Fun Days Committee update from Dec. 2, 2015

As I first reported in August, citizens and city staff have been meeting to discuss ways to add a little more juice to Fircrest Fun Days. The Fircrest Fun Days Committee held its third meeting on Dec. 2 at the Rec Center. Given my ability to type a bazillion words a minute, I agreed to take notes and produce a report. (Thank my parents for that 10th-grade typing class.)

Eight people attended the meeting and discussed the following topics and actions:

Overall goals: more attendees, more vendors, a livelier vibe, cut down on the “dead times” during the day

Budget: The City Council added another $2,500 for 2016, so our total budget from the city is $10,000.

Sponsors: We can increase the budget if we attract sponsor businesses and organizations. We gave Parks Director Jeff Grover some ideas for developing sponsorship packages that offer benefits beyond the weekend, such as displaying their corporate banners in the gym and/or at the pool for various lengths of time, based on the level of sponsorship. He’s going to put some packages together.

Foot traffic: With the Friday night spaghetti feed by the Kiwanis Club, the swim meet on Saturday morning, the festival all day, and then the big fireworks show at night, the city estimates about 3,000 people visit during the weekend (with about half attending the fireworks show).

Vendors: We’d like more things to do, more crafts and goods, more entertainment, and a few more food vendors. It was noted that too many food vendors at a site can cause them to lose money and have a bad experience. We have to find the right balance. Also, there are so many festivals and events around the county throughout the summer that it can be tough to attract them away from other options. Jeff also will work on incentive offers for participants of the Holiday Bazaar and the Spring Craft Fair. We also talked about seeing if Pint Defiance, Wingman, Gig Harbor Brewing or another local brewery would like to host a beer garden (now that it’s legal).

Entertainment: Ideas floated at the meeting include inviting a performance by Fircrest’s Image Studio of Dance, the Tacoma Musical Playhouse or other theater groups, the Blues Brothers tribute band, a pie eating contest, Hunter’s friend who juggles flaming torches, Elisabeth’s friend who is a comedian, a square dance or some other type of dance (indoors or outdoors), the World’s Shortest Triathalon (swim in the pool, ride a tricycle around the park, and a short run), a giant water balloon fight (I admit it, this is my idea…), a gigantic community Bunko or Bingo game, a night swim at the pool, pony rides, inflatable bouncy structures. Another option is to see if Click! or another sponsor will host a movie-in the-park on Friday night.

We talked about branding the entertainment in the style of the Major Bowes Amateur Radio Hour in honor of the investor who helped found Fircrest before going on to create one of the most popular radio programs of the mid 1900s.

Suggested run-of-show: After three meetings with lots of brainstorming and brownies, the group developed this working lineup for the 2-day event.

  • Friday night: Kiwanis Club’s spaghetti dinner, Bingo, a movie in the park (remember, it’s summer, so it doesn’t get dark until after 9), beer garden, night swim, plus the craft vendors and activities.
  • Saturday: Kiwanis Club’s pancake breakfast, swim meet (which drew hundreds of people this year), entertainment for kids during the day (dance performance, karaoke, Reptile Man, etc), water-oriented field-day activities in the afternoon, World’s Shortest Triathalon?, beer garden, fireworks at 9:30. We’d like to have some featured entertainment at 5 and 7 pm.

Next steps: We divided up the research and assignments regarding sponsor packages, movie-in-the-park options, beer garden sponsor, dance performance, Bingo possibilities, theater groups. Jeff plans to produce a 2-question survey to distribute this Sunday at the tree lighting ceremony as well as other events this winter so we can keep collecting community ideas.

The committee’s next meeting is 7 pm on Jan. 6. We’d love more help. Feel free to share any ideas on the Fun Days Committee Facebook page!

Updates on liquor regs, the 2016 budget, and the Rec Center feasibility study

It’s been a busy fall for the Fircrest City Council, so here are updates on several items of popular interest:

LIQUOR: Voters will decide on Nov. 3 whether to lift the prohibition on serving liquor-by-the-glass in the central business districts. The Planning Commission, a volunteer panel of citizens, has developed draft zoning regulations for the City Council’s consideration if/when voters approve the measure. The City Council has scheduled a public hearing on the matter for Nov. 24 at 7 p.m.

