Jefferson commissioners put controversial metropolitan parks district idea on hold
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Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
Kathleen Kler discusses her resignation as steering committee co-chair before Jefferson County commissioners on Monday.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND— The idea of a metropolitan parks district was formally put on hold Monday with Jefferson County commissioners suspending any action until further direction could be provided by the city and the county.

The resolution was expected to be addressed by the Port Townsend City Council on Monday night.

Together it puts the brakes on the process to create a new government layer to manage recreational facilities owned by both the city and county.

The prospect of a countywide taxing agency generated attempts in isolated parts of the county to create individual park and recreation districts to avoid being part of the large one.

Two of those proposals — in Kala Point and Port Ludlow — are before voters in the all-mail election that starts Oct. 16 and ends Nov. 5.

“This resolution [passed Monday by county commissioners] recognizes that the creation of a metropolitan parks district is not a feasible tool for developing a management system for local recreational facilities,” County Administrator Philip Morley said.

“[The resolution] also requests that the city and county develop options for operating in the interim and the long term, and bring those back to the steering committee before making any final decisions.”

The contents of the motion were suggested by the Metropolitan Parks District Steering Committee at a Sept. 10 meeting, at which time several committee members said they could not proceed without specific instructions from the city and county.

At that meeting, Port Townsend City Manager David Timmons said the city would be unable to provide such guidance over the next few months as it will be focused on the 2014 budget, but said the council could focus on the issue after the first of the year.

The commissioners' resolution also extends the term of the steering committee through June 30 from the current end date of March 4 in 2014 “in order to give the committee sufficient time to review and provide feedback to the options presented by the city and county,” the resolution said.

At issue is the funding and support of county and city parks in order to provide recreation opportunities for the public.

Many facilities are now maintained by volunteer labor, while others have been closed or curtailed due to a lack of funds or support.

This isn't a new problem.

In November 2010, voters approved Proposition 1, which raised the sales tax in Jefferson County 0.03 percent to finance public safety and youth and senior services.

Those funds provided support for Memorial Field and the Port Townsend Community Center but did not address the needs of other city and county parks.

An exploratory regional parks and recreation committee was formed. It later developed into the parks steering committee.

The process has cost $117,655 so far — $83,434 for the exploratory committee and $34,221 for the steering committee, according to Jefferson County Parks Director Matt Tyler.

The majority of the funds came from the 2010 voter-approved funding revenues, with a portion from the county general fund, Morley said.

On Monday, County Commissioner Phil Johnson said that the money spent was not wasted, although consultants would probably not be retained for the next steps.

Prior to discussing the resolution with the commissioners, steering committee co-chair Kathleen Kler announced her resignation, saying that she “had other things in my life I need to do” while noting she had worked on the process for more than four years.

“Part of the steering committee's difficulty was the uncertainty of what we were going to do since the task was specifically [metropolitan parks district]-designed,” Kler said.

“We found the [district] was not a feasible tool, although there are members of the committee who want to stay available so they can help the city and the county in whatever they may decide,”

Kler said there also is a concern among committee members “that all the knowledge and data that we have gathered so far isn't lost.”

Kler said she hopes that people will hear the message about a need for funding recreations in general rather than the structure of the metropolitan parks district in particular.

Part of the problem, she said is the name: “Metropolitan Parks District” caused confusion because East Jefferson County is not a metropolitan area.

The commissioners acknowledged that confusion, with Morley stating the designation originates from state regulations so the name is inflexible.

Morley said the county budget is stretched by the obligation to provide support for public safety, police and courts.

Funding of recreation, although important, is not compulsory, he said.

“The majority of our parks facilities have routine maintenance done by citizen volunteers at this time because we've had to lay off much of the park staff,” Morley said.

“Our parks and recreation facilities have already been in crisis even with the bridge of funding from Proposition 1.”

Morley said the county pays $9 million in public safety costs but around $375,000 for parks.

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

Last modified: October 07. 2013 6:27PM
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