SANTA FE, N.M. — Santa Fe officials took a first shot Tuesday at addressing concerns about how the city spent a $30.3 million parks bond approved by voters in 2008, including what happened to trees that were supposed be planted but weren’t and other planned improvements such as new park benches that never showed up.
In a report responding to many of the questions raised last month by the Parks and Open Space Advisory Commission, city Public Works staff doesn’t seem to have found much amiss so far.
The commission’s questions, submitted in a report compiled by longtime member Bette Booth, included why reported expenditures for some parks projects changed after they were completed; whether the city actually implemented budgeted improvements at some parks, even though in some case over-budget expenditures were made; and whether spending thousands of dollars at some parks actually resulted in the improvements for which the bond money was supposed to pay.
The Public Works staff’s response on Monday said, “The (city) report demonstrates that the City improved 58 city parks/facilities, and 7 trails in critically important ways that enhanced the quality of life for the City’s residents and park users.”
Public Works Director Ike Pino cautioned that the city’s report is a “work in progress” and more information is being gathered.
Pino said staff is still working to put together a complete breakdown of estimated and actual expenses for each park, as well as bond money used to pay salaries of city staff. Pino said he estimates that about $4.3 million of bond funds – well more than 10 percent – have been spent on city salaries and administrative costs.
Pino said the city’s legal experts determined in 2011 that it’s fine to use bond money for bond project-related operations and maintenance – instead of adding new facilities or other improvements – although Booth says the city was using bond money for salaries, administration and maintenance even before it got the legal opinion.
The city staff is also working on how project budget and expenditures compare when broken down by supervisor and team. Booth’s report has noted some projects were under budget while some had overruns of more than 100 percent.
“We’re hearing that a lot of money was saved by using the in-house team” – paying city workers instead of hiring contractors – “Let’s prove it,” Booth said.
Although the commission didn’t take a formal vote, members indicated they wanted to see the reports sent on to the city’s Finance and Audit committees for further discussion. It also appears likely that the city will contract for an independent audit of the bond.
The city’s report on Tuesday responded to several questions in Booth’s query, including:
• Specific questions about nine parks. Questions included why $27,032 was spent in the park’s master plan for tree replacement at Monica Roybal Center on Agua Fria but “there are no new trees at the Monica Roybal Park.”
City staff said no trees were added because it would have required the installation of a “cost prohibitive” irrigation upgrade. A spreadsheet said the $27,032 was spent instead on salaries and benefits.
Another question was why money was allocated in the master plan to Orlando Fernandez Park to upgrade the irrigation system, install four park benches, and add park and city ordinance signs but “photos show park grass looks worse than 2007. No new benches.”
The irrigation system was remodeled, according to the city report, but installing new benches “would have required cost prohibitive accessibility improvements.”
• Why expenditures for some projects changed after those projects were completed. For instance, a 2011 city report showed Adam Gabriel Armijo Park’s completed expenditures at $55,667, but the final report presented last month lists expenditures of $80,691.
“Unfortunately, we chose to use the words ‘complete and final’ on many documents, and they were neither complete nor final,” Pino said.
• Why money was spent, sometimes above the originally budgeted amount, on cancelled projects. That includes expenditures of $10,331 for Espinacitas Park, $13,529 for Melendez Park and $2,163 for Peralta Park.
City officials said that the city paid for some initial work on those projects but they were each eventually determined to be infeasible.
• Whether bond money was spent on projects, properties or activities that were not included in the 2008 Parks Bond Master Plan. More specifically, if bond money was used for salaries or operational costs at the Marty Sanchez Golf Course.
The city report said bond money was spent at Marty Sanchez, which city officials said is part of the Municipal Recreation Complex. The city’s report said that, since 2009, the golf course has received about $45,520 annually in operational funding to improve and maintain Marty Sanchez.
• Did family members of city staffers benefit from bond money?
Pino said there were cases where companies hired to do bond-related work have workers with relatives employed by the city, as has been the case in other areas. Pino didn’t provide specifics but said procurement guidelines were followed.