BUDGET: After five public meetings in October, we are still on track to adopt the 2016 budget on Nov. 10. As I’ve previously reported, the $22 million budget is in excellent shape, with all bills covered, healthy reserves, plenty of available cash flow, and enough left over to manage some capital needs. There’s a list of final decisions to be made at that meeting. I have put two items on that list for consideration by the full Council:

  • Police: I’ve been working with city staff and the mayor to identify whether we have enough sustainable funding to restore a position in the Police Department that was cut as the Great Recession hit (several years before I joined the Council). We currently have nine officers providing 24/7 protection. Chief John Cheesman has shown me how much more coverage he can provide if that position is restored, and we both believe that will cut down on vehicle prowls and other property crimes. There appears to be enough funding available in the 2016 budget, but we don’t want to add it unless we’re sure we can carry it forward for years to come. That’s why I worked with the chief last week on a Plan B: If we’re not confident there’s enough funding to restore a permanent position yet, I will propose using that available 2016 funding for emphasis patrols (paying our current staff overtime to provide more coverage). We actually use very little overtime, so we believe the officers will appreciate the opportunity to earn extra income.
  • Fircrest Fun Days: A citizen committee has been meeting to figure out ways to give a boost to Fun Days, the annual weekend festival in August that has seen declining interest by vendors. The city only spent $7,500 on this year’s festival. I’m proposing a boost – up to an additional $2,500, depending on other decisions made in the budget – so the city can consider adding more activities and show vendors and sponsors that we’re committed to maintaining a quality event.
  • Other items to be determined include the purchase of a new street sweeper (our current sweeper is getting harder and harder to repair because it’s no longer made and we can’t locate parts), and purchasing two new police cars, among other things.

POOL/REC CENTER: Last year, we adopted a Parks, Recreation and Open Space (PROS) plan, which contained a wish list of every improvement that a committee of citizens could think of for our parks over the next 20 years. It doesn’t mean we’ll do all of those things, but we aren’t eligible for grants unless we have such a plan, which you can find here. The plan also recommended hiring an expert to evaluate the condition of the pool and the Roy H. Murphy Recreation Center, and to offer options for improvements. The city is in the final stages of negotiating a contract with a highly regarded consultant, and the process will include public hearings to find out what you think. That’ll happen in the coming months, so stay tuned for more information soon.

A banner year at the pool – plus bonus days

Operating a pool is a weather-dependent enterprise, of course. So it should be no surprise that our warm and dry summer led to a busy season at our city pool.

Even with the cool, wet weather at the end of summer, the city has earned about $7,200 more in revenue than in 2014. Here are some other comparisons to last year from the weekly report we receive from the Parks and Recreation Department:

  • General admissions: Increase of 1,030
  • Memberships sold: Increase of 41
  • Membership revenue: Increase of $1,760
  • Punch cards: Increase of $720
  • Admission revenue: Increase of $3,665

Bonus Days: Many of you know that I advocated a few years ago to extend the pool season by a few weekends. I know we all get busy once school and sports seasons get going, but it always seemed weird to me that we open on Memorial Day weekend, when it’s often too cold to enjoy an outdoor pool, but then we close on Labor Day, when it’s (usually) still quite warm. The Council and staff agreed to my proposal to keep the pool open a couple of weekends into September during the past two years.

They’re doing it again this year, though we’ll just extend the season by one extra weekend this year. So the pool will close for the season on Sept. 13.

As always, thanks to our great group of lifeguards and staff who work hard to make it a fun place to spend a summer day.

How can we put more fun back in Fircrest Fun Days?

Over on Mike Brinkerhoff’s appropriately named “Crazy World of Fircrest Politics” page on Facebook, there’s a great discussion about how to boost Fircrest Fun Days. (Dec. 2 update: Mike took that page down because it got a little to crazy, which is ironic given the name of the page…)

In dozens of comments, people are saying they think Fun Days is feeling … tired. That’s especially noticeable because it comes just a few days after the knock-your-socks-off National Night Out celebration. NNO has skydivers, a helicopter, police cars, lots of food options, free inflatable activities and more. A few days later, FFD has the same inflatable toys, but it costs to play. Both events also close with a big fireworks show, and as much as everyone loves fireworks, two shows in five days may be a bit much (even for gunpowder-lovin’ Americans…).

NNO can’t move. Around the the nation, it’s always on the first Tuesday in August.

So what can we do to spruce up Fun Days? There are lots of good ideas being shared on Mike’s page. And the city is listening.Fun Days poster

At this week’s City Council meeting, I asked city staff to survey Fun Days vendors and the general public. They plan to do so, and hopefully it will be posted online next week (likely using a tool like Surveymonkey). I’ll post a link, and I’m sure Mike and the awesome ladies of the Friends of Fircrest page will make sure it’s shared far and wide. (See below for an update.)

