the private sector as a criteria, I would want to see other. I know you mentioned private sector and also non-profit. A lot of non-profits in Laredo, and I’m sure across the state, are voluntary groups which would probably not be able to devote a big part to a big project like this.
MR. HOGSETT: So you would advocate lowering or eliminating priority being given to projects that involve partnerships, public and private, for part of the match?
MR. VISCOLA: That would be correct.
MR. HOGSETT: Anything else on Regional?
MR. SICORSKI: Wayne Sicorski, San Patricio County. I had a question if we go back to that one slide where we’re talking about the Water, the federal money and so forth, the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Has there been any talk of dedication towards the CIAP money that will be coming down in January and February of next year to be added to that? The coastal counties share the CIAP, which is Coastal Impact Improvement money, which is from the oil and gas wells. Half goes to counties along the coast, the other half goes to the State. Does that money go back to Parks and Wildlife? We haven’t heard anything as far as where the State is going to dedicate that money.
MR. HOGSETT: That is not our program, that is over at the General Land Office. But we do have an issue ‑‑ and we’re going to talk about CIAP a little later ‑‑ in terms of the eligibility of use of that money as match for our grant programs. Right now law prohibits us from doing that, and actually it’s our own rules prohibit us from doing that, and we do want to have a discussion on how you feel about the opportunity to use CIAP money as match for some or all of these programs we’re going to talk about.
Jill is going to have a piece on that a little later in one of the slides, I think, but yes, good question. But as far as where the money is going to be dedicated initially, what kind of projects it’s going to go into, I don’t know, that’s not our baby, that’s GLO.
Anything else before we move on to the Outdoor Program?
Oh, good morning. My boss has arrived, so I will give it up to a real hero of state and local parks, Walt Dabney.
MR. DABNEY: Good morning to all of you. How are you? Good to see you here. I figured through all this rain there wouldn’t be that many folks here, but it’s not going to keep park people out anywhere, is it?
The only reason I’m coming up here ‑‑ Tim and the staff do a great job here ‑‑ I just came back from the National Association of State Park Directors meeting in Virginia and 48 of the states were there and the National Parks System, and in fact, their entire senior leadership staff, Forest Service, DLM, Canadian Parks, and so forth.
But the Land and Water Conservation Fund is not a given, I can tell you very clearly it is not a given right now, and that’s the only thing I wanted to talk to you about today. It’s only going to be a given if a lot of folks get serious about contacting their legislators on the federal level and make this happen. Because right now the House side is proposing $50 million, the Senate side is proposing $30 million for stateside Land and Water, and the Administration’s position is we ought to get rid of it, should not have it at all, we need the money for other things.
So now is a good time not only for discussing whether we ought to have a Regional Program or not but for you to weigh in politically ‑‑ which you can do maybe even more ‑‑so than we can ‑‑ on the national level to say Land and Water Conservation funding is important to continued building and development of parks across the land.
I had even some of my colleagues saying, you know, maybe it isn’t worth the fight, it seems to be going nowhere but down. I don’t agree with that and 99 percent of the directors did not agree with it, because if you remember the purpose of Land and Water Conservation, it is an offset, it is a mitigation for oil and gas development in the Gulf of Mexico and to go do mitigation projects, parks on the landscape across the nation. So philosophically, if you get rid of that direct relationship and you’re just going after budget dollars in the future to try to fund this, I don’t think we’ve got a chance of maintaining that in the future.
So that’s about all I needed to say, but Land and Water is not a done deal, and I’d love to see the Regional Program come back. Just briefly, one of the reasons I’ve always been excited about it is it’s a multijurisdictional or multisponsor kind of thing. It brings river authorities and cities and counties and nonprofits and all kinds of folks together to do a project which really shows a collaborative spirit, and we’d like to see that come back.
But anyway, good to see you here. It’s going to be a good day for state parks, you’re going to see some changes happening for the positive. For the first time in any of my staff’s memory, we’ve actually got some money to work with and I hope you’re going to see the difference and come out and see us. Thank you, Tim.
MR. HOGSETT: Thank you.
One of the resources that we have available for you is our Rec Grants Newsletter, and Walt, having said what he did, reminded me that we pretty frequently will send out information about what is happening with the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and a lot of it is from the National Recreation and Parks Association that we forward to you, but it will give you a lot of good information about what you can do to make a difference in that effort. So if you put your e-mail address on the sign-in sheet, unless you ask us specifically not to, we intend to add you to our Rec Grants Newsletter. We send out about four to six newsletters a year, we try to make them short, we try to make them informative. If you just really don’t want the e-mail, either let us know as you leave, or the first time you get one, there’s a way you can unsubscribe. I think it’s a pretty good resource for you. It gives us an opportunity to get news out about things like these rule changes and deadlines for applications and a lot of other things.
Let’s spend some time talking about what I consider to be the core program under the Texas Recreation and Parks Account. This is the traditional Outdoor Recreation Program. This is a program that has been in existence in one form or another since 1965. We’ve been making grants to local governments, 50 percent matching grants to local governments for outdoor recreation lands and facilities throughout the state. You can rarely go to any community in this state where there’s not at least one outdoor recreation project that’s been associated with funding from Parks and Wildlife Department.
These are the kinds of things that are eligible under that program currently, and it’s everything that you can possibly think of in the outdoor recreation arena: it’s traditional sports fields, pools, play fields; it’s passive activities like trails; it’s conservation lands; and it’s everything in between. If it’s an outdoor recreation activity that’s done in the public sector, more than likely it’s eligible for our support.
After the last legislative session reduced the amount of money that we had for park grants, we’ve come to a point where we were able to do many fewer of these kinds of core projects. We were able to do probably about a dozen or so a year, local park grants of this nature, only up to $400,000 in match. And as a lot of you will recall, we used to have two annual deadlines for those submissions, July 31 and January 31, we’ve cut that back to only one per year. We simply didn’t have enough money to do enough projects, in our view, and in our customers’ view a couple of years ago when we asked the question, to do more than $400,000 grants nor to do more than once a year, have a competition more than once a year.
Everybody is pretty familiar with this program. Any questions about how this stuff works?
MR. HOGSETT: I’m going to let Jill talk about scoring and some other issues related to this, so you won’t get tired of hearing me.
MS. PARRISH: I’m Jill Parrish. I’m the Project Section head. I work with Tim and all these great folks here. I am fairly new to this program, I’ve been with the agency approximately eight months. I have administered one grant review for the Small Community Program. So I’m the newbie onboard and I have to admit that I’m looking at these scoring criteria and how these programs are managed more from an outsider’s perspective still, because I haven’t gone through all the processes.
The approach that we’ve decided to take this year in the rule review process is to, as Tim mentioned, have a dialogue about the scoring criteria, about the administration, how we administer these programs. Any concerns that you might have, any questions that you might have, this is the time to discuss them.
Out of curiosity, how many of you have applied, either unsuccessfully or successfully, to the Outdoor Grant Program?
(Show of hands.)
MS. PARRISH: How many of you have applied successfully?
(Show of hands.)
MS. PARRISH: Okay. So there are quite a few folks here that have never applied to this program. In all honesty, when we were discussing this meeting process, this series of meetings, we made the assumption that most of the people that would be attending would be familiar with our scoring criteria, so we’re not going to go through each scoring criteria, item by item, but you do have a copy of them in your handout and they’re also, obviously, in our application materials online.
These are the current scoring criteria that we’ve been discussing for weeks in preparation for these meetings, and what I’d like to do is to discuss potential changes, solicit ideas for potential changes that we may not have captured, and go through each item one by one. We have about 30 minutes scheduled for this section of the meeting. I don’t know if that’s enough time, so we’re going to try to go through these and be as efficient as possible.
Obviously, the first issue that we’d like to discuss is the restoration of the second deadline for this program. I think it’s important that we have two deadlines, that it’s accessible twice a year. Currently the upper limit of this grant program is $400,000. It used to be $500,000 before our funding was cut. We, at the minimum, would like to restore it to that level and I’d appreciate your input on another potential ceiling for this program.
We have heard that million-dollar projects with half a million coming from Texas Parks and Wildlife may not be enough for the kinds of projects that you’re building. Is a higher award ceiling reasonable? Show of hands, yes.
(Show of hands.)
MS. PARRISH: Okay. Would you like to keep it at $500,000?
(Show of hands.)
MS. PARRISH: For those who raised their hands, I would say over half, maybe three-quarters were in support of raising the ceiling and about a quarter were in support of keeping it at half a million dollars.
MR. LUCK: Brent Luck. Can you give context of the TRPA monies, how much of that would be ‑‑ when we talk about the ceilings and all that, $400- or $650,000, of that 60 percent monies, is all that going to Outdoor? If not, what percentage is.
MS. PARRISH: Tim could answer that question better than me.
MR. HOGSETT: Probably 70 percent, about, of that $9 million would go into the traditional Outdoor Grant Program.
