By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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A joint metropolitan park district, which would include parks in Port Townsend and well as in unincorporated areas of East Jefferson County, was proposed in 2012 to ease financial strains for city and county government in supporting and maintaining park properties.
The goal was to have a measure crafted by the steering committee on the Nov. 5 ballot, but delays in assembling the panel made that time frame unfeasible.
At Tuesday’s steering committee meeting for the proposed metropolitan park district, or MPD, it was decided to pick up discussion on the district next year.
“It’s not feasible to move forward with an MPD right now,” said Herb Cook, a member of the 11-person group.
“It doesn’t make a difference what it looks like because it won’t be approved by the voters.”
Kathleen Kler, commitee co-chair, said the city and county “are both slammed and don’t have the resources to address this right now.
“We need to pick this up after the first of the year where we need to look at alternative ways of proceeding.”
Kler said the district faced opposition from those who are against any new taxes, but opponents didn’t understand it would consolidate current tax levels and not necessarily mean an increase.
“The purpose is to get all parks and recreation functions under a single authority,” she said.
Among the alternatives that have been discussed are a levy lid lift, individual parks and recreation districts, new partnerships and a centralized management that would be less structured than an MPD — which, if approved by voters, would be a junior taxing district with a board-given authority to set a property tax levy.
The status quo, where funding is always uncertain, is not an option, according to a draft document that was assembled during the meeting.
The committee decided unanimously to postpone a scheduled Sept. 25 meeting and an Oct. 12 charrette until the city and the county can provide an evaluation of the process so far and how it should proceed.
Such direction is needed as soon as possible, but there is no ability to provide this guidance until after the budgeting process is complete, representatives of both agencies said.
“We need to put together a bilateral agreement between the city and the county as to how we proceed, but right now, we are dealing with a critical budget,” said Port Townsend City Manager David Timmons.
“Providing this information before the first of the year is something we don’t have the resources to do,” he added.
“Once we hit January, we can address this in earnest.”
Jefferson County Administrator Philip Morley said, “We have run out of time and gas.
“After the first of the year, we will be able to develop a long-term plan, including what we will need to do in the interim to fund the parks.”
Even if the metropolitan park district process is undefined, the 2014 budget must anticipate what costs will be required, Morley said.
The steering committee also must examine alternatives, such as a levy lid lift, to subsidize parks once voter-approved funding expires in 2013.
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.
Two measures are on the Nov. 5 ballot asking voters to approve individual parks districts in Port Ludlow and Kala Point, steps taken, supporters said, to avoid being in a joint parks district.
While the planning for a joint parks district is on hiatus and interim funding sources are sought, committee member Jeff Randall said parks advocates need to renew a call for volunteers to provide baseline parks maintenance.
“We need to show the public what we have accomplished, that we are doing something with limited means,” he said.
“But we need to kick the challenge back to the community and invite them to become more involved.”
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or firstname.lastname@example.org.