Park district budget in good shape

Despite declining property tax revenue, the Bainbridge Metro Park and Recreation District is entering its 2011 budget session in a good spot financially.

“In horrible times we’re still sustainable and in solid shape,” said Park District Executive Director Terry Lande. “We certainly live within our means.”

The district receives its funding from property taxes and program fees primarily, and while property taxes have been on a steady decline for the last two years – and look to be down this year as well – the effect on the park district has not been as significant as that of some of Bainbridge’s other taxing districts.

Since the park district became an independent taxing district five years ago, staff has been planning for down years such as the last few. The park district has accumulated a reserve fund of $1.4 million to start this year that can cover any number of functions, from operations to unplanned, one-time costs, insulating park district staff from the impacts of the economy.

“If we have a really bad year it’s something we can use to get by without having to do layoffs,” said district Finance Manager Amy Swenson.

But luckily for the district, that’s not a decision that has to be made. In 2008, islanders voted to raise the amount of property tax money for the park district from 58 cents per $1,000 assessed value to 75 cents, which is the maximum allowed. When the lift passed, it was determined that 75 percent of the funds would go toward the acquisition and development of parks and the remainder would help bolster maintenance expenses.

The property tax declines did cut into the district’s budget, but last year the board shaved $400,000 in costs, all of which came from additional funding in the levy lid lift. Initially, this money was tagged for acquisition of new properties and their development.

The board may have to find another $300,000 to cut during this year’s budget session, Swenson said. The additional money from the lid lift, approximately $1 million annually, is kept separate from the rest of the budget to simplify the budget process.

“We were treating the base [budget] as if no lid lift had been passed,” said Park Board Commissioner Kirk Robinson.

With the potential for some surgical cuts to the budget, the park board has jumped out early in the process. Commissioners held a meeting last week to present questions to the staff on a wide range of budget issues. Robinson felt he and the rest of the board rushed to ratify last year’s budget. Last week’s meeting came approximately a month before the board began its budget planning last year.

No decisions have been made yet as tax and employee health insurance information, two defining parts of the budget process, don’t become available until the fall.

Board Chair Lee Cross doesn’t foresee great change to this year’s budget. Beyond basic services, she expects the board to have to pick and choose what projects it wants for 2011, because cash is going to be tight.

“What’s going to happen is it’s going to be sort of a status quo budget, finding ways we can trim around the edges,” she said. “It’s going to be difficult for us to take on new projects this year because we may not have the money.”

While it decides what projects to pursue, the board will also have to continue the annual discussion of personnel costs. Those costs – staff salaries and benefits – make up 57 percent of the budget, Swenson said, and they vary yearly.

“There’s a bunch of little things involved in personnel cost that change at different rates,” Robinson said.

Last year, staff received a cost of living adjustment raise, but the odds of another pay bump are low this year, Lande said.

Lande and the district staff perform all of this budget maneuvering with one goal in mind: don’t let the public down.

“We’re a healthy agency that people have been paying tax to, so we want to give them a return on their investment,” Lande said.


Budget Calendar

Several key dates remain before the park district’s budget deadline of Nov. 30. The board met last week to present questions to the staff. Those answers should be ready later this summer, and at that time the board may schedule a special session to give additional staff direction. The calendar has yet to be approved, so all dates are tentative.

Possible budget meetings

Oct. 7 - Budget work session

Oct. 21 - First reading of the 2011 budget.

Nov. 4 - Second reading

Nov. 18 - Vote to adopt budget

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