There are a couple of things, honestly, that are in flux. Let me refresh your memory. TRPA, 60 percent of the pie, $9.3 million a year divided among Outdoor Grants, Indoor Grants, Community Outdoor Outreach Grants and Small Community Grants. So have some issues related to CO-OP and Indoor related to the language in the appropriations bill that we’ll get to later, but the majority of the money will go into this program. I’d say somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 to 75 percent of that $9 million would go into a competition among you for $400- to $600- to $700,000 grants, whatever we end up determining the ceiling is going to be.
MS. PARRISH: Are there any other questions about the award ceiling or grant deadlines? Are the deadlines appropriate, having a January and July deadline? I’m seeing the nods yes, for the record.
MR. HOGSETT: So do you want two? A show of hands, majority, clearly a majority.
MS. PARRISH: Okay, thank you.
The third potential change in how this program is reviewed and scored is a couple of our programs that are administered by the Recreations Grants Branch utilize outside reviewers and a committee. Traditionally, the Outdoor, Indoor and Small Community programs have not, and we’ve had some discussion amongst the staff of whether or not we should be soliciting input from recreation professionals or professors from academia to help us score and review these proposals. What is your feeling on that? Show of hands in support.
(Show of hands.)
MS. PARRISH: One, two. Okay, interesting. In support of keeping it in-house within the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department?
(Show of hands.)
MS. PARRISH: Very interesting. If the outside reviewers were not potential applicants, if they were outside the application pool, would that make a difference? Show of hands, yes.
(Show of hands.)
MS. PARRISH: A slight difference. Okay. Maybe less than a quarter said that would make a difference. Would any of you be willing to come up to the microphone and discuss your reservations? This is very interesting to me.
Yes, ma’am, Ms. Dill.
MS. DILL: Well, I haven’t thought about it a lot, but one thing that comes to mind immediately is Recreation Grants has such a great reputation for objectivity and fairness all across the state, I just see if you start bringing in outside entities, it is probably not going to be the same people every single review cycle. I just see biases kind of creeping in. I know people would try to be as fair as they could.
A lot of people might have problems with academia which I don’t have ‑‑ I think those guys can certainly bring in some good ideas ‑‑ but I would suggest that you use them maybe just to comment on the program similar to what you’re doing with this kind of effort to get them to look at your criteria and where your program is headed in general but not to review specific grants, because, speaking from experience, I know how much ‑‑ having some background to what you’ve done in the past and continuing to follow the same kind of pathway for scoring every review cycle, it’s very demanding to do that and I just don’t see outside resources being able to keep up with your trends and understand the real minutiae of the scoring system.
MS. PARRISH: If you don’t mind staying up there. One of the ideas that we had ‑‑ although it doesn’t sound like there is support of the idea which we’re taking into account already ‑‑ is that they wouldn’t be scoring the proposals in the way that we score them, looking for specific criteria. They might be asked generally about a project viability or site plan or cost, so they’d have specific two or three items that they would be looking for, kind of a big picture point of view, not the detailed scoring criteria that would still be within the responsibility of the staff. They would be providing general comments, more general comments.
MS. DILL: That would be somewhat similar to when you used to have an engineer to review site plans and let you know if something was just way out of bounds.
MS. PARRISH: Well, honestly, that is one of the reasons why we had this discussion, because we no longer have engineers on staff, professional engineers, and it would be nice, frankly, to have that professional expertise taking a look at these proposals from that perspective.
MS. DILL: And I don’t think I’d have a problem with that kind of issue-specific, just not scoring.
MS. PARRISH: Just not the detailed scoring. How do you feel about issue-specific review in terms of site plan or cost, are you in support of that? Show of hands.
(Show of hands.)
MS. PARRISH: A little bit more, maybe half of the people who originally voted.
MR. CLEMMONS: I’m Billy Clemmons, city manager in Caldwell. I hope I don’t repeat something, because I can barely hear you back there, but the term outside reviewers is too broad for me. I trust the agency personnel, and you might have answered this already, but I wouldn’t want the process to include anybody with a vested interest or even a connection to that or political influence. I was in the legislature myself, and I can tell you I wouldn’t want that process to be influenced by politics. I think we can be more objective here within the agency.
So without knowing exactly what you mean by outside reviewers, I wouldn’t be supportive of that concept.
MS. PARRISH: Thank you. And I’ll try to speak up. I don’t want to scream into the microphone, that’s why I’m not speaking very loudly, so I’ll have to figure out how to do this. If you can’t hear me, please let me know.
Are there any other comments regarding the outside reviewers?
MS. PARRISH: The next scoring criteria that we’re looking at is the one specifically designed to provide points for diversity of recreation elements, and in our current scoring system, lesser activities, I guess for lack of a better word, like horseshoes or game tables have equal weight as major athletic facilities, as ball courts. Should we be looking at that as a potential source of changing the criteria? Does it make sense to weight the larger investments higher than the smaller investments? Show of hands, yes.
(Show of hands.)
MS. PARRISH: Interesting. About a quarter of the folks here in the room have said yes.
Do those of you who are not in support of this idea, do you have specific reasons that you can share with us?
MS. KIBBY: Karen Kibby. Having those things appear are actually a function of your scoring criteria. In other words, because we need to have X number of activities and we have one or two that are very expensive, we are forced to have additional activities that are very cheap. And so consequently, if you want to do that, then you need to also reduce the number of activities that you’re expecting to get done for the dollars that are available. You actually drive the response with your scoring.
MR. HOGSETT: She nailed it. Absolutely.
MS. PARRISH: And that’s exactly why we’re looking at this criteria, because in the eight months that I’ve been here and the site visits that I’ve done, it’s very obvious to me that things are being built or requested support for that are not necessarily driven by the community or even used by the community. And we’ve struggled as a team with how to honor the public opinion, from many surveys that have been done over the years, that diversity should be something that ranks high, and diversity of opportunity consistently has been told to us that it should be a scoring criteria driving municipalities and counties to create recreational opportunities that aren’t really utilized. So it’s a double-edged sword.
MS. KIBBY: Can I suggest that we begin to look at diversity from a different perspective than how many things we can do in one grant application, and look at it more as what are the things that are actually not available in that community currently. And are we taking on new activities that are not available is different than whether or not we have five activities.
MR. HOGSETT: There is a criteria in the scoring system that also gives credit for new and different activities. But you hit the point that we have as a staff right on the head. Right now if you submit an application and you ask for five recreation elements, one is a ball field, one is a tennis court, one is a track or jogging trail, and then benches and grills, that’s five activities, that gets the same weight as somebody that asks for a butterfly garden, a picnic table, a grill, a horseshoe pit and a pool. What do you think they really want?
Our point is that we’re thinking about changing or eliminating that idea of a diversity criteria and giving equal weight to numbers of facilities or activities based on how much they cost, not equate a pool with a butterfly garden.
MS. KIBBY: I guess what I’m saying is don’t tell me I need five and then not leave me any space to have some of those be cheap because you’ve actually made it impossible to make the budget work.
MS. PARRISH: Absolutely, and this is an attempt to rectify that very thing. We recognize that we are driving unwanted recreation elements.
MR. HOGSETT: How many of you would agree with that, that the system now makes you ask for things you don’t need to score better?
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: Pretty much a consensus. I think that gives us the answer we’re looking for. Don’t you?
MS. PARRISH: I’m excited about this conversation, because this is exactly what we’re trying to rectify.
FEMALE SPEAKER: I understand that issue and I’m totally in agreement that it’s a problem. I just want to play devil’s advocate for one second and mention an issue that can be a problem in certain communities. Obviously funding is always limited, but the squeaky wheel tends to get the grease a lot and you’ve always got the ball field people and the soccer people, they’re always going to get what they want, because you get most of your people to your park for that kind of issue.
But there are a lot of folks who don’t want to participate in that, who don’t have kids that participate in that, they want to come out and just sit at the picnic table, or have a little mini family reunion for the holiday and all they need is the pavilion and the picnic table and the grill, or the butterfly garden. So I don’t want to discourage communities from providing those kinds of things. Because they don’t cost very much, they’re also easy to put in a grant.
And I’m not coming up with a way to solve this issue, by any means, but I would hate to see that diversity thing totally eliminated, because it does put in some good facilities that would not otherwise show up in parks.
MR. HOGSETT: How about reduce the weight to ten points?
FEMALE SPEAKER: Yes, and the way it says now is you can group some of those less expensive things together. And we realized that the last time we were working on these scoring criteria that it was a problem, so I don’t have the exact wording in front of me but it says that some lesser activities can be grouped and not receive one point each, and I think that’s a fair way to do it.
MS. LANGFORD: Judy Langford. I actually would like to even think further about this even in a grander scale, because a lot of the communities we work with, they either don’t have a pool or their pool now is getting so old that they have to replace it. In a small community, the pool is going to cost way more than even $650,000. So I’d like to look at reducing the number of items for that particular thing based on what you are applying for. I mean, a competition ball field is costing $300,000 a field, the pools are costing $1.5 million if you’re doing a small one, and they’re usually more than that if you’re doing anything else more to it.
And I know these monies were never meant to completely to pay for a park, but the smaller the community, the more likely that is what they’re looking at. And so I’d like to see, on particularly this scoring criteria, us look at potentially the items that they are applying for and then how many do they have to have in that particular category to get the full points for it.
