By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia
Residents showed up and spoke up at the final — perhaps — public forum of this year’s budget season.
Recreation Centers of Sun City West officials hosted the May 11 public budget forum at the R.H. Johnson Recreation Center social hall, 19803 R.H. Johnson Blvd.
Attended by more than 100 residents, the event was the fifth public budget forum of the year and the second scheduled specifically to discuss the proposed R.H. Johnson tennis complex renovation, which was the subject of a petition drive that garnered an estimated 1,500 signatures.
The petition prompted the May 11 special meeting, during which RCSCW officials sought to clarify elements, costs and timing of the project and assuage concerns raised by those who opposed it. RCSCW General Manager Mike Whiting opened the meeting with point-by-point response to issues raised by the petitioners, as well as those who spoke at the first tennis project forum April 18 and at other meetings.
“We know that the standard in the industry is post-tensioned concrete,” said Mr. Whiting, adding that efforts going back to the early 1990s extended the life of the asphalt surface, but mounting costs and ongoing playability issues dictate the need for a more permanent solution.
In previous meetings, RCSCW officials stated post-tension concrete has a 30-year lifespan, but with proper maintenance can last indefinitely.
Mr. Whiting explained the project, which had been opposed, in part, because of perceived underutilization of the facility, had always been presented as a multi-phase effort. Should the board advance the project, only the first phase would be funded, including repair of eight of 15 courts and new LED lighting for four of those.
Jay Hicks of Dig Studio, who designed the project, explained the advanced lighting fixtures will greatly improve nighttime play and increase usage of the facility. He said the new technology will save on electricity while providing brighter, more consistent lighting.
“We’ve done our research and this will be a superior light,” Mr. Hicks said. “It gives greater uniformity of lighting.”
Any future construction would be predicated on further study about how the facility is used and what is needed within the community. The courts at Kuentz Recreation Center, 14400 R.H. Johnson Blvd., will soon need repair as well. Officials will study overall tennis facility usage before proceeding further, Mr. Whiting said.
“The future of Kuentz tennis courts, we have to study that,” Mr. Whiting said.
While opponents highlighted the $2.1 million price tag initially estimated for the entire three-phase proposal, cost of the first phase is estimated at less than half that. Funding would come from the corporation’s more than $22 million reserves from monies raised from the Asset Preservation Fee, which is only charged to new home buyers. Approval of the project would have no effect on annual member dues, as many have claimed, he added.
The Governing Board gave preliminary approval to the first phase when it allocated $961,477 to be considered as one of numerous proposed capital improvement projects in the fiscal 2017-18 budget (“RCSCW board to consider $3.1M in capital improvements,” Sun City West Independent, May 3, 2107). The board will vote on a final budget at its regular meeting 9 a.m. Thursday, May 25 at the lecture hall at R.H. Johnson campus.
Mr. Whiting said the remaining courts at R.H. Johnson could be allocated to other uses, or that tennis could be consolidated to the single campus, depending on what rec centers officials learn over the next few years. The tennis club will fund its requested enhancements to the central courtyard area of the complex, which could include shade structures and new furnishings at a cost of about $150,000, he added.
Following his seven-point presentation, Mr. Whiting suggested residents should trust the board they elected to represent their interests and that many who signed the petition might not have had they been fully aware of project details or costs.
“I think if we had every petitioner here in the room today, most would not sign it,” he said. “This is in the board’s hands now. You elected these nine officers to represent you.”
Resident Jerry Gustafson echoed the statement during public comments.
“We are a republic in Sun City West,” he said. “We elect representatives to make decisions in the best interest of the community.”
Among more than a dozen residents who spoke at the forum, most voiced support for the board and some form of the project. Dudley Gibson, author of the petition, despite continued criticism of the board, which he characterized as chronically unresponsive to resident input on high-dollar projects, conceded rec centers officials had addressed many of his concerns.
“Did we answer the questions of the petitioners?” RCSCW Recreation Manager Cindy Knowlton asked, referring to the presentation and subsequent discussion.
Mr. Gibson conceded his concerns were answered.
“I think it will change the views of a substantial number of people who signed the petition,” Mr. Gibson replied.
The all-volunteer board will decide how to proceed in response to the petition and whether a special election is warranted. The community has only seen two prior petition-driven elections, both of which were defeated by a wide margin, Mr. Whiting said.
Following the forum, the board met in a closed-door executive session to discuss the matter and RCSCW staff issued a press released later that afternoon. The brief announcement concluded with this statement:
“The board met in executive session after the forum to receive legal advice from the association’s attorney on the petition. No action was taken. A special meeting of the board is scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday, May 18, in the social hall, 19803 R.H. Johnson Blvd. The public is invited to attend. During that meeting, the board will adjourn to executive session, then return to the meeting to vote immediately following.”
With that vote, the board will decide whether or not to hold a special election to allow residents to determine the fate of the tennis renovation project, according to RCSCW Multimedia Specialist Diana Wenners.