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Bainbridge Park board mulls levy

Lid lift would be used for purchasing, maintaining new parks

Encouraged by the results of a recent spate of surveys, the Bainbridge Metropolitan Park and Recreation District board is considering a plan to fund new open space purchases.

The Park Board Thursday will hold a public hearing on a proposal to put a lift of the district’s property tax levy on the November ballot. Revenue from the rate increase would pay for the acquisition, development and maintenance of new open space.

Details of the proposed lid lift are still being refined. A draft of the resolution, available for perusal on the park district website, suggested the tax rate be increased by roughly $0.16, making it $0.75 per $1,000 assessed value in 2009.

Park District Director Terry Lande said an early estimate suggests the lid lift would bring in $1 million to $1.2 million in added revenue in 2009.

Lande said the amount of revenue allocated to land acquisition versus operations is still being hammered out.

The draft resolution has been amended to include an option for spending up to 75 percent on land purchases, and another that sets a minimum of 75 percent to be used for land purchases. The resolution will also include more definitive language on the type of land and improvements that would be funded by the levy, Lande said.

Park Board Chair Ken DeWitt said the district has considered both a bond and levy.

“You could do a bond, but the biggest drawback, in my opinion, is that you can only use it for purchasing land, there is no operational money to go along with it,” Dewitt said.

With its consideration of a levy, the park district is taking the lead in planning open space acquisition.

The city has been weighing funding options since exhausting the $8 million open space bond passed by voters in 2001.

In June, the results of a survey, overseen by the Trust for Public Land, suggested a public hunger for new open space, and a willingness to pay for it. The survey showed voters are willing to pass a $10 million bond, though by a small margin. Respondents said drinking water, habitat preservation and public access to parks were all priorities.

Connie Waddington, chair of the city’s Open Space Commission, said that survey respondents marked the park district as better suited for handling open space than the city.

“Everyone seems to be coming to the same conclusion, that the city should not be in the park business,” Waddington said.

Waddington recently represented the commission on a task force formed by Mayor Darlene Kordonowy to consider an open space bond or levy. Waddington said the task force recommended the park district fund new open space purchases, rather than the city buying the land and turning it over to the district for development.

The Open Space Commission has continued to meet regularly and is still plugging away on trail easements and policy issues, Waddington said, but it’s unclear how it will serve if the park district takes over land acquisitions.

“We don’t really have much work to do now, particularly because we don’t have any money,” Waddington said.

Lande said the park district would create its own advisory committee to guide the acquisition of new land, if a levy were passed. Though not as scientific, the park district’s own survey, completed in June, reinforced the sentiments of the city survey, DeWitt said.

One question posed in the park district survey was whether the existing park and recreation facilities would be adequate to meet the demands of the islands swollen population in 2025. Forty of the 100 responding households answered “no,” while 28 said “yes” and 32 were unsure.

Nearly 75 percent ranked the protection of habitat conservation areas, waterfront access, open space and farmland as the park districts’ highest priority.

Respondents were also asked how much the family would be willing to pay in property taxes each year to support the purchase of new land for parks, with options ranging from zero to $500. Twenty-five respondents said they would not be willing to pay any additional taxes for land purchased. The mean response was $262. Thirteen households were willing to pay more than $500 and 26 were not sure.

The 57 written comments accompanying the survey results reflected an array of perspectives. Some voiced support for new parks and facilities, but many said the park district should focus on maintaining the land it has, and warned against overtaxing property owners.

“The plan is too grandiose,” one respondent wrote, “people are being driven off the island because of the taxes and existing home prices.”

DeWitt acknowledged that if accepted by the Park Board, the levy proposal could still face a challenge with voters, even if surveys suggest public support.

“It won’t be easy to come with a new levy at a time when many government agencies are cutting back,” he said.

A first reading and public comment on a proposed Park District open space levy will be held 6 p.m., July 24 at the Strawberry Plant mini gym on High School Road. A second reading and possible vote on the resolution will be held at a special Park Board meeting at 6 p.m., July 31. Meeting agendas and a draft of the resolution are available for download at www.biparks.org. Call 842-2306 for more information.

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