MS. PARRISH: Okay, that’s interesting. So having different criteria for different park elements?
MS. LANGFORD: Potentially, yes. Potentially, if you were doing a pool in a city that either has a pool that’s 30-years-plus and is in bad shape, that that gets them all the points that they need for that one scoring criteria. It’s not going to get them the points for the other ones, they’ll have to take other things into consideration, but it would allow them, at least in that one area, if it’s not needed to do the butterfly gardens and it’s not needed to do the other things, that that would allow them to focus their monies more truly as needed for that local community.
MS. PARRISH: Okay, thank you. Something to think about.
Are there any other comments regarding this issue?
MR. ZINC: Danny Zinc with the City of Buda. I think it’s real important for us when we’re talking about this too, to not let it prohibit smaller cities. The Urban Parks fund is going to help that a lot, but there’s a whole lot of difference between a city of 400,000 and a city of 4,000 and what they can do with those grant funds and how much they can get. So yes, I think you see those smaller cities that are wanting to build, wanting to build ball fields. Like in our case, we don’t have any ball fields, that is the important thing and that’s the big project there, but if we’re required to have five elements like they’re saying, we are going to have to do some inexpensive things so that we can even qualify.
So I think it’s important that we don’t set this up where it will discourage or prohibit small towns, when we’re talking about 10,000-and-under population, from being able to apply for these grants and receive them.
MS. PARRISH: Thank you. So we could potentially reduce the points associated with diversity and restructure the point system for specific park elements based on community need which would then have to be supported by a planning effort which we’ll get to later. Does that sound good by a show of hands, yes?
(Show of hands.)
MS. PARRISH: Maybe half responded in support of that. This is obviously a very difficult issue and whatever we do will adversely impact some segment of the community.
MR. HOGSETT: I will say in general that the consensus, though, is to restructure diversity and to lessen the impact of multiple facilities of low cost. I think we got it.
MS. PARRISH: Okay, thank you.
One comment that we received in our request for comments about the scoring criteria is the current system of weighting recreational structures versus support structures, restrooms, parking lots. Currently in our scoring system, direct recreational facilities rank higher than support structures, and we’ve heard from the field that that is a very limiting factor in the preparation of your application and that you are required by your governing bodies and by rules and regulations to have these support structures, and the fact that we don’t rank them as highly may be an issue.
Specifically, one concern that I’ve heard is that this criteria tends to benefit communities with more money, that have cash that can be spent on these support facilities, they have outside funding sources, and it can be detrimental to the poor communities that may not have this access to cash for these particular items.
Are we on the mark on that concern, by show of hands?
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: Everybody understand what we call the bang for the buck criteria, the one where we say if you ask in a grant application for predominantly outdoor recreation facilities that you can recreate on and then you decided to do the support facilities with your own money, you don’t ask for match for it? In other words, you’ve got a project that involves the construction of a ball field complex and a pool and roads and parking and a bathhouse. If you come and ask us for a project that involves the pool and the ball field facility and do the bathhouse and the roads and parking on your own and don’t ask for grant assistance, currently you get a higher score for that kind of a project.
What we’re saying is we’re hearing some that you’ve got to do those other things and your system is benefitting those that have the affluence to be able to do those other things on their own and not helping us that can’t and have to do those anyway.
So we’re talking about considering either lowering the amount of points associated with that bang for the buck criteria or eliminating it. What kind of support do we have for that? In the affirmative, yes, you think we should either reduce or eliminate that criteria, show of hands.
FEMALE SPEAKER: [Inaudible].
MR. HOGSETT: The question was if there’s a lot of additional support locally and over-match, for example, that might be a way that we could have some criteria involving recreation versus support.
The idea behind the criteria originally was you’ve got limited amount of grant money and if you’ve got limited amounts of money to spend, where do you get more bang for the buck, and the idea was to put it into recreation, and then if you need the sport facilities, you do them on your own.
But I’d say a 75 percent show of hands are telling us that we ought to reconsider the weight of that or reconsider whether we even do it or not.
MS. PARRISH: How many think we shouldn’t change the criteria?
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: About four, five or six out of however many we have in this group.
MS. PARRISH: Six out of sixty-one. Okay, thank you.
MR. HOGSETT: Associated with cultural resources on the site. You submit an application to us, you say this piece of property that we’re doing this on had a historic marker on it, some big battle was fought here or whatever, and you stick up a sign and you interpret that. It has to be related to that site. But you put a sign up and you interpret that or you provide some little facility associated with that, that gets you five points right now.
And I’ll tell you why we did that, and this is the absolutely God’s honest truth. We had a commissioner about ten years ago who was dearly involved with historic and cultural interpretation and preservation, and that commissioner thought that we really ought to have a cultural/historical element in our scoring system, and so that was the genesis of that particular criteria.
We’ve heard from some folks that it seems pretty silly that you get as much as five points and can have a competitive advantage. And I’m not trying to drive the discussion by being at all cynical about this, because it’s helped do some interpretation that wouldn’t have gotten done otherwise. But we’re considering reducing or eliminating that point criteria.
People in favor of us eliminating or reducing, by show of hands, that criteria.
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: It looks like half to three-quarters. Opposed to that?
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: That’s a pretty close one. So I would say probably reducing points associated with that?
MS. PARRISH: Not eliminating altogether. Small towns can benefit from that criteria. Okay.
We’ve had discussions about potentially deleting or revising the criteria as it’s currently written that provides points for at-risk youth programming, and the only reason that we’re discussing this is, because it is very difficult for us to quantify and impossible for us to monitor. So we’re essentially awarding points if you have a support letter. If you get a community group to write a support letter that says that you’re going to use this facility for a program that benefits at-risk youth, you get points for that. But there’s no follow-up, there’s no way to prove that that programming has actually occurred, and we recognize that.
And so we’re discussing how we can still capture and award points for potentially that activity but in a way that’s truly reasonable for us to monitor and quantify. If you have any ideas, we’d like to hear them.
MR. HOGSETT: How many of you feel like awarding four points for projects that involve programming on that site that involve at-risk youth is important? How many of you think that that’s worthy of continuing?
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: How many do not think that that’s worthy of continuing?
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: I would say that’s about a 50-50 split, maybe a little more in favor of it.
FEMALE SPEAKER: Is there any other type of programming that’s given points? I just don’t understand how we are asked to vote on at-risk programming, how is that valued more than other types of programming? Senior citizen programming, outdoor education programming, there’s so many types of programming, there’s just so much vagueness with all of this. There’s no other programming criteria, right, this is the only one?
MS. PARRISH: That’s correct. Vagueness in this particular criteria?
FEMALE SPEAKER: Well, in all of it, but yes, we’ll focus on this one.
MS. PARRISH: In this discussion?
FEMALE SPEAKER: Yes. Like the questions are reduce and eliminate. That’s not the same thing. Eliminate the criteria is one question, reduce the criteria is another, and then keep it as it is is another question. So when you ask us to vote together, reduce or eliminate, that’s two separate questions, and we’re all voting as a whole.
MS. PARRISH: We can certainly be splitting that out, but I would definitely encourage you to get up at the microphone and voice your concerns about eliminating. This is your time to do that. If you have concerns about eliminating a criteria altogether versus reducing it, please get up and tell us what your concerns are, and this is your chance to talk this through. We’ve been talking this through, we have certain ideas, but we don’t want to make them without soliciting comments.
So we understand that there’s a huge difference between reducing the points awarded versus eliminating a criteria altogether, versus adding a separate criteria. And it is difficult to have this conversation in this way, I understand, but we aren’t prepared to make drastic changes without first soliciting input. That’s what we’re trying to do. But I understand, I’ll rephrase our questions to accommodate that.
MR. HOGSETT: Youth at risk is the only specific criteria that addresses programming in our program. We’re about building parks and buying land, this one is related to programming, and its genesis was a few years we heard a lot of people saying that this is an important part of what we do in the parks and recreation profession and we want you to reward it if our project does it.
MR. LOGAN: George Logan, City of Schertz. I think we ought to revise it. I think it ought to also include, perhaps, community restitution or community service programs that are established within the various court systems that provide a big avenue to get a lot of maintenance work done and a lot of trail-clearing, a lot of beginning work on certain projects. I think if you could add an additional criteria to it with respect to revising it, make community restitution be a big factor. In terms of this particular program, I would say let’s keep it but expand it a little bit.
MS. PARRISH: I’m trying to repeat what I think I heard. So keep this scoring criteria for programming for at-risk youth and have a community restitution element in addition to it?
MR. LOGAN: As part of the criteria, community service, community restitution.
MS. PARRISH: So essentially awarding points for those communities that have a relationship with the court system and utilize that as a source of maintenance?
MR. LOGAN: Yes, and capital improvements, because a lot of the at-risk youth ultimately end up in the court system and they can go to work in the city parks. They can do some initial ground-clearing, they can do some trail work, and it’s all complementary, if you will, toward some of our grant programs.
MS. PARRISH: How does the group feel about awarding points for community restitution activities in general? Is that something that you think should be awarded with points?
