Park levy will have whirlwind campaign

Ballots go out next Wednesday for the Feb. 3 all-mail election.

Bigfoot was sighted this week at Battle Point Park.

The sudden appearance of the park district’s lumbering, furry mascot means another levy election is close at hand.

“I’ve seen pictures, and it was the clearest Bigfoot picture I’ve ever seen,” quipped Ken DeWitt, one of several Bainbridge Island Park and Recreation District board commissioners working with the pro-levy Partners for Parks campaign. “Who knows, there might be some more Bigfoot sightings around.”

Quite likely, in fact, as a whirlwind pro-levy campaign gets under way. Ballots go out Wednesday for the Feb. 3 all-mail election; before voters is a two-year, $5.709 million property tax levy to fund park district maintenance and operations in 2005-06.

Over the next three weeks, the campaign will include newspaper advertising, ferry terminal promotions aimed at commuters, and visits to island service groups.

“We are looking to talk to as many local organizations as would like to have us be there,” DeWitt said.

The M&O levy represents a 16 percent increase over the 2003-04 levy. The hike is driven largely by rising personnel costs – insurance, salary “step adjustments” and COLAs – for the district, which has about 25 full-time employees.

The levy includes more support for the Teen Center and Senior Center, with the directors of those organizations upgraded to full-time status, and a new groundskeeper for park maintenance.

The levy budget eliminates several events, the Toe Jam Hill half-marathon and the summer Music and Arts Festival.

“We found both those items were drawing primarily off-island people, and weren’t a service to island taxpayers,” DeWitt said.

As a so-called “excess levy,” the issue needs a 60 percent supermajority to prevail. Park officials hope to avoid a repeat of the last levy effort, which failed in the face of opposition by youth sports interests upset over the condition of ball fields. A second levy try – for a greater amount – passed, keeping the park gates open.

Since that time, the district has formalized ball field maintenance standards through a series of agreements with youth sports leagues.

For Sally Mathews, elected in November to an open park board seat and Partners for Parks campaign chair, the key message is, “Vote...and vote ‘Yes.’”

“We haven’t heard any opposition yet, and I hope none turns up,” Mathews said. “It’s not a new (levy), it’s just a repetitive thing that we’re dealing with.”

Also working on the campaign is trails advocate John Grinter, bested by Mathews in the park board race, who cited the need to maintain the district’s various offerings.

“I think in this day and age of one-way communication, a healthy park district that offers real-world opportunities is more important than ever,” he said.

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