The San Marcos City Council has discussed lease renegotiations with the Lions Club local tube rental facility after the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board cited concerns related to the facility's impact on the city.
The Parks & Recreation Advisory Board believes the amount of tubers and litter brought by the Lions Club is detrimental to the river and discourages citizens from using the river for other recreational purposes. In an attempt to raise revenue for the "underfunded" Parks & Recreation department, the advisory board also hopes to increase the tube rental facility's monthly rent.
The Parks & Recreation Advisory Board unanimously voted to send resolution 2021-04RR to City Council for review at the board's Feb. 25 meeting. The resolution proposes several amendments to the Lions Club's lease agreement in advance of the upcoming renewal process in April.
Parks & Recreation Advisory Board Chair Diane Phalen says the lease review came after recent fee increases to various parks services, such as facility rentals and activity center memberships, in an effort to increase the department’s budget.
“The parks department only makes back 14% of all the costs of all of its rentals and memberships,” Phalen says. “Those fees hadn’t been increased in over a decade, and so we suggested that they be increased, and City Council agreed.”
The Lions Club, located in City Park, was excluded from the initial round of facility rental fee increases due to its current long-term lease agreement. For any business to enter a long-term lease with the city, the contract requires approval from voters.
San Marcos Lions Club President Dennis Gutierrez says the citizens of San Marcos voted for a long-term lease agreement in 2010. City Council put the agreement, which included up to four additional terms for a total of 25 years, to a vote.
“Proposition one passed overwhelmingly by 82%, to allow the San Marcos Lions Club to start a term of five-year contracts starting April 11, 2011,” Gutierrez says.
The new proposal suggests changing the lease renewal to come every two years instead of five. The resolution states this will help provide the city more flexibility should future changes need to occur. It also would require the club to designate an employee who would clean litter from the river channel at least two hours per operating day.
Although there are signs posted discouraging patrons from bringing disposable containers to the river, Phalen says there are no true regulations for what residents can take to the water.
The Lions Club claims it already has an employee picking up trash but is willing to raise the number of hours to any amount should it please the board.
“The river isn’t being, you know, trashed out like they’re saying, and not being cleaned because it’s just the Lions Club. Many people use the river for different purposes,” Gutierrez says. “We pay for two annual cleanups...We donate money to some organizations that are nothing but for the river, the Greenbelt Alliance, the Meadows Center. We donate money to those organizations because we truly believe [in] what they’re trying to do.”
Gutierrez says the Lions Club is proposing a separate donation initiative specifically for river park improvements. He says customers would have the option to select a $1 or $2 donation. The club would then use the donation money to support the needs of the parks department.
Lee Leavitt, a Texas State alumnus and San Marcos resident, has lived in San Marcos for 12 years. He agrees with the Parks & Recreation Board's concerns and believes trash in the river is attributed to tubing facilities like the Lions Club.
“Having a tube rental service that, you know, people that utilize the service are drinking and not just drinking or relaxing but oftentimes drinking to get straight-up drunk and not being mindful at all of what they do with their trash, well it’s a major detriment to the river,” Leavitt says.
Leavitt says he supports the rental increase and trusts the city, more than the Lions Club, to allocate funds where they need to go.
The Parks & Recreation Advisory Board resolution also proposes the Lions Club limit its days of operation to three days out of the week and one day out of the weekend for a total of four days. The remaining three days would provide the river a period of rest from the commercial operations and allow residents to utilize the river for other recreations, such as kayaking and paddleboarding.
Gutierrez opposes restricting the days of operation, adding that it would cause confusion and stop visitors from bringing their own tubes. He says the Lions Club is willing to limit tube rentals to weekends only during May and September.
Gutierrez says the Lions Club is also opposed to the final amendment suggestion, which encourages the city to find a fair market value for the riverside property based on local commercial real estate rates and pursue a $2 surcharge per tube rental and shuttle ride.
Although the Lions Club takes in a little over $1 million in revenue, Gutierrez says this “double-whammy” would prohibit the club from donating its average of $300,000 annually to various charities around the county.
Phalen says the surcharge and increase in the Lions Club's current rental agreement of $900 per month will provide Parks & Recreation with the necessary funds to support improvements and operations within the river parks and help with current budget shortfalls. Phalen also points out that some students pay more rent per month to live in an apartment than the Lions Club does for the riverfront property.
At its March 16 work session meeting, the San Marcos City Council agreed the city should receive more money from the lease but disagreed on the method in which that should happen. In a 4-3 split decision-vote, council members say they do not want to achieve a said goal by seeking a fair market value rental rate.
Some of the council members believe determining a market value for the facility is unlikely because it is a quasi warehouse on a riverside property.
“We’re talking about an oversized shed. It’s not a building; it’s not a huge building with all that. It’s like an overgrown shed with an AC unit, like a window unit, and it only air conditions a specific portion where we have our computers,” Gutierrez says. “So, I'm not sure how [City Council] is gonna come across that fair market value.”
“We are good stewards of the river,” Gutierrez adds. “We want to come out of this with a good working relationship with the city and maintain it and just keep moving forward.”
Although it is unclear how the City Council plans to proceed, it will continue to discuss ways to increase revenue from the property without raising rent in the coming weeks.
The Parks & Recreation Board is aware of the contributions the Lions Club makes to community organizations and says it has no intention to undermine its efforts. Phalen says the board wants to protect the river to ensure it is a safe place for all to enjoy and increase the Parks & Recreation budget in a way fair to all.
“We are acting in good faith; we have no ulterior motive,” Phalen says. “All we’re trying to do is have another look at the lease and, you know, try to make it more fair for the city and more fair for the citizens of San Marcos who want to enjoy their river.”