MR. HOGSETT: They’re really two different topics, though. One is about building stuff and who are you going to use to build it, and the other is about programming on the site. But the point is well taken. That is something that we will carry forward in other meetings as a suggestion of a criteria that would give some additional priority to projects that involve construction or management through community restitution programs. That’s something I hadn’t thought about.
MR. VISCOLA: On the same point, I would offer that we revise the criteria, not eliminate it, just because we at the City of Laredo do have a way to quantify what we’re doing right now with youth at risk. One of them is through community service; we also have the drug enforcement for youth, drug education for youth, and of course, midnight basketball. We have different programming that we can definitely submit whatever forms you want us to fill out for that.
MS. PARRISH: Thank you. And something just occurred to me. In terms of monitoring these at-risk programming, if we keep the criteria and potentially revise it, one method that we would have of monitoring the programming is through an annual report, post-project completion, that is currently required by law for five years after a project has been funded. We haven’t been enforcing that, quite honestly, but if this programming element stays in the scoring criteria, that may be something that we would have to do is enforce this annual report.
FEMALE SPEAKER: If that’s what you’re using, then what happens if one thing has been funded and built, and oh, gee, they didn’t do that. Do we really believe that you’re going to ask them to pay the money back?
MS. PARRISH: No, but that leads us to another discussion point that we’re going to be having later about compliance and how we can take into account past performance and how that may impact eligibility in the future.
FEMALE SPEAKER: I guess what I’m saying is if there’s not a real penalty for lying in the application, then there’s not going to be any change in what would happen.
MS. PARRISH: Right.
MR. HOGSETT: Understood.
FEMALE SPEAKER: And when there’s something like that that makes it almost impossible to truly enforce, then it really does simply invite people to produce letters.
MS. PARRISH: To pad their application.
FEMALE SPEAKER: That is correct.
MS. PARRISH: Go ahead.
FEMALE SPEAKER: Being a programmer myself, I would vote for revising the criteria, because what youth is not at risk? You know, it’s not defined by income and it’s not defined by where you live in the city, everybody is, and especially with childhood obesity being the number one topic through NRPA and around the country related to parks and recreation programming, why wouldn’t that be an important criteria. So if you were offering opportunities for physical fitness, why wouldn’t that be as important as anything else. So I would just say revise it.
MS. PARRISH: Thank you.
MALE SPEAKER: I would definitely not be in favor of eliminating that criteria simply because we have to keep in mind the community perspective, and in most of the communities ‑‑ I know in mine ‑‑ youth at risk is an important topic and they want to see us doing things for the youth that are going to provide them with those opportunities, whether they’re physical or programming.
And on the monitoring piece, one of the things about an outdoor project is that you’re not always there when people are accessing and using the facility, and so it does present a little bit of difficult for you to track that type of thing when people are using it during times that you may not be in office.
MALE SPEAKER: Please delete this criteria and stick with helping us to build parks and let the appropriate agencies deal with social programs.
MALE SPEAKER: I would add to in favor of deleting this criteria. I think if you build any kind of park, you can creatively undertake any kind of programming that you may want to there, no matter what target audience is. So I think it’s a real can of worms if you’re going to integrate a programming criteria into a grant program that’s really devised to acquire and construct a multitude of park-type amenities and recreational opportunities.
MS. PARRISH: Thank you. The history of the creation of this program, it was created and intended to be a construction grant program and not support programming. Is that correct?
MR. HOGSETT: The answer is yes, that’s correct. And a few of these kinds of meetings ago, people told us around the state that they thought that at-risk was kind of a buzz word, I guess, but they told us that it was important and that we ought to get into the business of giving some credit, rewarding projects that involve at-risk programming. So we’ve attempted to figure out a way to do that and we’ve asked you to define how you define your at-risk youth and then tell us the facilities that we’re going to build, how are they going to be programmed to serve that group of clients.
MR. JACKSON: Doc Jackson from Elgin/Bastrop. I’d hope that you would keep that criteria in; it may need some revision. But as a programmer and administrator, the future of our parks lie with our youth and whether they’re at risk or whether we’re providing opportunities for these youth, I think we need to be able to keep them involved, because who are going to use these parks for their lifetime; the youth are going to use them.
When we were trying to build the parks that we’ve built or improving some of them, we’ve had the buy-in with the school system, we’ve had the buy-in with several groups in that sense, and when we had our restitution center in Elgin, they were buying in with the program, they were going to help us build it, and then we lost that system.
So I’d hope that we would keep that; it may need some revision. But if you have the park and it’s not programmed, it’s not used, that’s a whole different ball game. In some instances, why have the park if it’s not going to be used for programming as well?
MR. HOGSETT: I’m hearing mixed signals here.
MS. PARRISH: I have one question to ask you to consider related to this issue. The very last criteria was just a stab in the dark at attempting to provide a quantifiable, development-related criteria to benefit low income communities and potentially at-risk. So the proximity of a park in relation to a low income community, would that serve the same purpose?
I am personally struggling, just from an outside perspective, at the supporting programming with dollars that were intended for development, and I think we do open a can of worms. Why aren’t we supporting healthy living and other buzz words as they come up? Where do you draw the line in terms of programming?
MR. KEMPNER: Mike Kempner from the City of Hutto. I think your next slide is going to kind of touch on that, and the fact is no matter what we’re building park-wise, there is some sort of programming, whether it’s active or passive. A revision to the at-risk youth to just programming in general and giving maybe some weight to the seniors ‑‑ that we heard earlier ‑‑ multigenerational type programming, just programming in general, whether it’s active or passive for the style of park. Because we’re talking ball fields and we’re talking passive parks, so when it’s outdoor recreation, there can be a multiple of different types of facilities, and they all have different weight for different communities, and that’s hard to quantify.
MR. HOGSETT: Show of hands, how many people think that the at-risk youth criteria should be kept?
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: It looks like eight. Revised?
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: About 18 to 20. Eliminated?
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: That’s interesting. I think we really do need to move on. I don’t want to stifle any discussion here but we’ve got a lot of ground to cover.
MS. PARRISH: We do, and this level of communication is what we were hoping to achieve with this meeting, so I appreciate you guys taking the time.
We do have an e-mail question, we have the ability for people to e-mail questions that they have, and I wanted to go ahead and just take this opportunity to read it. The problem with making decisions based on the majority rule means that those of us who want a butterfly garden will have to struggle to get those kinds of things from a grant. This is in relation to the previous discussion that we had, and I just wanted to add that for the record.
The next item up for consideration to discuss is the scoring criteria associated with environmentally responsible recreation elements, and is that scoring criteria adequate, should points be weighted according to investment, and cutting-edge technology. So a facility-wide rainwater collection system would potentially rank higher than a demonstration butterfly garden, that the use of green building materials in your facility would potentially rank higher than drip irrigation.
Do any of you have any thoughts on that scoring criteria in general at this stage?
MR. HOGSETT: Renovation and adaptive reuse, a lot of points; environmentally responsible activities and development, five points. The idea there is renovation is important to a lot of people, and the other one, environmentally sensitive screen construction.
MR. CLEAR: David Clear, San Antonio. I think we get into a little bit of difficulty here, and yes, I think everybody in the room would probably be in consensus that we do want to encourage that type of thing but it’s difficult to facilitate in the sense of an example of having a butterfly garden not get as many points as green building. That’s kind of saying that the green building is more environmentally meaningful but it may not necessarily be the case, you know. Just something to think about.
MS. PARRISH: So the current scoring criteria, does it work for you the way it’s currently worded?
MR. CLEAR: I actually haven’t had the time to review it.
MS. PARRISH: Just think about it and we will have an online survey available as well for any comments that any of you would like to make after you’ve mulled it over and kind of processed what we’re asking. We’re encouraging people to think about it and provide comments.
MR. CLEAR: But I definitely don’t want to take away from the consideration but it’s just something that we really need to get a good impact on why one is more important than another, because in the sense of parks, you really have a lot of pervious cover, and that could be considered an environmental resource.
MS. PARRISH: What about the idea of weighting a score according to investment dollars that the community is having to invest in that particular element? The cost of the elements. And these are just ideas that we’re batting around, we’re not tied to any of this. We recognize that it costs a lot more money to use green materials versus putting in a butterfly garden, and should that level of commitment from the community receive higher points.
MR. CLEAR: I would think that could definitely be considered. I think, from what I understand of green construction in the building sense, it adds about 10 to 15 percent to the cost of the construction, but it may pay for itself in the life. But that’s something to think about.
MR. HOGSETT: How many of you think that in the neighborhood of five points in the current scoring system that green construction, using recycled materials, using passive solar ‑‑ you all know what that means ‑‑ how many of you think that that is something that this program should be rewarding in terms of priority points in the scoring system. Show of hands, how many of you think that’s important?
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: Close to half. How many think no?
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: Of those that are voting, that’s about six or seven, it looks like. That’s just one of the things that we’ve been kicking around is is that still something that is appropriate and important to you, and the consensus appears to me that it is.
Anything else anybody wants to say on that issue?
MR. HOGSETT: Real quick, let’s knock out master plans. This is a real important one to us, because it’s a huge amount of points in the scoring system, 20 points, it’s a make-or-break proposition.
