League of Women Voters educational forum on metropolitan park districts:
“How to create an MPD, how to administer an MPD and taxing authority of an MPD,” with Steven Burke, William Shore Pool executive director; Joe Irvin, assistant to Sequim city manager and Pamela Rushton, Clallam County assessor.
When: 6 p.m., Tuesday, July 7.
Where: Sequim Transit Center, 190 W. Cedar St.
More info: www.lwvcla.org.
Opinions widely vary on the creation of a new taxing district heading toward the primary election that includes a proposition for a SARC (Sequim Aquatic Recreation Center) Metropolitan Park District.
“The question is not whether we should have a metropolitan park district, but it’s how one should be created,” Pat Johansen told an audience of about 100 attending a League of Women Voters’s public forum on June 28 centered on the SARC Metropolitan Park District ballot measure.
Johansen, a longtime community activist and Bill Benedict, Clallam County sheriff, opened the forum with Johansen speaking against the measure and Benedict speaking in its support, followed by a Q&A session and a 3-minute introduction from each of the 12 candidates running for positions on the SARC Metropolitan Park District board.
“This (SARC MPD) is the solution to keep SARC open and help keep people out of my system,” Benedict said. “SARC is vital to our community and its health. Without this measure passing, it will close.”
The measure for the SARC Metropolitan Park District is expected in impose a tax of 12 cents per $1,000 assessed property valuation within a boundary similar to the Sequim District school — roughly spanning from McDonald Creek east to Diamond Point Road and south to the Olympic National Park boundary.
For an owner of a $250,000 home, the tax would cost about $30 per year. That estimate assumes however the five commissioners elected to govern the SARC Metropolitan Park District uphold the suggested 12 cent levy amount.
Like all metropolitan park districts, the SARC Metropolitan Park District would have the ability to levy up to 75 cents per $1,000 assessed property valuation. This ability and whether there are any restrictions were shared concerns voiced from voters still pondering the proposed measure during the public forum.
To assure responsible taxation and management of the SARC Metropolitan Park District, Benedict told voters during the forum to “elect the right people.”
“If you elect the right candidates,” he said, “you can then hold them accountable.”
Twelve candidates differing in experiences are in the running for five commissioner positions that would be tasked with managing the new tax district if approved. Candidates are Bob Anundson, Gayle Baker, Rich Bemm, Fritz Gruetzmacher, Paul Gruver, Mike McAleer, Eckart Mildenstein, Dick Neal, Virginia O’Neil, Warren Pierce, Susan Sparks Smith and Ken Stringer.
According to SARC officials, the facility covers 80 percent of its operating costs, but with dwindling reserves and no taxpayer support for the past 12 years, the facility is expected to close in December 2016 unless a funding strategy is secured.
“The community forgot SARC started as and still is publicly owned,” Benedict said. “This is not a failure of the SARC board, but this is a failure of the community … it (SARC) needs that taxpayer support.”
Commissioner candidate strategies to maintain SARC and achieve a balanced budget range from imposing no tax and relying on alternative funding methods such as grants, fundraising, increased membership fees and volunteers to implementing the proposed tax of 12 cents per $1,000 assessed property valuation.
Throughout the public forum no candidate running indicated a tax amount more than the proposed 12 cents, but instead most mentioned creating bylaws and/or a charter to limit the ability to levy without a super majority among the commissioners or public approval.
If the SARC Metropolitan Park District proposition passes, the assets of the existing park and recreation district are transferred through an interlocal agreement between the SARC board and the new SARC Metropolitan Park District board, Craig Miller, attorney for SARC, said.
Until the transfer of assets from Clallam County Park and Recreation District 1 to the SARC Metropolitan Park District, the current SARC Board of Commissioners maintains some control, Frank Pickering, the board’s chairman, told the Gazette during a previous interview.
“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,” he said.
Among the powers of a park and recreation district, like SARC under Clallam County Park and Recreation District 1 first formed in 1962, are the “powers as are necessary to carry out the purpose for which they are created, including, but not being limited to, the power: (1) To acquire and hold real and personal property; (2) to dispose of real and personal property only by unanimous vote of the district commissioners …,” according to RCW 36.69.130.
Once an agreement is met and assets are transferred, the SARC Board of Commissioners is expected to dissolve.
“I think the people that run for public office in this community stand tall for what they say, but the issue is a MPD is a difficult, complicated and extremely powerful agency and we need to fully understand it before we create one,” Johansen said.
If a metropolitan park district is created, it “shouldn’t be created for one building,” she said.
As an alternative to the SARC Metropolitan Park District, Johansen resurrected the concept first suggested by Sequim city officials and unanimously supported by the city council in late April to postpone the creation of a tax district focused on SARC and instead pursue short-term funding for SARC, like a one-year levy.
Postponing the creation of the SARC MPD would allow more time for City of Sequim and SARC officials to collaborate with multiple local organizations, including the county commissioners to propose a broader metropolitan park district during the February 2016 election.
“We are at a community crossroads,” Johansen said. “One way is a dead end and the other supports growth and imagination.”
However, Benedict assured those at the public forum, “The county commissioners aren’t interested in an MPD.”
Benedict further noted the tax amount needed to support a larger metropolitan park district would have to be much greater — an amount unlikely to be supported by the voters, he said.
“I met with other board members and the city and never felt like we received a viable plan for another, larger MPD,” Pickering said.
Thus, despite opposition from city officials and no guaranteed short-term financial security and a recent failure to pass a six-year levy in February’s special election, SARC officials opted to continue to support the creation of metropolitan park district during the primary election.
If passed in August, the SARC Metropolitan Park District would become the 18th metropolitan park district within in Washington and the second on the Olympic Peninsula neighboring the William Shore Memorial Pool Park District in Port Angeles.
Aug. 4 primary election ballots are mailed July 15.