Kennewick Parks and Recreation Commission advises council to wait to form park district

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldMarch 30, 2014 

Creating a metropolitan park district could be a solution to Kennewick's struggle to find a reliable way to pay for parks.

But the Kennewick Parks and Recreation Commission doesn't advise trying to form such a district immediately.

A majority of the city's voters must agree to create the district and give it the authority to levy a tax up to 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

And because of the recent failures of proposals to pay for a regional aquatics center and an expansion of the Three Rivers Convention Center, the commission feels getting a majority vote now would be a tough sell.

Instead, the commission decided to advise the Kennewick City Council to wait three to five years before considering proposing a ballot measure to form a metropolitan park district.

Ben Rutledge, the commission's chairman, said his group feels more time is needed so additional research and public outreach can be done.

During the past year, commission members have talked to metropolitan park districts in the state and consultants familiar with the issue, he said. But the Kennewick commission still is in the beginning stage of the process.

There is no proposal on the table for what a Kennewick metropolitan park district would pay for. It could be used to manage and maintain existing parks and recreational facilities, or to buy and create new parks and facilities.

It's also too early to know how much property tax could be requested. Each 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value would cost the owner of a $150,000 home $37.50 a year, according to city documents.

The city's general fund dollars pay for parks and recreation facility maintenance, said Maxine Whattam, Kennewick's community services supervisor.

Officials have said having a dedicated source of funding for parks and recreation, such as from a district, would help free up city dollars for other services, such as police and fire.

Kennewick manages about 887 acres of parks, including community and neighborhood parks, regional parks and greenways, Whattam said.

The city also manages about 400,000 square feet of city buildings, used for city and recreational functions, she said. Examples include the Southridge pavilion, the Kennewick Senior Center and the Kennewick Activity Center at 304 W. Sixth Ave.

Rutledge said the city's operation and maintenance budget for parks continues to be a big concern for the commission because the city has been adding park acreage and amenities without adding staff.

Considering a metropolitan park district was among City Manager Marie Mosley's goals for last year.

Members of the commission will present their findings and recommendations to the city council and the city's Blue Ribbon Commission, which has been reviewing potential projects for the city to tackle during the next 20 years and determining possible funding sources.

Those presentations have not been scheduled yet, Whattam said.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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