MS. PARRISH: I don’t know that this is a real quick discussion, but we’ll try. If I could add up the number of hours that we’ve spent as a staff discussing this issue. There are three very different suggestions up on the screen, we recognize that. One idea is a very basic idea. Currently we require updates to your master plan once every two years. There’s the idea that we could increase that to once every five years with the master plan being good, once it’s approved, for ten years. Let me just read these and then we can have an open discussion about master plans in general, if you don’t mind.
Allowing the use of regional plans to be used as master plans. It’s just been presented to us recently where there’s been a regional plan for a number of counties submitted to us with the idea that communities within those counties could use this plan to apply to us for funding. Under our current system, the only way that that could potentially be used is if there were supplements provided by the communities that would address the demographic information, the current park facilities, and also whether or not it would have to be adopted by their local government and they’d have to demonstrate public input. So there’s that on the table: keeping our current master plan guidelines but expanding the definition of what kind of plan could suffice.
And then there’s a completely different track, and this comes from researching other grant programs around the country and how they award points for planning efforts, and there are some programs out there that require proof of planning but not in the form of the submitting a master plan in its entirety but demonstrating at the time of application that the planning process has occurred, what level of public input has occurred, and potentially scoring would be based on the public input process, the level of public input, how long it took, what went into that planning effort, and that could all be submitted at the time of application. So it wouldn’t be necessarily you submit a master plan, it’s good for ten years, but it could be at the time of application.
I’m just going to open the floor. I’m interested in hearing how you currently view our master plan guidelines and the master plan requirement and if it’s working for you in its current state or not. I thought there would be a lot more public opinion on this issue because it is weighted so heavily in scoring.
MR. RUIZ: I’m Rudy Ruiz, I’m a planner, been doing this for over 30 years, and it works for us right now, but the problem I have with regional plans, what you’re proposing up there, is that a lot of times small communities can be intimidated or coerced into taking part in regional plans. I don’t want to name any names at all, because I’ve been doing this for a long time, but I’ve seen in the past where you have a large agency come into the community and they will say we’ve got all this money to do a regional plan and you, little town up there of a thousand people, you sign off right here. And that’s what happens a lot of times is the smaller entities get run over by the larger entities.
It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and you need to understand that a lot of times small towns, small areas can be intimidated, especially if they’re not incorporated. So that’s the problem with the idea of using regional plans.
I’ve been advocating this for a long, long time, this forces communities to think about what do they want, how to plan for it. A lot of times we get calls form people saying we want so-and-so, and my first response is have you thought about this, how is this going to integrate into your community. The whole park process sometimes can be a popularity contest. You have the Little League people come along and say we need a ball field, and so it becomes sort of the soup-of-the-day type of menu, and people aren’t thinking about what is they really need.
So the plan process is very important to the overall need for recreational activities in any community.
MS. PARRISH: Thank you.
MR. ROGERS: My name is Jim Rogers. I’m from Williamson County. I’m going to take these in kind of reverse order.
I think your master plan process is good, it is definitely an educational process for my commissioners. I think if we didn’t have to go through a process, some areas would not go through the process. So I definitely like it, it is a pain, but sometimes pain pulls good information.
The use of the regional plan, I don’t know so much about a regional plan but I will tell you in Williamson County we are doing a county-wide master plan. We have only two types of cities: we have larger cities, Round Rock, Georgetown, Cedar Park; and then we have community-size. Those community-size don’t have anything. We’re a very fast-growing county. Some of them do not have plans, some of them are not even incorporated, it would be great for them to be able to utilize a county plan on their own or as a community-wide. So I would throw support into that.
I think a plan will be out of date in five years. So that’s my three comments on that.
MS. PARRISH: Thank you. We’re jut taking comments at this point since I’ve been told we have very limited time. I want to get as many comments as possible from you all.
FEMALE SPEAKER: I think you’re going to have to have a plan. I agree with Rudy ‑‑ and I don’t agree with Rudy all that often ‑‑ but I agree with Rudy that frequently the smaller communities in regional plans get punched out, and frequently don’t even know it’s happened, and then suddenly they’re stuck with a plan somebody in a much bigger community has basically written for them.
But in addition to that, I have a hard time with numbers of years because of this: in a small community you maybe do a plan and you maybe get to do something right away and then by nature you need to change to look farther down the road, but small towns tend to think in a very project-oriented type of thing, they can only take on one big thing at a time, or two big things at a time max; whereas, a larger community, it’s more of we update things and we go on. But I work every day with communities that would not know what to do with a staff engineer or a staff planner, so those communities have to think.
So it’s less how old your plan is as to how much of you’ve gotten implemented as to whether or not it really needs updating ‑‑ if you understand what I’m saying.
MS. PARRISH: Thank you.
MR. WILSON: Ken Wilson, City of Copperas Cove. As far as reduce the updating, I’m in favor of that. I’ve been in Copperas Cove for five years, we submitted the first year, we went back to submit the third year, by the time we got plans and everything, we’re going to have to push it back to 2009, so I have to do another resubmit within the first five years. And so it makes sense. We’re a community that doesn’t have a lot of resources, we’re going to rely on Parks and Wildlife for our project, and so I’d definitely be in favor of that.
As far as regional plans go, I would base it on size of community whether or not you can do that, because, quite frankly, we don’t want to fall into Killeen’s park master plan, and that's bad.
MR. SICORSKI: William Sicorski again from San Patricio. I’m an administrator, by the way.
We just finished developing our master parks plan and we went through the process of hiring an engineering firm to assist us in doing this and so forth ‑‑ which is expensive for a medium-sized county of 100,000 or less, it’s very difficult to do that, but to go ahead and commit the funding and do this to go forward. A five-year plan is a good thing, a two-year, just as soon as you’re out of the process, you’re right back into updating everything else. Emergency plans for counties and cities and so forth only have to be updated every four years. So I should give you a synopsis of what other agencies are doing in that area.
I don’t think they’ll be out of date in five years because they’re general in nature. If you’re going to be that site-specific on a two-year plan that you’re going to have everything laid out, it’s not going to happen. I think five years gives you the time and planning and effort and so forth to give you a projection out there to be able to do your town meetings throughout a county.
I cover 900 square miles and that’s a lot of area to cover to get town meetings and input from those cities and so forth to be able to go and put this together and five years would give me more time rather than as soon as I get done updating, have to start again.
MR. HOGSETT: Let me ask a real quick question of the group and then I think we need to move on. How many of you think that us rewarding by giving additional points in our criteria system, up to 20 points, based on a master plan based on you asking for high priority needs in your master plan is important? How many of you think that’s an important way to do business?
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: Let me ask a totally different question. How many of you think that doing a master plan, the main reason for doing that and spending that money so you can get a Parks and Wildlife grant?
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: That’s the discussion we’ve been having a lot, you know, is our process driving that master plan process. But is that bad?
MR. VISCOLA: Mike Viscola, City of Laredo again. Scoring criteria should hopefully allow and consider recreational opportunities for special needs. I know our PA has recreational opportunities policies for all inclusive, and we’re looking at our summer programming to be able to allow for special needs, to hire staff that are well trained or trying to partner up with an agency that offers to these special needs.
Our biggest concern there for our community is that once these special needs students are out of the process through high school, after that, a lot of them end up at elderly homes, nursing homes which is not healthy for them. So we’re trying to provide recreational opportunities for all to include special needs, so hopefully you can consider that.
MS. PARRISH: Thank you.
MR. HOGSETT: We are behind and I’m going to try to pick up the pace a little bit, and I think I can do that by the fact that in these other grant programs that we’re going to talk about, many of the criteria are extremely similar to the ones we’ve just talked about.
Indoor Recreation Grant Program traditionally has been for anything from rec centers to interpretive facilities for nature. They’re 50 percent match, we currently have one deadline a year for those, we’ve only had $470,000 total available by legislative mandate in the last two years for that program. That is going to increase significantly, it could increase to several million dollars a year.
And the reason I say could and am not sure about the number is we have clarification that we have to do with the legislature regarding a specific rider that they put in our appropriations bill that tells us what we’re supposed to spend on Indoor. The law says 15 percent but the rider says a little bit more, because it takes into account in the calculation of that 15 percent all of those other appropriations riders that were added on, that $16 million worth of noncompetitive money.
Save it to say there’s going to be several million dollars available, $2- or $3 million probably available annually for this program.
MALE SPEAKER: So you estimate 15 percent of the $9.3 million?
MR. HOGSETT: Yes. These are the scoring criteria for this program, lots of similarities: master plans, match from other than sponsor, renovation, adaptive reuse, the low income, minority, elderly, at-risk youth ‑‑ we have had that whole discussion. You guys stop me if there’s something on those criteria that you wanted to discuss.
The issues that we talked about as staff is moving the application deadline, still only doing it once a year for this program but moving it to January ‑‑ and that’s, frankly, for our convenience ‑‑ from July. I don’t know if that makes any difference to anyone, but if it does, please raise your hand and let me know.
Increase the award ceiling. $750,000, if we’ve got $2- to $3 million to spend, that will not make a dent in most rec center projects. Most of the big rec centers that we’re seeing built are $3-, $4- or $5 million facilities, but is $750- is better than $470-. Is that enough? Show of hands, is that about right?
