Editor’s note: This is the first article in a series examining the growing pains of the Key Peninsula Metropolitan Parks District. As the parks district starts its comprehensive planning process and discusses a proposed levy, the Key Peninsula News will take a look at various issues the district is trying to solve.

Key Peninsula Metropolitan Park District commissioners have mentioned the need for more funding over the past year, and now those talks appear to move into high gear. Commissioners are discussing the possibility of a levy starting in 2008, with a decision to be made by this summer on what action to take.

By law, the KPMPD has the capability to levy up to 75 cents per $1,000 in assessed property values without a vote of the public. However, because of a limit to the total amount that all taxing districts can impose, KPMPD, as a junior taxing district, currently would only be able to collect up to 57 cents per $1,000. If the commissioners decide to take the question to the public on whether they should levy a tax, the vote would be advisory — they could still impose the levy even if the majority votes against it.

Based on discussions at the last park board meeting, the biggest question for commissioners is not whether they would pursue a levy, but whether they should go to the public first. A motion to approve a 35-cent assessment without a public vote was made at the April 9 KPMPD board meeting but postponed until July after further discussion. Commissioner Kip Clinton was the only one who was vocally against a levy without an election.

“I am adamantly opposed to an imposition,” she said at the meeting. “I think if we do this (without public vote), we’ll shoot ourselves in the foot so bad… we’ll lose the public trust.”

Clinton is the only commissioner who was on the committee that advocated the creation of the metro parks district in 2004. Part of the campaign literature at the time said the creation of the district would not bring new taxes to the community because it would be funded by a portion of sales tax dedicated to zoo/trek funding, a tax that was already being collected locally but funneled into the general Pierce County parks account and used anywhere the county felt necessary.

Although the document filed as part of the creation efforts implied the new district would operate on zoo/trek sales tax in lieu of levies, the actual ballot measure approved by voters said, in part, “If approved, Proposition 1 will create a new metropolitan park district with the statutory power, among others, to levy annually a general tax on all property in the district not to exceed 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.”

To Greg Anglemeyer, the newest board commissioner appointed in February, that ballot measure explained to voters taxes may be a future possibility. “When people voted, they said, ‘OK, we’re going to trust you guys,’” he said at the board meeting. “The voters already voted to authorize that funding. I don’t see any moral responsibility or value in asking the voters for something they already voted.”

Anglemeyer feels the current board cannot be bound by the promises made when the district was created, especially since those promises were made by a creation committee and not elected KPMPD commissioners. “This sounds a lot like Congress saying nothing will ever happen, and when it changes from Democrats to Republicans, things change,” he said.

Some of the commissioners feel the recent survey conducted by the parks district showed sufficient public support to impose a levy. Of the 105 local respondents who filled out the survey (which had a total of 119 responses), only 12 percent said they wouldn’t support a levy, while 69 percent said they supported minimal tax or a combination of tax and user fees.

The majority of the respondents also stated they didn’t want commissioners to make major decisions without asking for public opinion: Only 16 percent marked the statement that read, “The elected commissioners should make all the decisions regarding parks without polling the voters for their opinion. That is why they were elected.” Some of the commissioners argue that the public said it’s OK to impose the levy because the majority showed support for taxes on this survey.

Clinton, unconvinced, said, “I think you’ll totally destroy the park district if you impose it.” To which Commissioner Elmer Anderson, also a relative newcomer to the board, replied, “There is no park district if you don’t do it.”

The park district’s 2007 budget shows an estimated revenue of nearly $160,000, with $124,600 estimated from zoo/trek funding. The biggest expenses are wages and taxes/benefits, which account for a total of nearly $85,000, or roughly half the budget. Executive Director Scott Gallacher told the KP News that Volunteer Park alone could use a $250,000 operating budget for deferred maintenance, improvements and repairs.

Gallacher, who was hired after the creation of the KPMPD, told commissioners at the meeting: “We can put band-aids on Volunteer Park for a long time… I was hired to help the park district expand… If the park district doesn’t expand, next March I’ll be looking for a new job because you can use (my salary) to put into Volunteer Park instead.”

Starting in May, the commissioners will hold public meetings to start discussing a comprehensive plan for the district, a move they believe will help plan the future as well as show the public why the money is needed. In the meantime, they plan to collect data to see how much tax they should propose.

Ben Thompson, who chaired the metro creation committee and was among the people who promised it would not bring new taxes, said in an interview: “I think it would be the absolutely wrong thing to do it without the vote of the people even if they’re entitled to it… You can’t have a levy if you can’t get out there and convince the public why you need the money.”

Next installment: A look at the district’s current financial picture and assets.

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