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Parks debt bill dies in House

After a brief surge forward in the state House of Representatives, the debt-forgiveness bill written by South Kitsap Parks and Recreation District Board Chair Larry Walker died a quiet death last week.

The bill, primarily sponsored by Rep. Pat Lantz, D-Gig Harbor, made it legal for the Kitsap County Board of Commission-ers to write off the Parks District’s election debts.

The district has, to date, racked up nearly $50,000 in elections debt and, because it collects no taxes, has no obvious way to pay. It is illegal for the county to simply ignore the parks debt — such a move would be considered illegal gifting of public funds.

Walker’s bill would have created a loophole allowing any county in the state to forgive the debts of any park or recreation district that had no formal source of income. The intention, he said, was to write the bill so narrowly that it would apply to South Kitsap Parks and Rec, but to few other jurisdictions.

Although the bill appeared to gain a favorable reception in the House Local Government Committee, it never got out of Rules. Walker said it didn’t appear anyone seriously opposed the bill — there were simply more important issues taking precedence.

“It just dropped into the section of not enough priority,” he said.

The bill’s failure means the district will have at least another year to manage its debt before it gets a second shot in the state Legislature. Walker blames, in part, this year’s short legislative session, and said he’s ready for round two.

“I’m disappointed, of course,” he said. “(But) during a long session it’s always easier to get things moving.”

Between now and next year, Walker plans to keep the bill highly visible. He said he intends to continue talks with local representatives and anyone who voiced even slight concerns with his proposal.

Walker also said he will keep in close contact with anyone running against District 26’s incumbent representatives to make sure they stay informed as well.

“Whoever gets elected out of the 26th District will be aware of this,” he said. “We’re not giving up.”

In the meantime, Walker continued, the Parks Board will continue to work with the county to stave off any potential ultimatums. He said he’s not too terribly worried, since the county has never yet served the district with a bill.

Still, Walker said it’s important to keep the lines of communication open.

“We’re going to be working with the commissioners and addressing the issue,” he said.

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