Park district levy falls short

Facing significant opposition for the first time in almost 20 years, the Bainbridge Park District maintenance and operations levy appeared to be headed for defeat.

Facing significant opposition for the first time in almost 20 years, the Bainbridge Park District maintenance and operations levy appeared to be headed for defeat.

Virtually complete results Friday showed the measure with 4,673 “yes” votes – 58.42 percent – to 3,326 “no” votes, or 41.58 percent. A 60 percent approval is required to pass the biennial levy.

Fewer than 1,000 votes from all of Kitsap County remain to be counted, leading Auditor Karen Flynn to declare the levy measure dead.

About 13 percent of the county votes came from Bainbridge, she said. Assuming that was true of the remaining ballots, she said, it would not be mathematically possible for the measure to pass.

Park District Director Dave Lewis, though, was unwilling to concede defeat.

“We went up from 57 percent when the first ballots were counted to 58.5 percent with the second batch,” he said. “We’ll get a new count Monday and see what happens then.”

The 7,999 Bainbridge votes tallied through Friday comprise over 55 percent of the island’s 14,384 registered voters – already an unusually high turnout for a non-November election.

The result demonstrates the difficulty of achieving the 60 percent super-majority that the law requires to approve operating levies of so-called “junior” taxing districts, such as schools and parks. Had 130 “no” voters changed their minds, the levy would have passed.

This year, those few hundred votes may have come from a group calling itself Parents for Better Parks, which ran an organized campaign to defeat the levy.

The group complained of poor maintenance at Bainbridge ball fields and other park facilities, which members said came to light when they saw other fields during last summer’s baseball and softball tournament play.

Several representatives of the group were called for comment, but could not be reached.

The two-year, $4.78 million levy represented a significant increase from the one voters approved in 2000.

Park board member Daryle Schei said the proposed levy followed line-by-line scrutiny of the budget, and that significant increases in field maintenance would require a higher levy, not the shifting of money from one use to another.

Any demand for a higher levy puts the park board in a dilemma, board member Dane Spencer said.

“You have two groups of people at different ends – those who think the levy was too high, and those who thought it was too low,” he said. “So what do you do – do you reduce the levy attract the people who thought it was too high, or do you increase the levy to make the fields better?”

Schei said he thinks better voter education could change the outcome.

“I’m sorry we didn’t get the information out sooner to the Little League about what we’re doing with field maintenance,” he said. “I think if we do that, we can get the extra votes we need. I think we should go out with the same levy again in a couple of months.”

Board member Ken DeWitt said the board is willing to explore alternatives with the anti-levy group, “but we don’t officially know who they are,” he said.

“After the results become official, it might be appropriate to meet with them.”

Past failures

The last time a Bainbridge park levy lost was in 1984. Then, voters in a spring election favored the park district levy by an adequate margin, but too few voters turned out to “validate” the result.

When the levy went before voters again in November of that year, it received only 56.6 percent approval, well short of the required 60 percent.

That year, there was also highly vocal opposition from citizens who complained that the levy was too high, and that the district was unfairly competing with private businesses by offering programs like exercise classes that were also offered by private fitness centers.

With the failure of the second levy, the district ran out of money on Jan. 1, 1985, and curtailed a number of programs. It was able to keep the pool open through a citizen fund-raising effort.

The district finally succeeded on the third try. After the partial park shutdown, islanders turned out in February 1985 to approve a much-reduced levy – by an 85-15 percent margin, the biggest in island history.

Since then, the biennial levies have been approved by margins ranging from 70 percent down into the mid-60 percent range. The closest call came in 1994, when the levy passed by a whisker-thin margin of 60.14 percent. Had nine of the 3,258 “yes” votes gone the other way, the measure would have failed that year.

Most recently, the 2000 levy passed by a comfortable margin – 64.6 percent.

The two-year levy passed in 2000 provides the district with money for the remainder of this year, but money will run out unless voters approve an M&O levy by Dec. 31.

“We have four possibilities this year – April, May, September of November,” DeWitt said, adding that he favors May.

Schei agreed that the best outcome would be to reach an agreement with the opponents.

“A certain percentage of voters are going to vote ‘no’ on any tax increase, and you’re not going to change their minds,” he said. “But hopefully, we can come to some sort of agreement with the others.”