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: Not enough, hold your hands up.
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: Too much? I don’t know what I’m hearing there but that’s where it was. Do you feel that increasing the cap of the amount that you can ask for for the indoor program with more money available from $470,000 where we could do one project currently to being able to be in a competition and asking for up to $750,000 in match for indoor recreation, does that seem appropriate?
MR. HOGSETT: Is that too much?
MR. HOGSETT: Anything else on Indoor? I know this is really short but we’ve got some other programs. I’d like to give you guys five or ten minutes, I’d like to give you no more than ten minutes of a break and we’re going to come back and do Small Communities, and then I really want to spend some time with Darlene with CO-OP, I don’t want to short that program at all because a number of you are here just for that.
So it’s five minutes after 11:00, we’ll start again at 11:15, and we may go past noon, so bear with me.
(Whereupon, a brief recess was taken.)
MR. HOGSETT: Okay, we want to talk a bit about the Small Community Grant Program. There’s a few folks that are still coming back, we need to move ahead, we’d like to get you out of here as close as we can to noon. I really do want to give Darlene a due chance to talk about CO-OP, so I’m going to kind of rush through this, but I don’t want to slight you if you do want to talk about specifics.
How many of you here have gotten or have participated in the Small Community Grant Program.
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: Several. Is it working for you? Is it a good program, do you feel like? We set aside, about four or five years ago, about $750,000 of the amount of money that we had from the Texas Recreation and Parks Account for small communities, and we define small communities as being 20,000 population or less, and currently we entertain applications of up to $50,000 in match for those kinds of projects. We take applications once a year.
The idea was that small communities wouldn’t have to compete for dollars in the larger Outdoor Recreation Grant Program. These are outdoor projects only, we can’t do indoor facilities with this money.
The current scoring system, similar to the ones that we have for the other programs. We do give some additional priority for really small communities, 2,000 or less, a couple of points. Those of you who would qualify for this program ‑‑ how many of you would qualify for this program in the room?
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: Seven or eight, maybe nine. Of those, how many of you feel like that this 2,000 or less and having two points associated with it is good?
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: Is that high enough? Higher? This was throwing a bone to people that are really small, and like Doc says, small is small. Any of the other criteria here that you have any real problems with, issues with? This program does not give any additional priority to people who have master plans. The thought was that it may be difficult, if not impossible, for communities that size to go through a master planning process.
We’re talking about switching the deadlines for staff convenience on this one. Is there anyone in here who that matters to? Raise your hand if you have a problem with that.
Fifty thousand currently for $750,000 worth of money. How many of you that are eligible for this program would advocate increasing that match amount?
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: About five of the nine. How many of you that advocated increasing it think that $75,000 is a good number?
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: The same group. So more than half of the people that are eligible to apply for Small Community Grants in this room have said that they would advocate increasing somewhat the amount of match that you could request. We’ll carry that forward to the future hearings and see how it goes.
I’ve been asked by my folks in the back that are on the webcast and taking the e-mails, keep in mind you also will have the opportunity to comment to us in the survey that we’re going to give you at the end of the day. The last question is an open-ended narrative kind of survey. Or you can also communicate through our e-mail address at recgrants.tpwd.state.tx.us. I’m going to throw that slide up at the very end of the day and you can take that home with you.
Single purpose applications. We’ve advertised that single purpose applications is sort of what this program is all about, but you know, our scoring system really doesn’t support that. We give a lot of priority to diversity and that diversity criteria is very similar to the Outdoor, so the projects that have ended up getting funded, by and large are not single purpose projects. Of those of you who are eligible to apply for this program, how many of you think that this program ought to be targeted more toward someone that needs one facility?
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: That’s basically everybody.
The demographic criteria here: low income, minority, elderly, youth at risk, 16 points, highest point-getter in the entire scoring system. Of those of you who are eligible, how many of you think that is too much?
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: Two. So how many of you think it’s about right?
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: About five or six, so majority seems to think that that’s still okay.
Anything else on Indoor, those of you that are eligible for that program, feel free to come up to the mike at this time ‑‑ I’m sorry ‑‑ Small Community.
MR. HOGSETT: Okay. Having said that, I’m going to introduce Darlene Lewis, who is the head of our Community Outdoor Outreach Program, and we can talk about this very unique set of grants.
MS. LEWIS: Good morning. My name is Darlene Lewis. I’m with the Community Outdoor Outreach Grant Program, and thank you so much for being here this morning. How many of you are familiar with the CO-OP program? How many of you have had a grant from us?
(Show of hands.)
MS. LEWIS: Real quickly, for those who are not familiar with the program ‑‑ you’ve been talking all morning about construction projects ‑‑ this is where your programming funds actually come in. You can apply for up to $30,000 to do your programs, take kids camping, fishing, hunting, all different types of activities. There’s no match required for this program, and currently we have $470,000 in this program.
Tim mentioned to you a little bit earlier about the program in terms of what happened at the legislature, and while the other programs did see a funding increase, this program remained the same. So we’re not going to have very much to talk about with you this morning in terms of changes that we’re going to be asking you to consider for the program, we just do want you to be aware of some things.
You can use the programs to take the kids outdoors, the funding can be used towards leasing transportation to get them from Point A to Point B, if you need to buy camping equipment, supplies, if you need to bring in additional staff to help with the kids, up to 40 percent of the funds can be used for that, liability insurance and things like that. So many of you have not heard about the program or are not familiar with the program, Dan LaGuard is in the back, she’s my wonderful staff person, and she can assist you probably even better than I can, but if you contact either one of us via e-mail or by telephone or however, even talking to us today, we can get you some more information about the program.
This is our scoring system, I’m not going to really go into detail about it, because in the interest of time we need to get through some things, but I do want to let you know that what we try to do with our scoring system is we try to encourage partnerships, you get points for partnerships, we try to encourage diversity in programming and projects, because we do know that taking the kids out on a one-time field trip or having that one-time experience is not going to change their behaviors in the outdoors, so we try to encourage multiple opportunities and participation in the programs.
You guys were talking about criteria for the program. Our targeted market for this program is youth, it’s low income, it’s rural communities, it’s inner-city communities, it’s physically and mentally challenged and females.
You notice I didn’t say youth at risk and I heard the discussions a little bit earlier about the youth at risk. I participated in a committee with Senator Royce West’s office several years ago and we wanted to get a definition of what that youth at risk actually looked like, and after several weeks of meeting, we determined that every youth in the state of Texas is at risk of its behavior changing. So we’ve got to start thinking that every child, when we start talking about youth programming, it’s about every child in the state of Texas, and that’s how we’ve got to look at things.
Now, having said that about the funding, here’s our situation right now. We have submitted an appeal to the Legislative Budget Board, because every time in the past sessions when the funding was reduced for this program, it was reduced on a pro rata share, everybody was reduced equally. Now that the funding has been restored, this was the only program that wasn’t restored. So we’re not asking them to give us any additional money, we would just be taking some of that $9.3 million that Tim talked about a little bit earlier, about $700,000 or so ‑‑ you guys don’t really need it. So anyway, that’s what we’re going to be asking them for.
Now, if they approve it, we don’t know if they will, we don’t know how long the process takes, we don’t know anything about this, but if they do approve it, that will be only for this fiscal year, meaning we will have to give the money out before August 31. Having said that, we have a deadline February 1, and the award date for that is April 15. So would you suggest we do an additional funding cycle, possibly in May or June, to give people a chance that are not going to be able to get an application in by February 1? That’s one of the questions we’re asking you today and we’d like to get your input on.
The other possibility would be do we raise the cap from $30,000 to what? And it’s just for this fiscal year, because the next fiscal year we might still be back at the $470,000, we may have to go through an extra appeal, we just don’t know. And the possibility is it could just remain the same, so we could still be at the $470,000. If we get to the $1.25 million, we’ll be able to fund 50-plus programs; if we stay the same, we fund 19; and the competition is very fierce.
So I’m just giving you something to think about: should we do the additional funding cycle? Can I get a show of hands?
FEMALE SPEAKER: Do you have a sense when you’re going to hear from LBB?
MS. LEWIS: No clue whatsoever, don’t even know if we’ll hear anything, we just have no clue.
So a show of hands, an additional funding cycle.
FEMALE SPEAKER: Twice a year?
MS. LEWIS: Well, twice this coming year.
(Show of hands.)
MS. LEWIS: And to raise the cap?
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: The consensus seems to be that if we receive additional money that we do both of those things.
MS. LEWIS: Exactly. So just keep in touch with me, we’ll try to get word out to you via the e-mail, via the newsletter and let you know. Comments?
MR. VISCOLA: What can we do on our part to lobby for a decision or to hear from LBB?
MR. HOGSETT: Let’s make sure that everybody understands what the situation here is. We were restored to $15-½ million for TRPA, then we carve up the 60-40 pie that we talked about earlier and we’re talking about het 60 percent piece here. The legislature has always mandated how much we fund of CO-OP projects through what’s called a rider to our appropriations bill. At the time when we had what we call full funding at $15-½ million ‑‑ in other words, where we are now ‑‑ the legislature mandated that we spend $1,250,000 annually for this program. They began to reduce that amount as they reduced the overall TRPA money that we got from sporting goods sales tax.
