Keep the ball in play – ‘Yes’ on park levy

Last summer, their boys’ season-long heroics and trip to the World Series earned the Bainbridge Island Little League a parade down Winslow Way.

Just six months later, thanks to the antics of some parents, the island’s youth baseball and softball organizations are fouling the ball off their own feet. Complaining about the “poor quality” of ball fields and other facilities, parents associated with the leagues are leading a pointless campaign against the upcoming park district levy.

We urge voters to ignore this misguided campaign, and vote “Yes” on the Bainbridge Island Park and Recreation District M&O levy, Feb. 5.

The $4.78 million tax levy would be collected once, at $1.48 per $1,000 valuation on island homes, to fund maintenance and operations of the Bainbridge park system for a two-year period, 2003-04. That the park system is something more than a staff of full-time groundskeepers for local ball fields is self-evident; elsewhere on these pages, various users offer their comments on the array of programs offered by the district, and the parks and facilities the M&O levy supports.

Bainbridge Island Little League officials last week distanced themselves from the “No” campaign, saying only that “some parents may be members of both.” But there seems little

question that the campaign sprang from a recent series of meetings between league officials and park board members, during which the league proposed $300,000 worth of publicly funded improvements to several ball facilities.

Why now? Good question. With four park board seats up for election in November, nobody from island youth sports organizations could be bothered to run – three incumbents and a gentleman unaffiliated with any groups ran unopposed. Then, throughout the park district’s budgeting process – including a December public hearing that was advertised on the front page of this newspaper – no one showed up to offer comment.

And now the community is asked to defeat the two-year M&O levy, because some parents think it’s too low? Someone’s not keeping their eye on the ball.

Like our other taxing jurisdictions, the park district has an obligation to stretch the public dollar and keep costs down. In fact, the levy before voters was pared by $750,000 from a first round of proposals. Running even a $1.48/$1,000 levy is risky in the current economic climate, but we believe that it’s prudent and deserves voters’ support.

Could island ball fields stand some improvements? Perhaps. But opposing the park levy isn’t the way to get the message out. Using extortion to get better facilities may look like a major league strategy – “give us competitive fields or we’ll oppose the levy” sounds a lot like “build us a stadium or we’ll move the team” – but it’s strictly a bush league game.

Any improvements beyond a “recreational” standard are going to be funded by a combination of private and public sources, or perhaps a separate capital improvement levy that would go before voters.

But improvements are not going to come with some parents waving a bat over the head of the average park user.

We call on the Bainbridge Island Little League to publicly repudiate the Parents for Better Parks campaign, and commit to an open public process for improvements that will take the needs of all park user groups into account.

Island voters should do likewise, and vote “Yes” for parks on Feb. 5.

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