Cooper: SARC treading water and City going big on parks

Bertha Cooper continues her discussion about SARC and the City of Sequim's possible MPD

Last I wrote I was mulling over the mess left in the wake of what turned out to be Citizens for SARC’s futile effort to engage the community in its survival. I highlighted the City of Sequim’s strong effort to defeat the creation of a Metropolitan Park District (MPD) based on its interest in establishing a combined county/city MPD.

I have since found out that the lawsuit I referenced was brought by the county, not by the City of Sequim. I frankly misunderstood that the City of Sequim ‘s attorney only contacted the prosecuting attorney with the city’s concerns about the adequacy of the petition (Gazette, May 13, 2015).

The Prosecuting Attorney made the final determination that the petition was inadequate and filed the suit. I regret not making the distinction for you in making the point that the city was actively opposing SARC.

SARC sinking

Citizens for SARC thought they had a chance and couldn’t imagine that the people of the community did not value SARC as much as they did. The impressive 58 percent voter defeat of the measure told them otherwise, a rejection that stung and disillusioned the strongest SARC supporters.

In what must be the dull and draining environment of failure and threats to its very existence, the SARC board mustered up the actions necessary to keep SARC open in the short term and begin looking at the options for its long-term survival.

The SARC board approved a significant reduction in the hours of operation in order to keep SARC open until Sept. 30, 2016. SARC’s director is actively looking for sponsors to restore some of those hours, especially the planned closure of the facility on Sundays.

As for the long term, the board has assigned a board member to meet with the city and one to meet with YMCA/Port Angeles to explore potential partnerships to save SARC. A few people proposed fundraising such as holding events or establishing a SARC Foundation.

The campaign and defeat left SARC with a serious image problem fueled by letters written characterizing SARC as an entity that sought unaccountable power over taxpayer money and property with the intention of serving an “exclusive” membership, a distortion reinforced by city staff who publicly labeled SARC a “health club.” Somewhere SARC lost its footing as a public facility, a fact supported by its status as a junior taxing entity. That’s a lot to overcome.

An MPD is an MPD by any other name …

After two weeks of asking around, it’s still unclear to me how the city can now gather enough support to pass a county/city MPD.

All the criticism leveled at SARC’s MPD must be reconciled for a lot of people. The language on the ballot “up to $0.75 per $1,000 of assessed valuation” will be the same. If SARC is included, so-called “members” of SARC, who are actually pass holders, will be the same — that is if SARC stays open.

Beyond that looms an even bigger problem; there are a number of agencies that need to partner in the effort to form an MPD, the most important being the county. The incumbent county commissioner running for reelection is reported to have noted his view that the recent failures of three levies and a construction bond indicate that people don’t want their taxes raised. He went on to propose that a “creative, non-tax increase” solution for the survival of SARC be developed. He said he is open but I have to wonder how much he would favor yet another attempt to form an MPD.

On the other hand, the incumbent’s opponent is reported to have said that he believes, “People will support a plan that involves a lot of different types of recreation opportunities.” I’m assuming he is speaking of the city’s plan and I’m more skeptical than he because it must cost even more to build a larger program of activities.

City’s Parks and Recreation Master Plan

Maybe the community needs to know what more and larger is; just what does the city have in mind that hinges on the creation of an MPD. Shining in the background of all of this drama is the publicly processed Sequim City Council’s approval of an ambitious Master Plan for Parks and Recreation last February.

Ordinance No. 2015-003 “established goals, objectives, recommendations and implementation measures, including a six-year capital improvement program, to guide the growth of the park and recreation system in the city.”

I went online — you can too — and read an impressively detailed plan for Parks and Recreation within the city that reaches out to residents of greater Sequim. A lot of interests are represented in the plan of many promises that are contingent on major funding. SARC, not being a city park I suppose, was not mentioned although it was mentioned as a possible site for some activities.

The Master Plan calls for $4.33 million in capital expenditures over six years. The plan includes numerous funding opportunities, one of which is becoming an MPD. The MPD option along with the creation of a Park and Recreation District Service Area are marked as sources of capital and operation/maintenance funding.

 

Twenty-two potential local, state and federal sources for funding the plan are listed, from the city’s general fund to Boeing to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A lot of thought went into this plan. No wonder there was a strong pitch on the part of the city to waylay the

SARC MPD initiative.

 

Now I understand why pickleball advocates among the many other interests were out in support of the city. I’m not sure you had a chance, SARC.

What’s next … or should be?

 

SARC is left in its struggle to save SARC, which now seems more like the story of King Solomon and splitting the baby or maybe

David and Goliath. SARC is in serious financial trouble. SARC’s reputation is at least semi-shredded. The city’s solution is that SARC return to the voters for yet another levy. I doubt they have the stomach for it.

 

Yet I can’t help but wonder if SARC has the stomach to depend on a county/city MPD board that has a plan for the use of MPD funds voted on by the city after the failure of the SARC’s February levy and a plan that did not include saving SARC.

The larger question that needs to be asked is whether this is the moment to make parks the community’s priority, especially in the current anti-tax environment? In the grand scheme of things I’d like to see the city take a broader view and actively support the restoration of our schools and existing resources like SARC. It makes no sense to me to develop parks and let schools and pools deteriorate. Schools may get better tennis courts under the city’s park plan, but they really need classrooms that have more than three electrical outlets. Surely, the city council won’t say that it’s not their problem?

Bertha D. Cooper is retired from a 40-plus year career as a health care administrator focusing on the delivery system as a whole. She still does occasional consulting. She is a featured columnist at the Sequim Gazette. Reach her at columnists@sequimgazette.com.

 

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