Creating a metropolitan park district

SARC proposition awaits community response in August vote

The potential of a new tax district hovers in the near future.

Pending on voters’ approval in August during the Primary Election, the SARC (Sequim Aquatic Recreation Center) Metropolitan Park District could be the 18th metropolitan park district within the state following the recent development of the Seattle Park District last year.

If approved, the new taxing district will be managed by five elected commissioners.

Although this is unlike the neighboring William Shore Memorial Pool Park District responsible for the Port Angeles public pool, Steven Burke, William Shore Memorial Pool executive director, admits he’s “seen metropolitan park districts work well with either an elected or an ex officio board.”

Assuming the SARC Metropolitan Park District forms, the newly elected commissioners also would become active upon certification of the election.

Getting started

Drafting bylaws and assigning positions, such as the chairman and vice chairman are “the responsibility of the new board at its first meeting,” Craig Miller, attorney for SARC, said. This first meeting is considered an “organizational meeting.”

“At this point, when we go down to the ballot box to vote, we are all relying upon what they (commissioner candidates) said they would do,” Miller said.

Typically, the board will direct someone to draft the bylaws, such as an attorney or a committee, Miller said. Once drafted, the bylaws are accepted via vote of the new board.

“Once the metropolitan park district is passed, you don’t really have any structure,” Burke said. “There will be a moment of ‘deer in the headlights’ no matter what.”

Fortunately, SARC has existing bylaws, policies and procedures that can be adopted or modeled, he said.

Burke also suggests the new board of commissioners develop an advisory committee — something the William Shore Memorial Pool Park District has and that proves to be “quiet helpful.”

If the SARC Metropolitan Park District proposition passes, the assets of the existing junior taxing district are transferred through an interlocal agreement between the SARC board and the new metro board, Miller said.

“Politically, they have to make a deal, but not by law,” he said.

Following the transfer of assets, the existing SARC board is expected to dissolve, but Frank Pickering, SARC Board of Commissioners chairman, assures prior to that happening the board still “has some control.”

Levy limit

“If anyone thinks this board will turn over assets to someone who’s going to tax 3 cents and let SARC close or 75 cents for that matter, they’re wrong,” Pickering said.

Despite the legal ability of a metropolitan park district to levy up to 75 cents per $1,000 assessed property valuation without voter approval, the SARC Metropolitan Park District is expected to impose a tax of 12 cents per $1,000 assessed property valuation within the

Sequim District school boundaries – roughly spanning from McDonald Creek east to Diamond Point Road and south to the Olympic National Park boundary.

The “concept that you can go up to 75 cents is an opinion from the Department of Revenue, but has never been processed through the court system,” Burke said. “We were one of the first (metropolitan park districts) so I’ve worked with a lot and none have done what people say you can do.”

Although the taxing ability of a metropolitan park district can cause worry among taxpayers, a metropolitan park district “can be shut down as easily as it was created” and through a similar process, Burke said.

The formation of a metropolitan park district requires a majority of the voters. To shut a metropolitan park district down requires the same, he said.

“Metropolitan park districts are one tool available to keep public facilities open,” Burke said. “It’s worked well for us.”

Throughout the Midwest, metropolitan park districts are common, he said, noting that “We’re a little behind.”

Funding through a metropolitan park district has “created a very stable facility financially,” Burke said, allowing him and the staff to make improvements they otherwise couldn’t, address ongoing maintenance and be creative with the types of activities and programs offered to the public.

Falling short by 2.5 percent of the 60 percent super majority needed to instate a six-year levy of 12 cents per $1,000 assessed property valuation in February’s special election and dwindling reserve funds urged SARC’s board of commissioners to pursue a metropolitan park district in late February.

Primary Election ballots are mailed July 15, with the election drawing to a close Aug. 4.


Reach Alana Linderoth at