Unusual 'commitment' of government, volunteers seeking solution to Jefferson's parks dilemma
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Parents Lelah Wright, top, and Shelly Randall, bottom, guide Roean Wright, center, and Soren Randall up the climbing wall at the Port Townsend Community Center. The two women have formed a group called PLAY to explore recreation funding options. — Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Both government officials and residents are seeking solutions for continued parks and recreation funding in East Jefferson County.

The urgency comes from the upcoming expiration in May of the city of Port Townsend's commitment to allocate its portion of a voter-approved sales tax increase to recreational support.

“We made the commitment with the condition that we'd come up with a plan that would negate the need for the additional money,” said Port Townsend City Manager David Timmons.

“Now, after two task force attempts and $141,000 in public process funds, we don't have anything.”

Timmons will present a plan to the City Council when it meets at 6 p.m. Monday in historic City Hall, 540 Water St.

And on 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25, a group called Parents (and the Public) Loudly Advocating for Youth — or PLAY — plans a two-hour brainstorming session on possible solutions at the Port Townsend Community Center, 620 Tyler St.

“We need to find someone who can fill the holes in the support of recreation and design a long-term plan,” said Shelly Randall, a parent of a 5-year-old who co-founded the group with Lelah Wright, also a parent.

“The kids need to be at the very top of our community's priority list,” Randall said.

“The government hasn't come up with a solution,” Randall added.

“Now we have to pick up the ball and find a solution ourselves.”

The combined efforts of two task forces focused on the possibility of a joint city-county metropolitan park district failed to come up with a plan.

The Exploratory Parks and Recreation Committee met from May 2011 to June 2012 to explore the possibility of asking voters to establish such a district.

A second committee met throughout 2013 but dissolved in September after seeking further guidance from the city of Port Townsend and Jefferson County officials.

Timmons advocates the creation of a city-only metropolitan park district, funded by a voter-approved sales tax, or a facilities district, funded by a property tax increase.

The idea would be that the county would transfer ownership of its two facilities in the city limit, Memorial Field and the Port Townsend Recreation Center, to the city.

“This would get the county government out of the city and allow it to concentrate on maintaining other facilities throughout the county,” Timmons said.

The plan includes the creation of a “community dashboard” where recreation providers can post details of their programs in a place where users can easily access, “operating on an enterprise basis to connect all community recreations services throughout the county, both for profit and not for profit providers,” Timmons' memo says.

The programs would operate on a fee basis but funding to provide equal access would come from a county-wide special purpose levy of 10 cents which would generate about $450,000 per year to support the premise that no child or adult is denied equal access to recreations services.

Timmons' proposal addresses ways to repair, preserve and manage Mountain View Commons, including the pool — the only public pool in Port Townsend — and “fulfilling the long-term commitment to offering a long-term solution for the funding of Parks and Recreation that was made to Jefferson County taxpayers when they passed the Proposition 1 sales tax increase in 2010,” according to Timmons' memo in the City Council packet.

Needed repairs of the Mountain View campus are estimated to cost $5 million.

Timmons, who has criticized the county “for not having a Plan B,” calls on the county to use bonding capacity in 2014 to underwrite the local costs for repairs.

In return, the city would commit to a full allocation of the current one half of the public safety sales tax commencing in 2017 — estimated to be $240,000 a year — taking on the debt service responsibility.

Timmons said that money for repairs on the Mountain View campus should be part of any plan.

“You may recall that the pool was at one time run first by the [Port Townsend] school district, then by the county and eventually was abandoned only to be picked up by the city,” he said.

“We can't move forward on parks and recreation issues if we don't have a long-term solution for the facility.”

County Administrator Philip Morley said he has read Timmons' plan and is now examining its financial feasibility.

“The county would like to help the city in its support of Mountain View and other recreational facilities but we need to determine what is possible within our own debt capacity and what voters will support,” Morley said.

PLAY seeks “predictability and proper funding” for programs and to develop partnerships to support recreation outside of the auspices of the city and county governments, Randall said.

“This is a grass roots effort that won't be connected to the government,” Randall said.

“We are going to find a way to continue these programs.”

While it does not seek governmental involvement, PLAY plays into the county's stated purpose of getting private organizations to take on specific programs.

On Dec. 17, the county provided a list of 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, but did not provide the cost of each program, something Morley said would be made available to potential partners.

Randall, who owns a consulting business, said the parks issue can motivate young parents to become politically involved.

“We want to make sure our voices are heard,” said Randall, who is 37.

“More than any other issue, this is the one thing that will cause people my age to become proactive.”

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 04. 2014 5:49PM
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