New parks, pool driving up tax levy

With new parks and a new swimming pool come new costs to keep them going, park officials say.

In February, island voters will be asked to approve a new and higher property tax levy – projected to be $1.48 per $1,000 assessed valuation – to pay the bills.

“It all adds up to a fairly shocking increase,” said Dave Lewis, Bainbridge Island Park and Recreation District director. “(But) we’ve been productive, and there’s just no way around that you have to pay for this stuff.”

If approved by voters, the district’s maintenance and operations levy – collected once, in the first year of a two-year budget cycle – would jump from the current level of $1.26 per $1,000.

Voters two years ago approved a $1.38 park levy, but a tax windfall from new construction and higher property valuations brought the rate back down.

“That could happen again,” Lewis said.

The park district has a full-time staff of 23, including administrators, office staff and a five-person grounds crew, and manages 1,100 acres of active and passive parks and facilities.

The $4.7 million collection would support a proposed two-year operations and capital budget of $7.86 million for 2003-04, with the balance made up by class and user fees from district programs.

The last two-year levy totaled $3.325 million, about 7 percent of islanders’ property tax burden during that period.

The proposed increase, Lewis said, is driven by the number of new facilities that have come online in the past two years.

Recent additions to the district inventory include Blakely Harbor and John Nelson parks; the Hidden Cove and Sands Road ball fields; four miles of public hiking trails; a giant play area at Battle Point Park; and a skateboard park.

Lewis said the district needs to add a maintenance worker to keep up with duties that range from mowing fields and picking up trash, to sweeping leaves from the skate park’s concrete bowl, to regular maintenance of equipment at the KidsUp! playground.

Accounting for about half of increased costs is the Nakata Pool, slated to open in December. The facility will require a new manager and a cadre of part-time workers, on top of significantly higher utility bills.

Admission fees are expected to recover 80 percent of operating costs at the new pool – 68 percent for the two-pool complex as a whole – but the dollar difference must be made up through the tax increase, Lewis said.

While the proposed budget is a significant jump, Lewis said it has been pared by $750,000 from a first round of proposals.

Likely victims of those cuts include a better benefit package for district staff, and a long-deferred merit pay increase for a handful of employees. The latter may be restored, but would be tied to the district’s ending balance in 2003.

“There’s no staff bar and jacuzzi in here, and no staff junkets to Hawaii,” Lewis said of the budget. “This is all nuts and bolts, what we need to run the district as it now exists.”

The board will take public comment on the budget and levy at its Dec. 6 meeting.

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