A toddler raises his hands in triumph after kicking a ball into a net Tuesday, March 1, during a “Kidz Love Soccer” program at Drum Intermediate School. Kids soccer programs like this one are the types of activities the proposed UP Metro Park District would take over if voters approve its formation. Dean J. Koepfler dkoepfler@thenewstribune.com
A toddler raises his hands in triumph after kicking a ball into a net Tuesday, March 1, during a “Kidz Love Soccer” program at Drum Intermediate School. Kids soccer programs like this one are the types of activities the proposed UP Metro Park District would take over if voters approve its formation. Dean J. Koepfler dkoepfler@thenewstribune.com

Politics & Government

What is a metropolitan park district? Answers for University Place voters

March 07, 2016 7:57 AM

University Place voters will decide the fate of the city’s popular recreation programs at the end of April.

That’s when a vote will be held on the formation of a metropolitan park district. At the same time, voters will elect five commissioners who would oversee the district.

If voters reject the measure, the district won’t form and the commissioners won’t be seated.

If they say yes, the elected commissioners will have to act quickly to establish the policies, including setting the rate for property tax collections.

As voters prepare to make up their minds, here are answers to questions about the proposal and metropolitan park districts in general.

 
Instructor Anne Steele shows a group of kids ages 3 to 5 how to properly kick the ball Tuesday, March 1, during a "Kidz Love Soccer" program at Drum Intermediate School. Support instructor Isabel Neyman, left, watches. Dean J. Koepfler dkoepfler@thenewstribune.com

Q: Why is a metropolitan park district proposed? Who initiated this effort?

A: The UP City Council passed a resolution in 2015 stating the city does not have the money to continue operation of its recreation department. That meant youth and senior programs would have to cease in 2017, according to the council.

Aware of the budget shortfall, the council asked its park advisory board in 2013 to research alternative funding mechanisms for its parks and recreation department.

The park board presented its research to the council in 2014 with the recommendation that a metropolitan park district be formed to generate the money needed to keep recreation programs going.

Despite having the legislative authority to initiate the formation of a metropolitan park district, the City Council took no action. Council members said they thought a park district could be more successful if it wasn’t initiated by city government.

A group of residents, including some members of the park advisory board, formed a grassroots campaign to gather the 3,000 signatures needed to get the park district measure before voters.

The campaign submitted its petition to the Pierce County Auditor’s Office at the start of this year. The signatures were validated Feb. 4.

Q: What is a metropolitan park district? Who is in charge of its operations?

A: A metropolitan park district is a separate, junior taxing district that is created for the “management, control, improvement, maintenance, and acquisition of parks, parkways, boulevards, and recreational facilities,” according to state law.

Park districts can be formed in unincorporated areas or within cities. They can also span unincorporated and incorporated areas.

The proposed district for UP follows city boundaries but it will not become a part of city operations.

The proposed district for UP follows city boundaries but it will not become a part of city operations.

Initially the district will only take over recreation programs. The city’s 17 parks — and their maintenance — will continue to be the city’s responsibility for now. The elected commissioners could decide later to negotiate with city officials to take over ownership and maintenance of the land.

There are different options for how a metropolitan park district can be governed. The proposal for UP is to have five elected commissioners.

Voters will be asked to choose commissioners on the April 26 ballot. Eight people have filed for the five at-large positions. The commissioners would serve staggered, six-year terms.

Q: What would a metropolitan park district cost me?

A: State law caps metro park district collections at 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. That would amount to $187 a year for a home valued at $250,000.

The elected commissioners will set the tax rate after taking office. Public input will shape the rate, park district proponents said.

“We want to let them (voters) tell us what the right number is as opposed to us telling them,” said proponent Rebecca Vader.

Whatever the rate, it would be governed by the state cap on the overall levy rate collected by all local taxing districts together, which cannot exceed $5.90. Park district proponents don’t expect that their tax rate would push the city’s overall rate up against the limit.

Commissioners can raise the tax rate without a public vote as long as there is capacity under the $5.90 cap and the rate doesn’t exceed the 75-cent rate.

 
Ben Israel, 4, of Fircrest goes after an errant soccer ball during a “Kidz Love Soccer” program at Drum Intermediate School. Dean J. Koepfler dkoepfler@thenewstribune.com

There is no better government structure for advancing and providing parks and recreation services than an independent park district.

Metro Parks Tacoma executive director Jack Wilson

Q: How would the money be spent?

A: Metro Parks Tacoma executive director Jack Wilson and PenMet parks executive director Terry Lee say the biggest advantage metropolitan park districts offer communities is the money collected can only be used for the park districts.

In other words, tax collections could not be spent on city of UP expenses.

“The solution that a metropolitan park district brings is that it’s stand-alone,” said Lee, whose district covers unincorporated areas of the Gig Harbor peninsula.

That means better budgeting for projects and services because there is a dedicated funding source instead of the need to compete with other services for money, Lee said.

“There is no better government structure for advancing and providing parks and recreation services than an independent park district,” Wilson said. “Because the pure independent park district has elected officials that are only charged with that particular mission.”

Lee drafted the legislation to form the PenMet district while on the Pierce County Council. Voters approved its formation 11 years ago.

Metro Parks Tacoma was the state’s first metropolitan park district. It formed in 1907.

Q: Why are commissioners on the same ballot as the park district initiative?

A: State law requires commissioners appear on the same ballot as the proposition.

It also requires they be elected to staggered, six-year terms and that no primary is held.

Q: Who is paying for the cost of the special election?

A: Because it was a citizen initiative, Pierce County is on the hook to pay for the cost to run the election.

If voters reject the measure, the county pays for the election.

If voters approve the measure, the county auditor will bill the newly formed district for the cost of the election. The district will be required to repay the amount once its tax base is established.

The cost to put the measure on the ballot is $35,000, according Auditor Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson.

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467, @bgrimley

Candidates for University Place Metropolitan Park District

Position 1

▪ Scott Traynor, co-chairman Save University Place Parks & Recreation committee; IT project manager, The Boeing Company

Position 2

▪ Paul Castillo, volunteer coordinator of Save University Place Parks & Recreation committee; 30-year military career active duty and Washington Air National Guard; currently senior non-commissioned officer 194th Medical Group at Camp Murray and medical logistics systems analyst at Madigan Army Medical Center.

Position 3

▪ Vivian Foster, Save University Place Parks & Recreation steering committee member and spokeswoman for University Place Metro Park District Campaign; former small business owner.

▪ Mari Leavitt, director of Pierce County Community Connections; involved in numerous UP and Pierce County service organizations including being president of the UP School District Parent PTA.

▪ Daniel (Dan) Harkins, associate attorney, Rush Hannula, Harkins & Kyler in Tacoma; involved with Give and Grow, a local organization focused on helping children.

Position 4

▪ Joe Scorcio, vice chairman of Save University Place Parks & Recreation committee; city of SeaTac community and economic development director; previously spent 29 years with Pierce County planning, developing and operating Chambers Creek Regional Park.

▪ Bob Jackson, 30 years as a police officer, currently with Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, formerly with Tacoma and Fircrest police; volunteered with law enforcement youth camp for 18 years and Special Olympics.

Position 5

▪ Mary Schmidtke, 33 years with Pierce County including 14 years as budget manager and nine years as fiscal services manager in the Pierce County Auditor’s Office; treasurer Wescliffe Homeowners Association, treasurer/secretary Tacoma Baptist School Booster Club.

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