At a public candidates’ forum held September 2005 at the Civic Center, candidates for several elected positions sat at long tables and fielded questions from the audience. Among the hopefuls were candidates for Fire District 16, the recently formed Key Peninsula Community Council, and the new Key Peninsula Metropolitan Park District (KPMPD). Of particular concern to the audience were the leanings of park district commissioner candidates.
Just months prior, KPMPD had come into creation through a 60 percent passing vote by peninsula residents. It was replacing a nearly bankrupt park system run by individuals who created Volunteer Park with the sweat of their own brows in the 1960s.
One question from the floor came from Mike Salatino, previous Key Peninsula park board chair. He asked Kip Clinton, incumbent KPMPD commissioner (and previous park board member), what her intentions were regarding the issue of compensation for elected commissioners. (Washington State law allows compensation up to $6,720 per commissioner per year, per RCW 35.61.150.) In a related article printed in the May 2004 issue of the KP News, Clinton had indicated one decision was firm: The commissioners will not request a per diem stipend.
“We (the original members) have agreed it’s a strictly voluntary position,” she said.” She repeated those words on that September evening. Salatino said, “That’s all I wanted to know,” and sat down, satisfied that the intentions of the departing park board would be honored.
According to current KPMPD board president, Paula DeMoss, at the outset of organizing the district, some individuals firmly opposed any kind of compensation for the new commissioners. She said there were misgivings that, with compensation attached, perhaps those who might run — and be elected — may not have the best interests of the area in mind.
As a governmental body, the board is required to address the subject of compensation annually. Delayed from winter this calendar year, on May 8, 2006, four of the five current park district commissioners voted in favor of Resolution No. R 2006-03, “…Establishing Commissioner Compensation.” Those voting for the resolution were DeMoss, Vice President Jerry Schick, and members-at-large Ross Bischoff and Caril Ridley. Clinton, board clerk, abstained, although she did sign the resolution as a member of the board “to show solidarity.”
The resolution states the procedures for reporting and paying compensation (up to $70 per day). These include submittal of a Commissioner Compensation Form, and conditions under which a commissioner may request compensation (a day or portion of a day devoted to official business of the district and otherwise case-by-case). Regarding district business outside of official public board meetings, the resolution states that compensation is not an entitlement, “unless compensation for such business of the district is pre-approved by the board on a case-by-case basis.” Adoption of the resolution does not preclude any commissioner from choosing to waive compensation at any time. This can be accomplished simply by “written waiver filed with the clerk… anytime after the commissioner’s election and prior to the date on which the compensation would otherwise be paid.” It is up to each commissioner to determine if, when, and for how long they might consider either taking or waiving compensation for hours spent in service on the board.
In an email statement to KP News, Ridley wrote, “I’ve never opposed compensation for commissioners elected to represent their community. As a longtime volunteer, I wholeheartedly support reasonable compensation and recognize that community service should never be exclusive to people affording their own agenda. Therefore, I believe reasonable compensation for services required offers everybody an opportunity to serve without personal loss, whatever their financial situation. Reasonable compensation attracts the support, the quality guidance and effective decision making our growing district deserves.”
At the May 8 meeting, according to the minutes, Schick presented the compensation resolution. DeMoss said “she would not object to compensation for pre-approved out-of-district events, but commissioners should not expect compensation for regular board meetings,” to which Bischoff agreed.
In a brief discussion of the resolution at the May 22 meeting, commenting to the board that KP News was attempting to acquire information about the resolution, DeMoss said, “This is a touchy subject. We put in extra hours outside the meetings — it takes time; gas costs… (This) more or less covers our expenses to allow us to pursue the 360 (acre park) acquisition. It is a personal choice to accept compensation.”
Schick added that “it would be exceedingly difficult for any one commissioner to come to that maximum ($6,720).” Concerned about news coverage, DeMoss said, “I desperately do not want an article to be written wrong on this topic.” She directed Scott Gallacher, park district director, to put together a press release for commissioner-approval to be given to local newspapers at some point in the near future. The press release was not available at press time. Bischoff and Schick did not respond to email requests for interviews.
In an interview after the meeting of May 22, DeMoss said she thought any requests for compensation would amount to less than $500 by year-end. She also said that even for that amount, “there was no way” to budget it in without deleting something else. The May 8 minutes indicate a discussion ensued regarding “personal choice” and the Peninsula Metro Park District in Gig Harbor, whose five commissioners’ compensation are both budgeted and taken. Clinton “reminded the commissioners that should one or all ask for compensation, that would ‘bust the budget,’” the minutes said.
The new resolution prompted Gallacher, who reports to the five commissioners, to say in an interview, “We’re going to have to revisit the budget. The commissioners attend two meetings a month — three to five or six hours apiece. They also have other things that come to them from me. Fire district commissioners are paid for their meetings — and other county elected officials have small stipends. My hope is they (the commissioners) don’t take the full amount; there is nothing in the budget for it. But they should be paid. If we had to pay someone to put in the amount of time they spend on parks issues, it would cost a lot more (than what they’re allowed to take). There has to be some value attached to that.”
The actual budget to minimally run Volunteer Park, and bare-bones maintaining of Home Park and Rocky Creek Conservation Area since the district’s inception in March 2004, is as follows: 2004 annual (rounded) total: $67,500 with monthly average of $9,600; 2005 annual total: $122,600 with monthly average of $10,200; 2006 to date: $49,800 with monthly average of $9,900.
Pierce County is currently enjoying the greatest increase in retail sales tax since 1990, (up 11.3 percent, according to Washington State Department of Revenue), which is reflected in the increase in the KPMPD’s share of the zoo/trek tax. The park district’s challenge is that the district’s population is growing, and with it, park usage. The commissioners are intent on land-banking more property, which, according to Ed Taylor, an audience member at the May 22 meeting, “can be done in a way that doesn’t cost any money — if you do it right.”
Current parks have plenty of deferred maintenance, while the budget stays virtually the same. “Parks are important for economic development of an area,” Gallacher said. “People don’t always want to pay for them, but they want them. Sometimes you have to pay for what you want.”