Kennewick Parks and Recreation Commission will consider park district

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldDecember 9, 2012 

The Kennewick Parks and Recreation Commission will be considering whether to form a metropolitan park district in the coming year.

While the method of providing a reliable source of funding for parks has come up before, the commission aims to have a recommendation to Kennewick City Council by the end of 2013.

Considering such a district for Kennewick is among City Manager Marie Mosley's goals for this coming year, said Maxine Whattam, Kennewick's community services supervisor. She was speaking to the commission Saturday during a retreat.

It's part of an effort by Kennewick to consider new revenue sources for city services to help avoid having to cut services if expenses continue to outpace revenue growth.

The district's property tax levy could be up to 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, Whattam said. That would be voted on as part of a ballot measure to create the district, which would need a simple majority to pass.

The city's 2013 property tax levy rate is $2.12 per $1,000 of assessed value, said Terry Walsh, the city's director of employee and community relations. That is less than half of the maximum a city is allowed to collect.

Earlier this year, Dan Legard, Kennewick's finance manager, estimated that a district could generate up to $3.8 million a year if the entire levy amount is approved.

Having funding from a district for parks and recreation will help free up city dollars for other services, such as police and fire, Walsh said.

The districts were created as an option in 1907, but the state Legislature made it easier to form a district in 2002, Whattam said.

The districts can be used to manage parks and handle improvements, maintenance and acquisition of new parks and recreational facilities, she said. The boundaries can be flexible, either being a local district with Kennewick only, or a regional district that includes other cities or portions of Benton County.

If the district includes only Kennewick, that gives the city more control, said Ben Rutledge, chairman of the commission.

But Whattam said all options must be explored before coming to a decision.

Commissioner Mark Reed said the commission also needs to consider what other options exist to pay for parks if voters do not approve the district.

The commission plans to talk to metropolitan park districts in the state and come up with key areas and issues that need to be addressed during January.

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