By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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“Since the recession hit, we’ve been looking for a way to support parks,” said Port Townsend Mayor David King.
“We don’t have enough funding to do what we want to do.”
The details of a proposed district to be presented for voter approval will be discussed in a joint meeting between the Port Townsend City Council and the Jefferson County commissioners in Superior Court chambers at the Jefferson County Courthouse, 1820 Jefferson St., at 6:30 p.m. Monday.
The board of a metropolitan parks district, which would be a junior taxing district, would have the authority to levy up to 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, or $187.50 annually for a house valued at $250,000.
Voters approved Proposition 1 in November 2010, which raised the sales tax in Jefferson County 0.03 percent, with the additional funds used to finance public safety, youth and senior services.
Under the law, the city was to receive 40 percent of the new revenue. It committed half of that amount — estimated at $212,000 — through 2015 to support two county facilities within the city limit: the Port Townsend Community Center, a recreation center at 620 Tyler St., and Memorial Field, 550 Washington St.
One of the items on Monday’s agenda is the renegotiation of that agreement.
After providing the funding for a year, the city determined that to continue to do so through 2015 would force cutting other essential programs.
One of the terms of the city-county agreement was that its continuance was based on a report from the Exploratory Regional Parks and Recreation Committee, which considered alternatives for more than a year before recommending the creation of a joint municipal parks district.
Under the present agreement, the city is not obligated to make payments past 2015.
“After 2015, all the Prop 1 funds will be used for public safety,” King said.
“We need to look for ways to fund the big three — Memorial Field, the rec center and the pool — on a continuing basis,” King added.
Mountain View Pool at 1925 Blaine St. is Port Townsend’s only public swimming pool. It is owned by the city. In November, Jefferson County allocated $150,000 for pool repair from its public infrastructure fund.
King said he hopes that Monday’s meeting will result in a joint resolution to create a committee that will explore the idea and return to the public with plans about how it can be achieved.
Aside from that, everything is up in the air.
The idea is to consolidate the maintenance and operation of all city and county parks under one umbrella, but the area of the proposed district is still to be determined.
Once the area is determined, not all the local parks will be included.
“We don’t know if Kah Tai [Lagoon Nature] Park will be included or not,” King said.
“There are people who feel that we just gained possession of the park and shouldn’t let it go so quickly.”
The process, King said, is for the committee’s plan to be refined through a series of public meetings and craft a proposal that would be presented to the voters.
At that time, voters would approve or disapprove the ratification of the plan and elect a board of commissioners for its implementation.
King said there is no estimated schedule for the vote, but the soonest possible time it could occur is November.
It could, he said, take a lot longer.
“We could be going back and forth on these issues, and it could take a long time to come to an agreement,” he said.
“Or we could go through this whole process and decide that it’s not something we want to do.”
Both King and Jefferson County Commissioner David Sullivan characterized the process as “not a done deal.”
“This process allows people to put their best ideas forward,” Sullivan said.
“We are in a place where the funds we have available don’t provide for the needs of our parks.”
Sullivan said the recession has impacted parks more than other departments because it is not a mandated service; when funding is tight, parks are the first to have funding cut.
Creating a metropolitan parks district would provide funding, but it would require a sacrifice.
“If we allow a parks district to take over our city and county parks, we will be giving up control,” Sullivan said.
Another uncertainty is the administration of the parks district, where it would be located and how it would be staffed.
A wealthy parks district could construct its own building, but it is likely that the local version will share administrative space and staff support with an existing agency, Sullivan said.
“There will be some overhead in operating the parks district,” Sullivan said.
“Right now, we have some tough decisions, but hopefully, this will become easier when the economy improves.”
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.