As it’s now come back to restoration point, $15-½ million a year, for some strange reason they didn’t change the mandate in the appropriations rider for Parks and Wildlife for this program and left it at $470,000 which is where it was last biennium at the lowest funding amount in history for TRPA. We have appealed that, we have said that doesn’t seem to us to be appropriate, it should have risen as did the overall boat rise when the funding was restored.
And your question is a good one, what can you do. Well, I think you can talk to your members of the legislature if this program is important to you and ask them for what they may be able to do in terms of influence with the Legislative Budget Board, which is made up of members of the legislature in terms of their review and hasty action on this appeal. I can’t stand up here and lobby that you do anything, but I can tell you that if I were in your shoes, that’s what I would do.
We think it was just probably an oversight but we’ve still got to go through the process of making that formal appeal and LBB will make the decision on what they do.
MS. LEWIS: I’ve been asked for our phone number. If you need to reach us in the CO-OP Program, you an call the main line number at 512-912-7124. Also, I have a rew handouts, copies of the grant application in the back, and our phone numbers and e-mail addresses are listed in there, so just see me afterwards and we can get you a copy of that.
Any other questions or comments in regards to the CO-OP Program?
MS. LEWIS: Thank you, guys, you’ve been wonderful. I’m going to turn you over to Trails.
MR. THOMPSON: Good morning. My name is Steve Thompson. I help Andy Goldblum manage the Recreational Trails Program, and I manage the new Texas parks and Wildlife Off-Highway Vehicle Program. I was curious as to how many folks in the audience here might have received a grant from the Recreational Trails Program in the past.
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: About ten, twelve.
MR. THOMPSON: The Recreational Trails Program, in general, is a federally funded program, it’s a rebate on the gasoline tax paid by folks that buy fuel for off-road vehicles but don’t use them on the highway. The money is about $4 million a year to Texas. We are second behind California for having the largest distribution from the Recreational Trails Program.
The program itself creates trails opportunities for all types of trail users in Texas: hikers, bikers, equestrians and for motorized vehicles. The program has an 80 percent match, it’s a little more generous ‑‑ actually, it’s a 20 percent match and 80 percent funding. Currently there’s $100,000 maximum per project for nonmotorized projects. The program is mainly aimed at different forms of local or municipal governments or state or federal agencies that might have a resource that they’d like to develop trails on, and for incorporated nonprofit entities in Texas.
In general, the program tries to create trails opportunities, more miles of trails, improving existing trails, or providing trails amenities. That would be restrooms, parking lots, trail signage, covered picnic tables, generally amenities that are aimed at making a trails experience a better experience for the users.
In addition to the nonmotorized projects, motorized projects are allowed under the program. We have another program that is specifically aimed at creating opportunities for off-highway vehicles, and I’ll talk about that in just a moment.
We have a once-a-year deadline for submission of grant applications on June 1 of each year. Last year we got about 51 applications and I think that we funded 23 of those.
We are considering increasing the ceiling from $100,000 to $200,000, because trails projects and acquisition for land for trails projects is generally an expensive type of endeavor, and so we look at what it takes to create trails opportunities, and $100,000 can help you but it’s not enough to fund a good project. So I’d just like to poll folks and ask you whether you think that increasing the maximum from $100,000 to $200,000 seems like a reasonable proposition.
(Show of hands.)
MR. THOMPSON: Does anybody have any questions about the Recreational Trails Program? It’s a fairly easy program to put together a grant application. Our grant application is on the Parks and Wildlife website under Grants and Trails Grants. If you have any questions, you can call me or Andy Goldblum, we’d be glad to speak to you about it.
We’re looking at the criteria for scoring our applications. In general, we do it a little differently than the other programs in the Recreation Grants Program. We have a Trails Advisory Committee that’s made up of no Parks and Wildlife staff, it’s made up of trails users. We have a couple of folks from the equestrian community, we have a couple of folks from hikers and bikers, and we have a couple of folks from the motorized community.
After June 1 each year, we distribute the grant applications to the committee, they’ll review those grant applications and score those at home, and we have the committee come in about the end of June each year and we have a committee meeting that day. We average the scores, and we score those grant applications basically from one to five, with five being the best applications and one being the least applications. Generally, the fours and fives get funded before we run out of money.
It’s more of a subjective process. We try to look at the types of applications we’ve got for each category and try to rank those from the best applications to those that are not quite as good, and I think that looking at that process, the best applications tend to rise to the top and get funded each year.
I’d like to talk to you briefly about the Texas Off-Highway Vehicle Program. I’m the program manager for that. We have been creating motorized parks with Recreational Trails money since about the mid-'90s. The first large park created by the Recreational Trails Program for motorized recreation was in northeast Texas near the community of Gilmer in Upshur County. The grant application was submitted by the Texas Motorized Trails Coalition, a nonprofit corporation here in Texas. We gave them about a million dollars to buy an old iron mine. They opened that park in the summer of 2000 and have had it open continuously since that time, and it’s been a model, I think, for a well designed, well run, off-highway vehicle park.
If any of you, as recreation administrators, are considering submitting a grant application for a motorized park, I just would like to look at the issues related to motorized recreation in your community.
We recently had a public hearing in Crockett County because we’re looking at putting another large park down there funded through the Recreational Trails Program, and a number of issues were brought up and they related to things like: how do you deal with emergency medical services; how do you deal with fire; how do you deal with trespass; how do you deal with traffic issues; what types of folks come to town; have there been any law enforcement issues. And I suggested that the folks in Crockett County communicate with the officials in Upshur County and ask them about their experiences with having a park in their community for six or seven years.
I realized that not everybody could go to Upshur County and speak to those officials, so we took a Parks and Wildlife video production crew to Upshur County and we interviewed the county judge, the sheriff, the chief of police, the head of the emergency medical services, adjacent landowners, the head of the chamber of commerce, many of the local officials and adjacent landowners.
I’ve got a video here that’s about ten minutes long that’s a summary of those interviews, and if any of you are considering this, I think it would be very beneficial to review this DVD and perhaps take it to a committee meeting with your staff to see where the issues that you might think about in your community are adequately addressed by a well designed, off-road vehicle park.
In Texas there’s a real shortage of these parks and we’ve got more off-road vehicles than any state other than California, and it’s produced a situation where people that own these vehicles don’t have a legal, safe place to go and they’re tending to ride in places that are inappropriate and in manners that aren’t safe. So with this program we’re trying to create venues that have legal access to land, that are designed, developed, built and operated and maintained specifically for motorized recreation, to provide a legal access to a safer venue for the folks that go there.
I think that’s about everything. Does anybody have any questions?
MR. THOMPSON: My name is Steve Thompson. We have a website for Off-Highway Vehicles. You can send me an e-mail and I’ll be glad to mail you this DVD. Thank you.
MR. HOGSETT: Thanks, Steve.
We’re about out of time, but Boat Access, 75 percent matching grants for boat ramps and associated facilities. Anybody interested in discussing that program? I’d be glad to talk with you individually about what’s available. We don’t have a competitive system for that program, we typically fund most everything we receive anyway. Be glad to talk to you about it. We’re not really recommending any changes at this point but I wanted to make you aware of the program.
We have a couple of administrative issues that we want to spend maybe five, ten minutes talking about, and then I’ve been told we’re really being pushed to vacate this room by noon, apparently another meeting.
MR. TILLMAN: Montgomery Tillman, the head of the Fiscal Section. I am the head of reviewing your reimbursement requests. These administrative issues that we are bringing to you is just for information purposes mainly.
The first thing that we want to talk about is one requirement that we have for the projects which is TDLR registration. TDLR stands for Texas Department of License and Regulation, and this is the state agency that monitors the compliance with accessibility requirements in our parks. So all our projects have to meet accessibility and they are required to be registered with TDLR.
We have had some questions before whether you could register the project submitting the plans to TDLR, but we found out from them that you don’t need even to do that. The project can be registered even if you don’t have the plans submitted to them. And then they put you in the system, they record the name of the project, the location, the cost, the estimated completion date, and the process stays there until they clear you for accessibility.
So because this is a requirement everybody needs to fulfill and obviously everybody can do it, we are not going to allow reimbursements until the project is registered with TDLR. This is a very important compliance part of the program.
The other subject is about professional services. These are the reimbursement that we do for services that are not direct construction costs, mainly architectural and engineering costs, and we have capped this reimbursement at 12 percent of construction cost. We felt that when the program was established that this was something that we needed to do to allow more money, because we don’t have enough money to fund the whole project most of the time, to allow more funds to be dedicated for the construction.
Later we have had some other professional services come to us, because some projects have been required to contract with an outside biologist to the environmental coordination, so we have decided that we will reimburse for those costs even though they might be in excess of the 12 percent. So we just wanted to make you aware of that if you are in that situation, that we will expand a little bit the scope of the professional service to include these outside biologists that you might need.
MR. HOGSETT: Based on special circumstances, some additional over and above 12 percent.
