Pay to play

Unincorporated panhandle in northern Sacramento County the subject of revenue-sharing dispute between rural park district and city officials

Rio Linda-Elverta residents and the city of Sacramento are at odds over who will provide parks and recreation services—and receive tax revenue for it—in the city’s planned 600-acre development in northern Sacramento County.

Known as the panhandle, nearly 1,400 acres of land east of North Natomas and west of Rio Linda are currently serviced by the Rio Linda-Elverta Recreation and Park District. The city of Sacramento is demanding to be the service provider for the undeveloped “handle” portion, which it’s targeted for residential development. Rio Linda-Elverta residents are calling the city’s bid a money grab.

“We feel like we deserve that revenue,” said Rio Linda-Elverta Recreation and Park District board member Charlea Moore. “There’s no reason for them to detach us. If they detach us, we lose that revenue.”

As a full-service city, Sacramento says it’s responsible for providing police, fire, parks and other municipal services within its boundaries. In a joint statement, the city’s departments of Community Development and Youth, Parks and Community Enrichment claimed responsibility for the area, which is in the process of being annexed by the city.

“Providing park services is standard practice for the City of Sacramento and no different than the park services provided in other part[s] of the City,” the statement read.

The reality is a little murkier. The Fulton-El Camino Recreation and Park District overlaps with the city, but doesn’t currently contain any city-owned parks. Capital Park is located within the city, but is owned and operated by the state.

Rio Linda’s incorporation prospects would take a hit without the additional revenue. Several times in its history, the rural town has attempted to incorporate and fell short due to financial limitations, said longtime resident Mike Todd.

Of even greater concern for Rio Linda-Elverta residents is the potential loss of the “pan” portion of the panhandle, an area north of Interstate 80 and south of Del Paso Boulevard. Annexation would create an urban island within the city of Sacramento and significantly increase the odds of the pan being removed from the park district’s jurisdiction as well, said Sacramento County Supervisor Sue Frost. Currently, 40 percent of the park district’s revenue comes from property taxes in the panhandle, mostly from the light-industrial pan portion.

The city’s proposed panhandle tax plan offers $12,500 over five years, sunsetting after the fifth year. Moore said that pales in comparison to the property tax revenue the area would enjoy once the city develops the land, bringing new residents and boosting property values.

Parks and recreation administrator Mike Heller feels his district is getting pushed around by the city.

“I’m not going to say they’re the bully, but they’re definitely the bigger kid on the playground,” Heller said. “Our board isn’t satisfied. Their offer doesn’t even cover the legal fees that are going into this.”

Ultimately, Heller contended, his district can better manage future park development in the panhandle.

“We know we can do a better job as far as park and recreation services than the city can,” Heller said. “We don’t close parks when there’s an economic downturn. We didn’t have layoffs or stop programs in 2008.”

Frost, whose district includes the contested area, said she agreed.

“I believe the future of the residents in the community would be best served if RLERPD was their park district,” said Frost, who noted that she received over 700 letters in opposition to the removal of the panhandle from Rio Linda-Elverta’s jurisdiction at a supervisors meeting on October 16. “They’ve had these same district lines over time, decades. To lose a portion of their district when they’ve done a good job doesn’t seem fair.”

County supervisors delayed voting on the panhandle annexation proposal until January, sending both parties back to the negotiation table. If supervisors approve it, the proposal will head to the Sacramento Local Agency Formation Commission for a final decision.