By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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The changes in an interlocal agreement concerning the use of funds from a sales tax hike were approved, with one dissenting vote, at a joint meeting of the Port Townsend City Council and Jefferson County commissioners in the Jefferson County Superior Court chambers Monday.
About 40 people attended the three-hour meeting co-chaired by Port Townsend Mayor David King and county commissioners Chairman John Austin.
The new agreement expands revenue use from Proposition 1, which raised sales taxes by 0.03 percent, from the original terms of maintenance and operation of Memorial Field and the Port Townsend Recreation Center.
Revenue now also can include the process of developing a specific metropolitan park district plan, repairs to the municipal pool if funds are available and improvements to Building 202 in Fort Worden if Public Infrastructure Funds earmarked for that purpose are reduced.
It also removes an original provision to terminate the agreement prior to May 2015 if other funding sources are found.
The modification of the interlocal agreement anticipates the creation of a joint city-county district that would oversee parks in East Jefferson County.
Offering such a plan to voters, probably no earlier than November, is now the preferred path to fund parks and recreation in East Jefferson County, but other options should still be considered, officials said at Monday's meeting.
“There are a lot of variables, such as the size of the district and funding,” King said.
“We need to discuss these variables but also whether this is worth doing,” King added.
Said Port Townsend Councilwoman Michelle Sandoval: “I don't think we want to be locked into the idea of a metropolitan parks district.
“If we create this, there should be a way out if it doesn't work, like a divorce clause.”
The revision drew opposition.
“The voters were promised certain things when Prop 1 was passed: that money generated would be spent on two facilities only,” Tom Thiersch said Monday.
“Now, you are throwing different things into the mix like the pool, Building 202 and additional administrative funding,” he added.
“You are breaking a promise you made to the voters.
“They didn't approve a slush fund.”
All members of both the City Council and the county commission were present at the meeting, aside from County Commissioner Phil Johnson, who was ill.
County commissioners passed the measure unanimously while Councilman Bob Gray provided the only dissenting vote from the City Council.
“We've heard a lot about raising taxes to support the parks and the library,” Gray said.
“We need to have more of a dialogue about what the community wanted before we ask them to choose between the parks and the library and providing essential services.”
Gray said that if all measures under consideration are passed, the average property tax bill could increase by $600 a year, which many families can't afford.
In response, King said approving the motion does not signal a tax increase.
“We are not raising taxes. We are putting a process in place in order to make a change,” King said to Gray.
“And this process, which will include a lot of public input, fits right in with what you said you want, which is to get input from the community.”
King said one of the variables to be addressed with the creation of a park district is the district's boundaries.
The proposal is for the district to include all of East Jefferson County aside from those areas already set as park districts in Brinnon and Coyle.
During public comment, one speaker said Port Ludlow also should be exempt since residents pay maintenance fees for resort facilities.
“Port Ludlow is neither fish nor fowl,” Elizabeth Van Zonnenveld said.
“We have many fine facilities, and we pay dearly for them, and we should not have to pay for yours as well.”
Van Zonnenveld said that if Port Ludlow is included in the park district, many would vote against it, which “will doom the effort at the ballot box.”
Sandoval said she appreciates the money spent by Port Ludlow, Cape George and Kala Point residents.
“But those people sometimes come into town and use Chetzemoka Park, or they use our trails or swim in our pool,” she said.
“This commitment is for all of us in order to make this a place where we can live our lives and for the generations that follow,” Sandoval added.
“I don't want to see the community turn into a 'pay to play' place where there is a gate on everything and people need to pay to get in.”
The next step is the creation of a 12-member steering committee to draw up a plan for a parks district, coming up with ideas for area and funding.
The proposal will be provided to the City Council and county commission after a public input period.
If approved by voters, the junior taxing district would finance maintenance and operations of all included park facilities.
“We have kept many parks open through citizen volunteers, but this is not sustainable, especially when there is no money coming in,” said County Administrator Philip Morley.
“If we do nothing, we will see a further decline in services and a deterioration of facilities, since the Rec Center needs repairs that could cost $1 million.”
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.