MALE SPEAKER: So professional services is architect and engineer, but if there is an extenuating circumstance for a biologist or environmental mitigation or special survey work, cultural resource protection, those kind of special circumstances can be requested to exceed the 12 percent?
MR. TILLMAN: Yes.
MALE SPEAKER: Okay, thank you.
MR. TILLMAN: On the matching requirement, this is a question that comes very often. Just an explanation again that our program is a reimbursement program: you have to spend the money and then you have to ask for the reimbursement. So it is important for people to understand that when you start a project, you need to have funds to start the project, and some people get confused, because we allow for you to have non-cash matching, but the non-cash matching is reimbursed by yourself. You need to have cash expenditures and then match it with your matching and then you get reimbursed. So we just wanted to make that clear again that you need to have those funds.
And we’re considering probably asking at the time of the application that you show some documentation showing that you have the funds available to start the project, because we had some cases where people don’t understand this concept and they have problems later when they want to start the project.
And the last thing is the program signs. The program signs is a very important compliance part of our program. Before we can close a project, we ask for you to have a permanent sign in the project, and what we have found out now, we give you some general guidelines on how the sign had to be, so when we go to different projects, we find many different kinds of signs. And we thought it would be useful to have the public and all the people know about our program to have a uniform sign, so we will develop a sign and we will provide that sign to you so you can place it in the project. And we are talking that you can still have a sign, if you want, to recognize the people that are involved with the project, but we want to have this standard sign in the project.
As I said before, this is very important that the people and the elected officials are aware of what happened with the money that they dedicate to this program. We have more than 2,000 projects throughout the state that have been done with our program, and my experience is that many people are still not aware of our program. So we have seen this done in other states that they have a standard sign with the logo and everything that people can recognize and we will do that. So we wanted to make you aware that in the future we will be providing that sign and that will meet the requirement for the permanent sign.
And those are the things that I wanted to bring to you. Do you have any questions or comments?
MR. HOGSETT: We’ll give you one sign and then when it gets painted or removed or whatever, we’ll give you the template where you can replace it.
FEMALE SPEAKER: Starting?
MR. HOGSETT: As soon as we can get the layout done and get them produced. So in other words, after your project is done, Doc.
MR. HOGSETT: One last couple of things. I also want to say thanks to Jerry from Harker Heights. We have your series of e-mails. I won’t read them, but we got some good comments from our good friend Jerry Bark.
Administrative issues in terms of compliance. Folks, we’re having some failed projects, we’ve had about five in this last year, and there’s some common themes associated with those failures. One of the common themes is that the match that they said they had at the time that the application was submitted didn’t turn out to be available. We’ve had some failed projects as a result of administrative changes in the community, in other words, new city manager comes in, new city council comes in, the political will no longer is there.
The problem I have with failed projects is that when that projects fails, it means that that money that was available to that community not only was not available to someone else in the group in which they competed, but it’s no longer available even to our program. We can’t just bring that money back into the program and use it for another project, it goes back to State General Revenue. That’s the real serious problem to me that this creates.
So we’ve been kicking around the idea, as staff, that we can look at compliance on active projects that we already have a criteria in all of our systems, virtually, that does that. It says you’ve got active grants, how much money have you spent of those active grants, how much of your balance do you have remaining, how are you doing in terms of getting status reports to us and doing the other things that are required administratively. But it doesn’t really allow us to go back and look at past history.
So we’re considering the idea of having a potential negative scoring criteria ‑‑ we haven’t developed it yet so I don’t have something I can throw up here for you. The CO-OP Program already has a similar situation as this where there are negative points assessed against projects and sponsors that have not done a good job at administering past grants. We’re thinking about doing that. Show of hands, how many of you think that’s a good idea?
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: Nearly everybody.
The other ting we’re talking about doing, and again, this is sensitive, but the idea that if you really do a bad job and you really have a serious failure as a result of something that was ‑‑ you know, I don’t know how to say this, but like, for example, an application that ended up you didn’t have the match that you said you were going to have when you came in with the application, we’re thinking that might be grounds for barring you from applying for a certain period of time, three to five years, maybe. I hate to use the word, but it’s almost like having a blacklist. How many of you think that that would be a reasonable thing to do?
Now, keep in mind that political things and local things can change, and you may not necessarily want to have to pay for the sins of your past. Once again, how many think that that would be a good idea?
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: I see maybe five or six, seven of the whole group of 50 or so, so that one doesn’t seem to have that much support.
With an appeal process for sins of the past being rectified, how would you feel about that? How many of you would support that idea?
(Show of hands.)
MR. HOGSETT: I would say somewhere in the neighborhood of half. And again, I’m sorry I don’t have any specifics to show you, but I wanted to just put that idea out, and if we do draft some criteria, you’re going to have an opportunity to review them before we go back to the commission.
Jill, do you want to speak to the match from other state and federal grant programs?
MS. PARRISH: Darlene, do you want to add anything to this compliance criteria? Did you have anything else to say?
MR. HOGSETT: How is that working for you?
MS. LEWIS: The negative scoring criteria is working great for us, and the way we use it is, because the money is very critical for us, we only have $470,000, so if you don’t spend all of your money, we have a formula that’s inside the grant application that we actually use to deduct that amount if you come in and reapply again. And we only do it the next time after you come in and then after that everything goes back to normal and you’re back on good footing again.
And I just wanted to stress the situations that we’re talking about, we’re talking about people who are not making an effort to work with us to resolve the issues and the problems. We have some people who won’t even return phone calls, who won’t call us, who won’t get back to us. Those are the types of people that we’re dealing with. People who will at least contact us and say can you help me, how can we make this work, and we try to work with them and help them work things out, that’s a different situation. So keep that in mind.
MS. PARRISH: Absolutely, and I just want to stress in my opinion it reflects very poorly on our program when we have failed projects. If we have to return money to the general coffers, that doesn’t bode well for future funding, potentially, and legislative support. So the loss of eligibility criteria to have serious consequences for not making an effort to complete a project I think may be very important, as long as we have the ability for new administration to appeal the sins of a previous administration, that they’re inheriting a history that they have nothing to do with, if there is a process for us to have in place.
So we’re going to take a lot of time to think this through, and please provide any comments that you may have on this.
The last administrative issue that we have to discuss is when I came to this position, I realized that our grant programs are not eligible to be matched with other state or federal funding, and because we have two sources of funding, we have the TRPA funding and the Land and Water Conservation Fund, state funds in one case and federal funds in another, it can get a little confusing, especially if you don’t know what pot of money you’re applying to. If you just submit a general application, you don’t know if you’re going to be funded with state funds or if you’re going to be funded with federal funds.
But what we would like to do is offer the opportunity for you to match our state funds with federal dollars that you may have or our federal dollars with state funds that you may have. It’s completely legal, it’s completely allowable, and we would like to change our rules to reflect that ability.
By show of hands, who is supportive of this idea?
(Show of hands.)
MS. PARRISH: Anyone against this idea? Okay, thank you. That was easy. And this would be effective after the commission votes if they decide to approve this. I’ve been discussing with some of you the possibility of it being grandfathered, but we would not do that, it would be at the time of commission approval.
MR. HOGSETT: I think that’s pretty much all we have. Anyone have anything of a general nature before I close?
MR. SICORSKI: This is referring back to what she was talking about and would go back to CIAP again, and everybody says this is federal money, it’s not federal money, this is private industry money that’s returned to the federal government to pass back out to the counties and the states and so forth which have gas and oil royalties from off the coast. So it’s really not federal dollars, these are dollars that the federal government is just acting as a pass-through and that’s why we’re hoping to have that money come back to us to be able to use towards grants and that’s being wasted on other programs.
MS. PARRISH: I do need to clarify one thing. There are federal programs out there, as you may be aware, that are pass-through grants through state agencies. Even if it is a federal program that’s initiated the funding and it’s passed through the GLO, let’s say, that would still be counted as federal dollars, so those dollars would not be able to match our federal dollars. So we’re going to have to pay very close attention to your source of match but we’re willing to do that in order to leverage our funding. So just be aware that this may be an ongoing conversation that we have with you to clarify match.
MR. HOGSETT: Ways to get in contact with us if you have issues, I think we have a good presence on the web in terms of our website, you can download application materials, you can find out just about anything you need to know about us. Phone number, and then the final is the Rec Grants mailbox. That is an effective and easy way to communicate with us electronically, it’s checked every day, and if you have any kinds of issues, you go back home and you wanted to say something you didn’t get a chance to say today, or you want to give us some more input, or you want to talk to us in terms of project administration, that’s an effective way to do it.
Please fill out one of our surveys, either today and leave it with us or send it back to us. The survey will also be available online, and it is a quantifiable way in which we can not only get some of the questions answered that we’ve asked today but also that you can anonymously comment on the kinds of customer service that you feel like you’re getting from us, and we would appreciate your honest and candid responses on those.
Again, thanks for coming, everybody. This has been a really good turnout, a good meeting, particularly considering the weather. We don’t have a whole lot of time to get the room vacated, but staff will be able to step outside and we can visit with you if you’ve got some individual issues that you need to talk about. Thanks for being here; we appreciate it.
(Whereupon, the meeting was concluded.)