Jefferson's parks, recreation at risk: Public meeting scheduled next week [Corrected]
By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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PORT TOWNSEND — As the continued funding of parks and recreation remains uncertain, Jefferson County officials have called a public meeting to explain and explore solutions.
“There is a list of programs that are at risk,” County Administrator Philip Morley said at a county commissioners meeting Monday.
“We are looking to formulate a plan that would be owned by and have a sense of involvement from the citizens themselves, and hand the programs off to groups that are willing to run them.”
The meeting takes place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. next Tuesday, Dec. 17, at the Cotton Building, 607 Water St., Port Townsend.
A meeting announcement said it will provide an “opportunity for community organizations to step in and partner to fill the voids in 2014.”
The announcement lists 14 programs that are endangered and the number of affected participants, ranging from the Kid Fit program with 470 participants to Quilcene Middle School cheerleading with 10 participants.
The need for renewed funding stems from the expiration of funds originating from a sales tax increase that was approved by voters in 2010 and will expire in 2015.
That increase allowed the reopening of the Port Townsend Recreational Center and supported Memorial Field, both of which are now threatened by the money cutoff.
Those lobbying for sustained parks funding have addressed the past four county commissioner meetings during the public comment period.
“Over the past few weeks, I have been to many meetings and I have not heard anyone within the department or within the county share a vision about where they want Jefferson Parks and Rec to be and how we will get there,” said Nathanael O'Hara of Port Townsend.
“I feel that the public has been blamed for not coming up with a plan to fund the programs.”
“We need this, and we need to find a way to make this happen,” said Lelah Wright of Port Townsend, who suggested a levy lid lift placed before voters to fund the parks.
“As Nelson Mandela said, 'Things are only impossible until they are accomplished,'” Wright said.
Aside from the expiration of the sales tax increase, the urgency results from the inability of an exploratory committee to present a viable plan to create a metropolitan parks district, or MPD.
Kathleen Kler, the cochair of that committee, told commissioners Monday that the committee declined to pursue a tax levy increase known as a “lid lift.”
“We need to find a way to support the parks that is sustainable, where we are not asking the taxpayers what we need to do next,” Kler said.
“We didn't think that a lift was appropriate.”
One of the reasons that the MPD did not succeed had to do with getting the message out, she said.
“It's a little frustrating that we don't know how to market this,” she said, “although I'm glad to see members of the public are so involved.”
“Having a levy lid lift would face the same challenges and issues as the creation of an MPD,” Morley said.
“We heard that people were concerned whether they would be getting their money's worth and whether their dollars would be going to support programs outside of their community,” he said.
“People reacted to the MPD with suspicion and fear.”
O'Hara requested that the county commissioners develop a plan for what the parks and recreation district will look like in five years and what it will take to accomplish.
“Closing the one youth-focused community center while keeping the senior center open sends a strong message about where our priorities lie,” O'Hara said.
“Hopefully, that is not the message you want to send.”
For information about next Tuesday's meeting or parks issues, contact Matt Tyler at 360-385-9129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or email@example.com.
Last modified: December 10. 2013 10:32AM