Key to park lid-lift? Trust

Rumor has it that Bainbridge Islanders love their parks. Their properties are not perfect, of course, and probably never will be. There could be more pocket parks in Winslow, more trails connecting parks and open space, better access to some of them, and more ballparks and playgrounds for youngsters.

So what is the Metro Park and Recreation District going to do about those needs and wants? It’s up to you, voters.

The Nov. 4 ballot will include a lid-lift levy that, if passed, will generate as much as $1.2 million annually, beginning in April. The lift would authorize a maximum total levy rate of 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value; because of inflation, the current rate is 57.5 cents. The lid-lift would mean that property tax for a median-priced home of $600,000 would increase by about $100 per year.

By law, the district’s budget can’t grow by more than 1 percent. With inflation and increasing operational costs during the last few years, the district’s budget ceiling (no more than 1 percent growth annually) restricts its ability to do much more than maintain its parks. The lift would change that.

The district’s board says 75 percent of the additional funds would be used for acquisition and development of new park facilities; the remaining 25 percent would be used primarily for maintenance, which amounts to as much as $300,000 each year.

The good news is that the parks board says it will be open to how it would spend the money, promising brainstorming sessions with islanders through hearings and a standing citizens’ committee that would provide recommendations on acquisition and development. Board members, for example, say residents have been vocal about the need for more active-use fields and facilities, and more parks in the Winslow core area.

Some people also believe that the emphasis should be on developing what the district already owns rather than acquiring more open-space property, especially since the district will inherit much of the city’s parks and open space if the lid-lift is approved. The park board considers property acquisition primarily as being opportunity driven, such as being flexible enough to purchase property adjacent to existing parks for public parking or other uses.

The city and park district has recently discussed the city transferring all of the dozen or more open-space properties purchased with an $8.7 million bond measure in 2001, plus many other city properties such as Strawberry Plant Park and Waterfront Park. The city probably would include some initial maintenance funds with the transfers, but they are on hold until the outcome of the lid-lift measure is decided.

The city-to-parks transfers make sense for many, many reasons, but the park district is having difficulty maintaining its current inventory with today’s level of funding, much less the properties the city would like to hand off.

Considering today’s economic environment locally, regionally and nationally, it would seem that passage of a taxing measure would be a long shot. Still, islanders clearly care about their quality of life, and the island’s parks and open space properties are unique in many ways. So, yes or no?

It’ll probably come down to trust, especially with the city’s promise of handing much of its park properties over to the district. The park district perhaps has more of the public’s trust these days than does the city, and a lid-lift approval certainly would accentuate that confidence.

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