Sequim Aquatic Recreation Center supporters overachieved their goal.
To propose a Metropolitan Park District 15 percent of the registered voters within the Sequim School District, or about 3,500 signatures, were needed.
To etch a measure for an MPD onto the primary election’s August ballot aimed at providing financial support to SARC, Citizens for SARC gathered more than 4,400 signatures in two months.
“We know we will qualify for the auditor,” Virginia O’Neil, Citizens for SARC Campaign Committee spokesman, said.
“The outpouring of support has been very gratifying,” Judy Rhodes, Citizens for SARC petition lead, said. “The voters want to vote on a SARC metro park district.”
SARC officials plan to turn the petitions into the Clallam County Auditor’s office today, Wednesday, April 29, two days before the deadline. Once the petitions are approved, the auditor is expected to open a special filing period for candidates aiming to be on the possible Metropolitan Park District’s five-member elected board.
To O’Neil’s knowledge, no one has announced an intention to run for a position on the MPD aimed at SARC, but “those people are going to be crucially important,” she said, noting they need to have “common sense” and have the “community’s best interest” in mind.
“The momentum is there and we’ve been blown away by the community support for this measure,” O’Neil said. “I think people are disappointed with the city’s decision to continue with their resolution.”
City resolution passed
After Sequim City councilors took no action on the first resolution presented mid-March to allow for further thought, Sequim City staff returned to the city council with a similar, but revised resolution April 27.
Ample public comments from SARC supporters were heard prior to the city councilors passing the resolution 6-0, with Councilor Ted Miller absent. Among most public comments was mention of SARC’s limited timeline, with a projected closure in December 2016 if a secured funding strategy isn’t established.
City Manger Steve Burkett said Resolution R-2015-03 suggests SARC officials should postpone putting forth a measure to create an MPD in August and instead collaborate with the City of Sequim, Clallam County and a wide array of community organizations to develop a more inclusive taxing district in February 2016.
“SARC can’t wait for that process to play out,” Mike McAleer, Citizens for SARC Campaign Committee member, told city councilors in public comment at their meeting.
To help tackle SARC’s short-term financial pressures, the resolution aims for SARC and city officials to work together toward more immediate funding solutions, which city officials and councilors recently highlighted by endorsing a Clallam County Opportunity Funds grant request for SARC, Burkett said.
The resolution also encourages SARC officials to propose a one-year levy on the November 2015 ballots, ensures city officials will work with a variety of community organizations and strike an interlocal agreement with the county to develop a broader MPD.
Having directly talked with many of the district’s registered votes, Rhodes believes city officials are “deluding” themselves to think an expanded MPD with a larger tax will pass in February 2016.
“I have listened to a great number of people while out with the petitions and I have never had anyone refuse to sign because they were waiting for a broader plan,” she said.
Instead, Rhodes said, the voters unwilling to sign the petition didn’t “want to tax themselves more.”
If the MPD developed by SARC officials passes in August, other entities still can be included upon the newly elected board’s approval.
“Why not get behind this effort and then work to get other things added in the appropriate time and with the appropriate price?” Frank Pickering, SARC Board of Commissioners chairman, said. “The big thing is if something else is going to be added (to the MPD assuming it passes in August), then I think it’s important we go back to the voters.”
However, Burkett finds it “highly unlikely” for that to happen once it’s formed.
“I think that (adding entities afterward) is kind of like missing a plane,” he said. “There’s a chance it will turn around and pick you up, but I think it’s highly unlikely for that once something is passed with a narrow focus like this.”
Burkett acknowledges the pool’s importance and admits, “We can’t let it close,” but he also thinks if planned well, an MPD could provide financial support beyond SARC and help resolve deficiencies in school district recreational facilities, lack of adequate tennis and pickleball courts, youth activities and the community’s park and recreational needs.
After falling short by 2.5 percent of the 60 percent super majority needed to pass a six-year levy proposal in February and no guaranteed short-term financial future, the community center’s officials will continue toward an MPD come August.
City officials’ suggestion to postpone an MPD proposal focused on SARC in August and instead develop a broad-based MPD for the February 2016 ballot “is only relevant if the current proposal is not on the ballot in August or fails,” Burkett said.
Metropolitan Park District (MPD) proposed by SARC:
• What is it? A municipal corporation intended to provide management, control, improvement, maintenance and acquisition of parks, parkways, boulevards and recreation facilities.
• Management: A newly elected five-member board.
• When: Primary election, Aug. 4.
• Simple majority: An MPD needs 50 percent plus one vote to pass. Once passed, the taxing district is permanent.
• Amount: 12 cents per $1,000 assessed property valuation, but an MPD can tax up to 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
• MPD Boundary: Sequim School District