Opinion

Vote to keep Metro district parks healthy

Recent letters in the Review regarding the Metro Park District’s levy lid-lift (Proposition 1) contain some misconceptions.

Mr. and Mrs. Hemphill’s inference (“We already have enough,” Oct. 15) that Proposition 1 will be used to purchase more open space doesn’t tell the full story. It will create a permanent fund of $825,000–$900,000 per year to do two things: acquire new parklands – for both active and passive use – and develop and make capital improvements to these and existing parklands.

The city’s open-space bond approved by voters in 2001 provided no money to develop the land that was purchased. Today, many of these parcels lack safe access. Pritchard Park, a gem jointly owned by the city and the park district, has poor access and is almost completely off limits to people with mobility impairments. There’s a point where we have to make the land we already have accessible and available to citizens of Bainbridge Island. Unfortunately, neither the city nor the park district has the funds to open up these lands to effective use by the public.

Proposition 1 will also allow us to address another problem: lack of adequate parks in the Winslow core. High-density development in Winslow is adding more and more housing with no effective recreation space.

With housing prices the way they are, many of the most reasonably-priced homes for families with young children will be in and near downtown. There is a dearth of safe and adequate places for these children to run and play. Likewise there is a shortage of active recreational amenities for adults who want to live downtown.

Mr. Mattson’s comments (“1% cap not for budget,” Oct. 15) about increases in the district’s budget are true as far as they go, but there’s more to the story.

The budget increase in 2006 reflected the first year of operation of the Metropolitan Park District at the voter-approved levy rate. In the former district, the two-year levy went almost entirely for operations, and almost none for capital improvements or major facility maintenance. To accommodate rapidly increasing demands on the park system, staff and volunteers scrambled to keep facilities open and operating, but over the years, buildings and fields fell into disrepair

The levy increase in 2006 allowed us to set aside $240,000 per year to begin to catch up on severely deferred maintenance and to purchase equipment for our needs. We also set aside $25,000 for the executive director to deal with urgent problems and emergencies without having to wait until the next board meeting for approval, and added $150,000 to a reserve fund established to operate park facilities during the first four months each year until tax revenues become available.

Previously, the district borrowed to keep the parks open during this period. The 2006 levy increase also allowed us to hire a certified arborist with experience in horticulture and field maintenance. And levy proceeds permitted us to more than double the much-needed staffing support of the Bainbridge Island Senior Center.

Since 2006, tax revenue collected by the district increased 4 percent for 2007 and 4.2 percent for 2008. This is because of assessments on the record high levels of construction on the island. But new construction has dropped off dramatically. For 2009, the county projects that levy funds on new construction will fall below 2003 levels. Without Proposition 1, the district projects its 2009 tax revenue will increase no more than 2.6 percent –well below the level of inflation and not enough to cover projected increases in employee health insurance and higher fuel and utility costs.

Mr. Stevens’ letter (“Lack of trust leads vote against lid-lift,” Oct. 18) articulates the problems and waste that occurs when two agencies are trying to do the same task, and makes the case why the district should be the only organization that plans, develops and runs parks. The district had no input into the city’s open-space survey. The City Council and Park Board agree that the city needs to turn its parks over to the district. But doing so without the funding necessary to take on the additional responsibilities will cause our existing parks to suffer.

In 2004, voter approval of the district put us on a sound financial footing. It provided funds to take care of park properties and to begin catching up on long-deferred maintenance. But it did not allow us to make substantial development or capital improvements to our parks. It did not allow us to take advantage of opportunities to meet the increasing demand for facilities in the rapidly growing areas of the island. It did not provide the funds for a single agency to develop and operate all island parks . Proposition 1 will not do everything we need or want, but it will allow the island to take another huge step in that direction.

Chair Ken DeWitt and treasurer Lee Cross are board commissioners for the Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Park & Recreation District.

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