Keep in mind, there are people who are quite happy with Fun Days, and they need to be heard too. My 6-year-old son loved the pony ride, the inflatables, and listening to the karaoke. And the Kiwanis Club of Fircrest had a hugely successful spaghetti dinner fundraiser on Friday, followed by a successful pancake breakfast fundraiser on Saturday. So to be clear, it’s not all complaints or criticism.

The city should add all the ideas being shared on Mike’s page. I hope the survey will ask about dates, satisfaction with the current setup, suggestions for other activities, etc.

It also needs to ask if you’re willing to help. Because here’s a huge difference between the two events: NNO has an active committee that raises private donations and spends most of the year planning the event. Fun Days is organized by our tiny Parks and Recreation staff, which also has to manage a whole year’s worth of activities on a shoestring budget. The staff works hard on your behalf, but I don’t see that they have the capacity to do much more. It’ll take more help to make Fun Days even, well, funner.

Aug. 21 update: The city was impressed by the online discussion and strong interest in improving Fun Days, so it is creating a Fun Days Citizen Volunteer Committee. According to a memo sent to Council today, the first meeting of the committee is tentatively set for Sept. 1 at the Rec Center. Please RSVP to jgrover@cityoffircrest.net if you are interested in participating. Jeff says one task will be to work with the committee to create and distribute a community survey.

New business: old skate rink is new again

As reported in my previous post, the skate rink formerly known as Wheelz is reopening as “Rollin’ 253 Skate and Community Center.”

A News Tribune reporter who happens to be one of the best reporters on the planet notes that building owner Bruce Bodine has taken some unusual steps in accepting an offer from four local skating enthusiasts to manage the rink. He hopes to turn the business over to them.

Here’s a link to the TNT story.

And now for the full disclosure: I happen to be married to that reporter who happens to be one of the best on the planet. But I’m not biased. Really.

Oddz & Endz (lame, I know, but it’s all I got)

Two readers – well, both readers – noted today that this space has been neglected for far too long, especially since the city had to cut its “Town Topics” newsletter to save money. I’ve only been a councilmember for, like, 5 minutes, so I’ve been trying to get further up to speed on issues around the city. It’s similar to the deep-rooted fear that journalists have – I don’t want to write a front page story that’s completely freakin’ wrong.

Still, in my first few weeks, I’ve come to appreciate the “Council packet” that’s dropped off at my house every Friday. It contains reports from City Manager Rick Rosenbladt, Police Chief John Cheesman and other department heads. It often contains little nuggets of news that could be of interest to folks. I hope to share those regularly in this space. I’ll call this feature Oddz and Endz for now because I can’t think of a clever news name that incorporates fir trees or chainsaw bear carvings.

Some recent items of interest:

Storm debris: The snowmageddon and surprise ice storm left lots of trees, branches and other debris all over the place. U.P. Refuse has agreed to allow residents to dump large storm debris (yard waste items) at a reduced rate of $5 per yard. The best option is to collect wood debris and cut them to fit inside curbside yard waste toters. If the debris is too large or heavy for the curbside toter, residents can take the debris to U.S. Refuse, 2815 Rochester (off 27th Street) in University Place. Residents can also drop off storm debris for free at Pierce County transfer stations.

Storm response: The city’s Public Works crew did an outstanding job of responding to the snow and ice conditions. They plowed the streets, removed snowpiles at key locations, repaired potholes, unplugged storm drains, repaired damaged streetlights and wiring, and collected a large amount of debris. There were no reports of significant damage to any city property.

Streets: The Public Works crew is preparing for crack sealing this summer to help prolong the time before reconstruction or other rehabilitation work is necessary. This year’s plan covers:

  • All streets in sweeping zone 1, located in the northeast corner of Fircrest (boundaries are from South 19th to Regents Blvd, and from Orchard Street to Alameda Ave.)
  • Electron Way, from Alameda Ave. to Regents Blvd.
  • Alameda Ave., from South 19th to 44th Street W.

New business: The bankrupt skate rink formerly known as “Wheelz” is set to reopen under new management as “Rollin’ 253 Skate & Community Center.” It’s nice to have a family venue in town, so we wish them luck. They are located at Sunrise Center, just off Mildred Street.

Parks: Tickets are on sale for the 6th annual Daddy-Daughter Dance. I think I’ve been to most of these. It’s an awesome evening. I keep threatening to embarrass my daughter by busting out my old break-dancing moves, except I’m worried I’ll bust more than a move. Also, planning is under way for the second Derby Day!

Wainwright: The city manager asked Tacoma Public Schools to clean the dingy sign outside the now-closed Wainwright Elementary, and to remove the outdated message on it. The school district said they would do so. The vacant school property will be the subject of a future post here. What are the possibilities for that site?

