Parks board to seek increase in annual levy

By Meg Olson

Point Roberts Park and Recreation District commissioners are poised to ask voters to approve doubling the parks district’s operations and maintenance levy in order to hire the district’s first manager.

“I don’t think anyone doubts we need to hire someone,” said commissioner Mary Edgley. “There’s just too much to do on a volunteer basis.”

Parks district commissioners are uncompensated and, without staff, the tasks of operating and maintaining the community center and parks facilities fall to them. At the community center this includes scheduling use of the rooms by different local groups, opening and closing the facility for users, coordinating and meeting with contractors for maintenance of the building (or doing it themselves), negotiating contracts with users such as the library system and seniors, ordering supplies and a variety of other tasks. At Baker Field, commissioners take on most of the maintenance of the trails, skate park and field.

“I’ve been putting in over 30 hours a week,” said commissioner Bennett Blaustein. Traditionally, one of the commissioners, often the president, essentially made parks operations their job. “I’m happy to put in 10 or 15 hours in a week but 30 is a little crazy.” Recently, Blaustein had put in 40 hours maintaining overgrown trails at Baker Field which had not been kept up. “We need to make sure these parks are maintained so people can really use them,” he said.

At their June 12 meeting, parks commissioners approved a motion to ask district legal council to prepare a resolution for their July 10 meeting asking voters to approve a six-year levy of 17 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, with a built in percentage increase over those six years.

The district’s current operations and maintenance levy is eight cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, which generates approximately $50,000 a year. The proposed increase would boost that amount to $100,000.

Stephen Falk pointed out that the parks district currently takes up almost the thinnest slice of the local tax pie. “The voters would like to see all sorts of things we can’t do right now because we don’t have the money,” he said. “Nobody’s smaller than us except for the cemetery district. Even if we double our rate we will still be on the low end.”

Under the current levy, a home valued at $200,000 pays $18 per year to support the local parks system. If voters approve the levy increase in November, the same
property would pay $36 for local parks.

Commissioners are proposing that half of the funds generated by an increased levy would be dedicated to hiring a part-time manager, while the remainder would pay for more programs and recharge reserves.

While a voter-approved bond has paid for $250,000 in upgrades to the community center – including a new roof, heating and air-conditioning system and drainage – and to Baker Field, replacing the septic system and a seismic upgrade are still on the list of necessary improvements.

“That’s going to burn up our reserves,” said commission president Linda Hughes.

Hughes said a big part of selling the levy increase to voters would be educating them about the possibilities and asking what they wanted to see in terms of additional programs.

Currently, the district does a lot with very little funding, she pointed out. The popular summer kids camp runs on a $6,000 budget. One possibility would be to extend that program.

If the levy is approved, she suggested a series of town hall meetings in November to explore how best to use the funds.

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