Opinion

Park can either develop or disappear

The idea of leasing 20 acres of the South Kitsap Community Park for commercial development might result in some entertaining public meetings, but will it cause the park commissioners to choose a viable course to be followed in maintaining the park?

It seems the lack of consensus over the years has kept the park from obtaining funding to pay the costs of minimal operations, much less the cost of developing and maintaining recreational facilities.

Some people appear to want what might be described as a nature preserve in which all change is left to the workings of the weather, bugs, and fungus.

Their goal can be met by depriving the park district of funding, so long as the situation doesn’t get so bad that the district must be disestablished. In the event of disestablishment, the land may be put on the auction block, and that could be the end of their nature preserve.

As the commissioners consider the question of development, perhaps they could ask those who want the land left untouched to come up with a way to fund the cost of electing park commissioners, if nothing else.

Unless the land is sold to some private group that can maintain a nature preserve, the park district must at least come up with the revenue to pay its share of the cost of elections.

The obvious method for raising minimal revenue for the park district is the one procedure made available in state law: a property tax approved by the voters in the district.

It wouldn’t have to be a large tax on each household, but are the preservationists willing to pound the pavement to generate support for it?

Absent clear public sentiment in favor of such a tax, putting the issue on the ballot would be a gamble that could push the park district closer to the brink of insolvency.

The county may eventually insist that the park district pay its bills for past elections, and one more election could be the tipping point.

The commissioners ought to make it clear to those who want the park left untouched that their desire cannot be met without funding.

Other people appear to favor developing and maintaining some facilities for recreational activities, but seem to believe voluntary efforts and donations can accomplish their goal.

It seems clear that volunteers cannot maintain the park, since the district has a debt measured in tens of thousands of dollars that it has no means to pay.

The support of volunteers has been and will continue to be of utmost importance to the park district; but they cannot do it all.

Somehow, the park commissioners need to get that point across to the people who have labored long and hard on behalf of the park. Doing so without angering them may not be easy, but it has to be done.

There will always be a role for volunteers to play, so long as there is a park, but without adequate funding there won’t always be a park.

In one sense, the park commissioners face an unenviable task, since the particular proposal now being considered was kept under wraps until after the votes were cast to elect four of the five commissioners on Nov. 4.

While two of the recently elected commissioners stated their opinions in favor of obtaining adequate revenue through “public/private venture investment” and “private/public partnerships” which would fund the park’s operations without relying on taxes, the other two made no such statements.

If the proposal which is now being publicly considered had been made known to the voters prior to the election rather than the week after, the election of commissioners might have resulted in a mandate for one course of action or the other.

General statements of personal opinion or philosophy don’t often generate the kind of focused attention by the voters which usually results from a specific proposal they can examine and discuss.

Rather than being able to decide this particular issue after an informed vote by all the people, the commissioners will have to deal with the impassioned pleas and arguments of those who are sufficiently moved to come forward and speak.

Notwithstanding this lost opportunity to gauge the will of the people living in the park district, a specific proposal may soon be on the table for decision by the commissioners who were elected to make policy.

Let me state the obvious: The commissioners cannot please everyone, but they must make the decision.

If the private company makes a specific development proposal which involves recreational activities that are consistent with the concept of a public park, the commissioners ought to approve it if the rent to be paid is in fact the fair market value for use of the land.

The disadvantageous agreement made years ago with the water district should be kept in mind by the current commissioners as a lesson in what not to do.

Neither a sweetheart deal to lure this development to the park nor a cut-rate price accepted out of desperation would benefit the park district in the long run.

Robert Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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