Property taxes: The Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer’s Office has announced that property owners can look up their 2012 taxes after 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 3 at www.piercecountywa.org/atr.

Police I: Police arrested a woman after a high speed chase, and she’s been tied to a recent burglary in Fircrest. She was charged with possession of stolen property and identity theft. Police also are seeking two men who pick-pocketed a wallet from a local coffee shop and an iPhone from a local law office.

Police II: The department’s radar detectors were recently recalibrated. Hey, speeders, you’ve been warned.

Yabba dabba do! Fircrest’s Fred Flintstone gets fanci-fied

We spend a lot of time at the Fircrest Tot Lot. Seriously. A lot of time. I mentioned in my voter guide statement that my toddler son would like for us to live there.

We had noticed in our many visits that the wooden Fred Flintstone carving had deteriorated into a disgusting, nearly unrecognizable blob. It’s possible he was scaring small children with his grotesqueness.

But no more. Fred got a facial and, well, whatever you’d call a facial for the entire body. A community-minded Flintstone fan named Erin Dorgan volunteered the time and expense to repaint him. She gets proper credit today from The News Tribune. Check out reporter Christian Hill’s story here.

 

Fast cars and faster, uh, family fun

The organizers of the inaugural Fircrest Derby Days event deserve a gold-plated checkered flag for putting together such a great family event yesterday.

Kathleen and I took the kids and enjoyed a beverage from the Harmon Taproom’s “Rootbeer Garden” while watching racers come down Electron Avenue’s perfect hill.  The News Tribune came out and published a great story and photos:

The kids had fun, but, apparently, so did the dads. Most of the cars were homemade, and they ran the gamut from bare two-by-four frames that resembled shipping pallets to elaborate lacquered dreamboats.

One striking entry, “The Corpse Ride,” was a velvet-lined “toe-pincher” coffin, created by Corey Fielding and his buddy John Clark, who also happens to be a finish carpenter. Their creation was driven in different age classes by Quentin Fielding, 10, and Dae Clark, 15.

“Our times were terrible,” John Clark admitted, without shame. “We did this for style, not speed.” Isaiah Brown and his son Christopher, 16, of University Place, built a no-nonsense box car out of oriented-strand board. It was slow but very steady, had a built-in sound system and, according to Christopher, has “very sensitive steering.”

Here is a link to the TNT story.  And here are a couple of photos I took with my phone.  The Corpse Ride definitely wins points for style.

My candidacy for Fircrest City Council

My family loves living in Fircrest.  We love the small-town, family-friendly atmosphere, with all the nearby amenities and conveniences of a metro area (go Rainiers!).

We are served by an excellent Police Department, and we have a parks and recreation system that larger cities would envy.  City staff and council members have been careful stewards of the road and sewer systems.  And our citizens are engaged, with many dedicated volunteers working with the Murphy Center, on the Planning Commission and more.  I have gotten to know many local families during my daughter’s five years at Whittier Elementary, and it’s been fun meeting them while playing and coaching with the Fircrest Soccer Club, swimming at the pool, and watching our kids run around the Tot Lot.

All in all, this is wonderful, quiet little town that’s perfect for both ends of the age spectrum – whether you’re raising a young family or enjoying retirement.

That said, Fircrest faces financial challenges that are made tougher during these difficult economic times.

Economic Development: We must take a fresh look at our economic development policies and practices so that we can encourage existing businesses to grow and attract new businesses to our town.  That can be done carefully – I’m not suggesting we give away the store or attract businesses that detract from Fircrest’s charm.  But we need to examine opportunities to expand our commercial tax base so that we can afford to maintain the services we provide and keep up with necessary infrastructure costs.

Sewer system: The sewer system has been in dire need of an upgrade, and I am very impressed with the effort by City staff and the Council to embrace the “pipe bursting” technology.  This offers a cost-effective solution to a critical issue without having to relocate sewer mains from back yards to the streets.  You can read more about this by checking out the Council minutes for May 16, 2011 and April 18.  The Council will monitor this project closely.

Although I am running unopposed for Position 5 on the City Council, it’s still my intention to be as visible as possible and to keep meeting fellow citizens of Fircrest.

I spent 19 years as a journalist covering federal, state and local governments, and I have enjoyed working as a department director for Pierce County since early 2009.  As a result, I’ve had an excellent view of government from the inside and outside.  So I know how important it is to be transparent, accountable, accessible and respectful.

I intend to add a fresh perspective and voice to the City Council, and I would appreciate your support.  More information about my career is available on my LinkedIn page.