Park district ‘unresponsive’ to offer

A Kitsap County offer to spend $2.5 million on South Kitsap Community Park and resolve the parks district’s $49,000 election debt has fallen on deaf ears, at least for now, officials from both sides say.

The county submitted a proposal in April to assume control of the park district properties in response to what appeared to be mounting criticism from private citizens concerned the parks board had lost touch with its mission.

The county has sued the district to recoup $49,000 in money spent on the park board’s numerous elections brought on by high turnover of its board members.

Meanwhile, a group of South Kitsap residents has also collected hundreds of signatures on a petition requesting the board dissolve.

But park district Vice Chairman Larry Walker is among board members who say the county’s offer lacked substance. Walker said the board still is committed as ever to the keeping the park “alive and kicking.”

“This is no meat-and-potatoes kind of offer,” Walker said. “We’ve asked for more information and for a brass-tacks look at what (the county) plans to do with the district. They’ve refused.”

Park district officials say they have repeatedly asked for a public meeting on the topic of dissolving the district, but say the county has rejected their request.

County Administrator Chris Gears, however, said exactly the opposite is true.

“The commissioners held a joint public meeting last year. At that time, the commissioners made an overture to help resolve the district’s outstanding debt,” Gears said.

He said the county offered to pay for a ballot measure last fall that would give voters a chance to step up and help fund park operations. If the measure failed, the district would have to agree to dissolve.

“They rejected that,” Gears said.

The county then sued the park district to recoup election losses.

To help settle the lawsuit, Kitsap County first offered the park district a deal in early April that would have dissolved the board and given the county governance of the districts ball fields and trails.

The county offered to spend $2.5 million over the next three years to construct improvements, and to take over the district’s debt.

Citing the park board’s high turnover, the county issued a press release saying the district has attempted to pay the county $1,000 a month to resolve its election debt — something county officials never agreed to.

The county also proposed to form an advisory committee to help establish a long-range plan for developing the park district. It would take over and maintain the existing facilities for a six-month period, until the board dissolved.

“The South Kitsap Park property is a real gem for our citizens, and it deserves to be developed in a timely manner,” said South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel, in the release. “Since the park district has been unable to move forward on this project, they owe it to the residents to allow the county to come in and make that happen.”

But Walker said he’s received queries from constituents who support the board and want to know why the county won’t allow for a public hearing on the issue.

He reiterated that, as vice chairman, he doesn’t speak for the entire board — but that board members, too, resent what he calls a “media campaign” to force the district to break up.

“I honestly don’t know why they’re doing this,” Walker said. “It seems like every time this pops onto the table, I feel like we’re in a timeshare condo closing room — here’s what we have to offer, take it or leave it. I don’t they’ve considered there are five people on this board who want what’s best for our park.”

But Gears said the onus for fixing the problems rests with the parks district.

Gears said the parks district has had several opportunities to get the public involved. He said the county has agreed to have representatives from both sides sit down, but that county attorney’s have refused to fight a lawsuit in a public forum.

Despite claims by parks district officials they never received formal offers, or that the county refused to meet - the county provided letters last Friday exchanged between the sides that explain why county attorneys feel a meeting over the lawsuit isn’t warranted.

“The (county) commissioners are getting frustrated,” Gears said. “They’ve been extending some good opportunities to improve facilities and service, and making things a lot better for the residents of South Kitsap. The (park) board has had no response.”

The South Kitsap Parks board meets next on Thursday.

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