Opinion

Parks board wasn’t elected to resign

The situation facing the commissioners of the South Kitsap Parks and Recreation District requires that they make decisions, which is fortunate, since making decisions is the primary duty they were elected to perform.

For the last decade or so, the people who have been commissioners and the volunteers who aided them have made great efforts to get along without imposing any tax on residents within the park district.

Sure, there was one time when the district put a couple of property tax propositions on the ballot. That was in 2001, and involved a multi-million-dollar bond issue and an accompanying large operating fund levy that would have enabled the district to build and operate a community center.

The voters disapproved that one and only request for levy support of the district, perhaps because they did not care to renew that large operating fund levy in the future and didn’t believe the community center could be self-supporting from user fees.

Among some people, a myth worthy of the name “urban legend” has arisen. They believe that park district levy proposals have repeatedly been put on the ballot and disapproved by the voters.

If memory serves correctly, not once in the past 15 years has the park district put a simple operating fund levy on the ballot to obtain the minimal taxpayer support needed to operate and maintain the park — including the cost of electing the commissioners.

It could be that we’ve forgotten all those other propositions that purportedly appeared on past ballots, or that the urban legend derives from some ballot measures that were voted down before we arrived in 1990.

If so, kind readers, please speak up and refresh our recollection.

People who are frustrated with the commissioners intend to collect signatures on a petition asking them to do something none of them were elected to do — dissolve the park district.

Now, it could be that hidden within the hearts of some of the commissioners was the desire to dissolve the district, and they did not make it known to the voters who elected them — but this is hardly believable.

Where were these petitioners when the last election was held?  Did they not notice that there was an opportunity to be elected on the promise of dissolving the park district?

A republican form of government can be frustrating when those who are elected do not do what you want, but asking them to dissolve the governmental unit they have been elected to manage is an unusual request.

Why not gather signatures on a petition asking the commissioners to put a levy proposal on the ballot for this year’s general election that would provide the few dollars needed to maintain the district?

Absent such a petition, the commissioners seem unlikely to propose a levy.  None of them promised prior to their election to do so. Pressure from the county commissioners to do it last year did not succeed.

Perhaps the park district commissioners simply are afraid to ask residents of the district to pay the itsy-bitsy amount needed.

The district’s unavoidable operating expenses total less than $100,000 a year — perhaps far less.

Do the commissioners actually believe that taxpayers in the district care so little about having a park that they would refuse to pay for it? Or do they believe the taxpayers of the district imagine that the county would ride in with bales of cash if only the park district were dissolved?

Perhaps that’s it. The taxpayers are thought to want someone else to pay the bills, and imagine that the county’s funds come from someone else.

There is a simple way to find out. Ask the voters to approve a one-year property tax levy of a nickel per $1,000 of assessed value. 

The owner of a home valued at $200,000 would pay $10 next year to support the park district — and nothing more unless another similar levy were approved in a subsequent election. This barely noticeable tax would provide more than a quarter of a million dollars to the park district — enough to pay its outstanding debt for past election costs and to pay the unavoidable costs of maintaining the park for a while.

Do the commissioners have such a low opinion of the residents in this district that they are unwilling to try such a simple levy request just once in the entire lifetime of the park district?

The solution to the predicament facing the park district commissioners is this simple: Ask for a nickel per thousand on this year’s general election ballot. 

If the voters’ answer “no,” then the commissioners’ task will be clear:  Dissolve the park district, since the voters don’t want it.

Signatures on a petition may indicate the feelings of those who sign it, but an election is the method we use to get a decision from the voters.

Robert Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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