BI parks talks about being prepared for emergencies

Bainbridge Island Metro Parks & Recreation District Commissioner Ken DeWitt recently went to Maui and saw the devastation caused by the wildfires.

He said that experience really emphasized the importance of communities planning for an emergency. That issue was discussed at a recent parks district meetings.

Commissioner Tom Swolgaard said he read in the city of BI newsletter about emergency preparedness hubs and noted that a couple of them are in parks. He specifically asked about Battle Point Park regarding emergency preparedness. Parks executive director Terry Lande said it is a place to land a helicopter.

Commissioner Tom Goodlin asked if it is part of the park district mandate to participate in emergency preparedness. Lande said yes, and the district is heavily involved.

Park Services superintendent David Harry is an experienced and active member of the operations team. There is emergency supply storage in the Transmitter Building, and all the hubs have supplies for emergencies. Parks Services Division director Dan Hamlin said all equipment and every employee becomes a resource for emergency response.

Swolgaard said Bainbridge Rentals is now out of business, and that facility was part of the emergency plan so that will need to be addressed.

Budget talks

Administrative Division director Amy Swenson again went over the budget. Staff is estimating $7 million in reserves at the beginning of 2024, and the district will dip into reserves by about $303,000 next year. Regarding property taxes, the district is eligible to levy 4.5% due to the 2021 increase approved by voters. The amount equals about $442,000, including new construction. BI Recreation Center program fees are projected to go up by $299,000 and other recreation is projected to rise $153,000.

The new adaptive recreation department will increase subsidy by $122,000. Recreation Division director Madison Collins said the new position will focus on accessibility and inclusion across all the things the district does. The subsidy does not include any physical changes to facilities like adding wheelchair ramps, just for program funding.

Swenson said the proposed 4.5% cost of living adjustment will equate to $211,000 for full- and regular part-time staff. Health insurance is going up 4.5%, which equals about $49,000. Changes to the General Fund include $15,800 for the softball batting cage at Strawberry Hill Park. Hardware for phone system replacement at BI Recreation Center and the Aquatic Center equals an increase of $20,000.

Money to work on the Moritani Preserve is being raised by the BI Parks & Trails Foundation committee. Lande said the BIPTF has been holding Williams-Olson Park money for a long time due to the permit process, but it is now in hand. The Land Acquisition Fund will have about $267,000 at the beginning of 2024. There are some potential land purchases and trail easements that could theoretically spend the fund down to zero.

Swenson said getting the 2021 lid lift approved helped build up reserves, and a big part of the plan for that will go toward Ray Williamson pool renovation at the Aquatic Center. Commissioner Dawn Janow asked if the BIRC bonds could be paid off early without penalty, and Swenson said she will look into that.

Staff reports

Staff met with the contractor for the Strawberry Hill Park dog park fencing project. They will start delivering materials next week and are targeting the end of the month for completion.

Hamlin said police have not found any of the $100,000 in equipment stolen from the Battle Point maintenance yard. Police have all the video footage and staff has started processing an insurance claim. Lande said the culprits who broke in and stole were casual, slow, methodical, professional-type thieves. Hamlin said internal procedures are being reviewed.

He also said the Fort Ward Parade Grounds playground celebration was a large event.

Collins said preparations are underway for winter/spring programs, and the catalog should be viewable online Dec. 4. She also said the new BI Swim Club coach has added 10-12 new swimmers to the team.

Recreation superintendent Bryan Garoutte said there is going to be an adult ski bus on Tuesdays this winter.

Commissioner comments

Goodlin said on Oct. 21 he volunteered for trail work at Gazzam Lake Nature Preserve and worked to close social trails. A couple walked down a social trail volunteers were trying to close, and one of them was rather belligerent, which gave him a flavor for that. He also said he knows there is talk about putting a cover over the BIRC pool, but someone told him the reason they like that pool is because it is outdoors. Lande said staff is looking for something that can be taken down seasonally. Finally, he said he has been approached again about the privately owned dock east of Fort Ward Park being turned into a public park.

Swolgaard said the coach for the club volleyball team complained that the park district reserves all the gym space around BI. Garoutte said once the district makes its schedule, it releases a lot of gym time back to the school district for other programs to request.

In other news

•Thanks to an anonymous donor, Strawberry Hill Park is going to grow to 37 acres. The deal for the Comcast property also includes the BI Parks & Trails Foundation.

•The park district confirmed that it is spending $200,000 to build tennis courts at Sakai Park, and a pickleball group is paying $80,000 to renovate the tennis courts at Battle Point Park.

•Staff is looking into an electric vehicle charging station grant and has identified the probable locations as BIRC, the Aquatic Center and Battle Point.