The Isla Vista Recreation and Park District (IVRPD) is trying to make the best of a tight financial situation, having approved a preliminary plan to budget its time and money during the next fiscal year.

IVRPD board members unanimously approved a preliminary work plan and budget for 2005-06 at its meeting held at 6 p.m. Thursday at the IVRPD office. IVRPD general manager Derek Johnson said the $1,145,545 budget, which will take effect July 2005, calls for the IVRPD to focus on office improvements and financial recovery from its recently ended legal fight with the Santa Barbara Libertarian Party. IVRPD director Diane Conn said the budget is just a preliminary one and will be reviewed again before it is ratified.

Johnson said the work plan and budget is primarily concerned with maintaining the district’s parks and renovating the district office. He said the IVRPD cannot afford any large-scale projects because legal fees it incurred from a lawsuit filed by the Libertarian Party in November 2001 have depleted the district’s budget. Earlier this year, a judge ruled that the IVRPD must pay over $40,000 for violating several technical statutes of the Brown Act, which requires that government agencies hold all meetings and make all decisions in public. IVRPD also incurred just under $20,000 in legal fees.

“The tenor for next year’s budget is basically maintenance — because of legal fees, we had to go into our operating accounts, and we basically gutted that,” Johnson said. “The board approved a budget and work plan that allows us to go back next year and be able to do some park maintenance projects.”

The budget includes $28,100 for renovations to the IVRPD’s office, including new cabinets and tiling. IVRPD director Bryan Brown said he thinks the board is justified in directing its funds toward office improvements, and he said he thinks the renovations will help the IVRPD function better.

“I think putting money into the office is actually a good idea this year,” Brown said. “I think morale sort of dictates that you have a decent working space.”

The board also allocated $5,112 to lease a new copier, $6,500 for a new computer and server for the IVRPD office, and $18,500 for the purchase of a new biodiesel lawn mower, which Johnson said would be more energy-efficient.

As part of the work plan, the board also dedicated a specific amount of staff hours for each IVRPD project. These mandated time commitments would provide 250 hours of staff effort for the I.V. Master Plan and 300 work hours for construction of the I.V. Community Center.

“For me everything revolves around the community center,” Brown said. “The fact that we’re making a commitment to the community center, and it’s part of our work plan, and we’re budgeting time and staff toward that – that’s all we can do right now.”

During the meeting, the board also heard an update from Johnson on the status of a lawsuit against the IVRPD by the family of Emily King, who sustained serious injuries when she fell from the Del Playa cliffs in September 2004.

Johnson said the IVRPD has rejected the claim and is waiting for the King family’s response.

“If someone decides to litigate then our insurance carrier, [California Association for Park and Recreation Insurance], will defend us,” Johnson said.

The board also voted to offer a $500 per month lease to the I.V. Teen Center, which currently pays $1,250 every month to rent land in Estero Park.