Metropolitan parks district would be made up of existing council members

If the city decides to go through with the creation of a metropolitan park district, it looks as though the board will be made up of members of the city council, as opposed to a new elected body.

Consensus was reached among the city council and park board members on the make up of the park district’s governing body during a two-hour joint meeting of the two bodies Oct. 30.

There has been some debate over what the makeup of a metropolitan park district’s governing board should look like in lead up to an anticipated April vote on the new district.

The idea behind the park district is to provide a steady and specific stream of revenue for park projects.

If approved by a majority of voters, the park district would allow the district – which would contiguous with the city’s borders – to levy a tax that would be used only for parks. The maximum levy allowed by law is $0.75 per $1,000 assessed home value, though the discussions have centered on a tax about half that amount.

But there have been questions over who should govern the potential new district. State law allows the district to be governed by either the city council or a separate, elected five-member board.

While the council supports making the city council the governing body for the park district because the council is not only in tune with the direction the city will be going, it is also less expensive beacuse a park board would receive salaries and the council would not. Also, any funds provided to the district may take at least a year before they come in and the city council can loan the park district money to get started early.

No park money can be used for non-park related projects, however, and can not be transferred to other funds.

Park Board Chairman Darren Proctor relayed his concerns and concerns from citizens who have spoken to him and to the park board, that the city council should not be in charge and said council members were welcome to run for the board.

An informal poll of the room showed more support for the council to step in, at least as first, and run the park district.

Councilman Donn Lewis said the council faces voters every four years and if the public is upset with their decisions, including on park issues, they will be voted out. He also urged the park board members to take the next step if they were interested.

“Remember, park board members can run for city council,” he said, adding that in the last election, three city council members ran unopposed.

Councilman Jim Rackley also pointed out that the council has experience in creating and running public entities, like the park district would be.

The group next discussed if there was enough time to build support for the park district for an April vote, especially without a final list of [projects, which would not be available until after the district is created and a governing body is put in place.

The administration has put forth a list of projects including the conversion of some of the city’s current fields to turf and expand other fields, such as Ballfield Four, located behind the overflow parking lot across from Allan Yorke Park, and “multipurpose grass field” at the Moriarty Property, a city-owned parcel adjacent to the park.

In addition, a ropes course for the former Washington State University forest has also been added to the list following a great response from residents at Bonney Lake Days this summer.

The total project sheet proposed by the administration is $10.6 million, including at least three million for trails and $2.5 million for a multi-purpose pavilion, like the one at Pioneer Park in Puyallup.

The council and park board members were split on whether there was enough time to fully explain the parks district to voters before the April special election.

Councilmembers worry that if the district fails, it will be years before the city tries again. The last time the city ran a parks measure, a bond in 2004, the measure fell short of the 60 percent needed for passage.

A park district would only require a majority, though the council worried that a lack of specific projects might deter voters.

Mayor Neil Johnson said it was like telling voters “trust us.”

The council tasked the park board with determining whether or not to run the measure in April and to draft a strategy for passage.

After the meeting, Johnson said he thought it went well and that the discussion and communication was good for both the council and the park board.

“Now we just have to follow through with what we talked about,” he said.