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Park drive over the top

More than 3,300 signatures should push issue onto the Sept. 14 primary ballot.

Island voters are almost certain to decide the funding future of their park district on the Sept. 14 primary ballot.

Park officials Tuesday delivered to the Kitsap County Elections Office petitions bearing the signatures of more than 3,300 local voters – many more than needed to put a proposed switch to a “metropolitan” park district before voters, backers say.

“Our goal was 3,000, so yeah, it was a great outpouring of support,” said John Grinter, who coordinated the signature drive. “What do you say? We had a great team of volunteers.”

County officials now must certify the petitions to place the park issue on the fall ballot.

Voter approval in September would disband the Bainbridge Island Park and Recreation District, and transfer its holdings to a new entity called the Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Park and Recreation District.

The change – backed by park officials and an ad hoc citizen group – would give the district year-to-year taxing authority, akin to what the fire district enjoys.

At the same time, all five current park board members would stand for re-election to the new district’s board, while others could declare for those positions.

There is some disagreement among board members about whether the ballot measure should include a specific amount for the next levy.

Park Director Terry Lande said the proposition should say only that the levy is “not to exceed 75 cents per $1,000 valuation,” the legal cap for metropolitan districts. The new board would then set the levy for 2005 once budget needs are determined.

The current park levy is about 69 cents per $1,000, while the levy that failed in February would have hit property owners at 77 cents.

The campaign, Lande said, should focus on the merits of stable park funding, rather than on the base levy the next board might establish.

“The key to the whole thing is, we had 3,300 signatures in hand, which I think is just incredible,” Lande said, “and everybody said the feedback was just great.”

Backers say the district would be imposing fiscal discipline on itself – a metro park district could only raise its property tax take by 1 percent per year, while the district now is limited only by what voters will approve.

Park commissioner Kirk Robinson said the district also risks being hit by future tax-cutting initiatives, one of which would cut property taxes by 25 percent in some districts.

“We’re willing to risk an awful lot, in the sense that there’s I-864 out there,” Robinson said. “If we convert to a metro park district, whatever rate we set could very well be slashed by 25 percent before the new district has a chance to operate.

“We’re willing to take that risk, because we think this is the right way to run a park district.”

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