Parks district idea losing its luster in Jefferson

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Discussion surrounding a proposed metropolitan parks district that would jointly manage Port Townsend city and Jefferson County recreational facilities is beginning to turn to possible alternatives.

The idea of establishing a joint parks district emerged last year in response to the financial strains for both city and county government in supporting and maintaining park properties.

A steering committee is working on crafting a measure that — once it is approved by the Port Townsend City Council and the Jefferson County commissioners for placement on a ballot — would give voters the chance to approve or reject a joint city-county metropolitan park district, or MPD.

But David Sullivan, Jefferson County commissioner, has suggested that the timing isn’t right for asking voters to approve another junior taxing district.

“The recession has lasted longer than we expected, and a lot of people feel this may not be the time to do something extra,” Sullivan said.

“But if we don’t do an MPD, we will need to do something to address the cost.”

If it were approved by voters, the board of the proposed district — which would run some or all of the park properties in the region — 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.

Before the steering committee’s creation, the intent was to put the measure on the Nov. 5 ballot, but whether that will happen is now uncertain, said Kathleen Kler, the committee chair.

While its purpose is to create a cohesive ballot measure, the steering committee could recommend the process not go forward, Kler said, although that is not the primary choice now.

“When this process began, I hoped this would be the opportunity for the city and county to demonstrate their cooperative spirit for the commonwealth and common health,” Kler said.

“Our job is not done but has become more challenging.

“I am more aware of the differences throughout the county, and I am determined, along with the rest of the steering committee, to do the work that we were asked to do to make parks and recreation available and equitable to all our citizens.”

If the idea were dropped, then some other way to fund recreation facilities would be necessary to keep parks available to the public, according to both city and county officials.

“If we don’t do an MPD, we will need a short-term answer, which could end up being a levy lid lift,” Sullivan said.

He said the idea faces competition on two levels: many other possible tax increases are on the horizon and other services need money.

The process is complicated by the fact that support of parks is optional and takes a back seat to mandated services, Sullivan said.

“There is a lot of competition for our tax dollars,” he said.

“We need to do the courts and the jails and these costs keep increasing,” he added.

If the joint parks plan is dropped, an alternative will be needed, agreed Port Townsend County Manager David Timmons.

“We will need to have a Plan B,” Timmons said.

“We haven’t had that discussion and now will have to in that regard, and that will get complicated if there are a lot of smaller park districts out there.”

While the proposed metropolitan park district’s boundaries have yet to be determined, it would not include existing park districts in Coyle and Brinnon.

Since the idea was floated, people in Port Ludlow and Kala Point have petitioned to create their own park districts, with the measures now on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Supporters of the two districts cited the proposed joint parks district as a spur to their efforts, saying they want to retain local control.

Kler said that the steering committee will address the potential drawbacks of the metropolitan park district at an upcoming meeting.

“The steering committee will be collating their summer listening results at their September meeting,” she said.

“We will determine the best possible district boundary, the most important and vital programs and will determine which parks and facilities the public wants to support.”

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

Last modified: August 25. 2013 6:25PM
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