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Kennewick parks may have to cut services without additional funding

The Kennewick Parks and Recreation Commission will spend next year bouncing around ideas of how to pay for park improvements to see what sticks.

Among next year’s goals is determining if a metropolitan parks district, an endowment fund or crowdfunding are feasible options.

The city needs to be clear with residents that it already has hit the point of cutting services, said Ben Rutledge, the commission’s chairman, during the commission’s Saturday retreat.

For example, Kennewick plans to hand off its summer day camp to a nonprofit such as the YMCA of the Greater Tri-Cities or the Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties. While it’s a popular program, it is one city officials say the nonprofits would be able to provide for the community. That was among the cuts the city made in the 2015-16 budget.

Residents need to be asked what they are willing to give up as part of the conversation of how to pay for parks and recreation, Rutledge said.

“If we don’t do things differently, we are going to run into problems,” Commissioner Mark Reed agreed.

If the commission decides to recommend a metropolitan park district, there will need to be a large education effort so voters understand the options, said Brandon Lange, the city’s Parks & Recreation Department sponsorship and sports marketing coordinator.

Many people aren’t familiar with what such a district is and what it does, he said.

A metropolitan parks district could be used to manage and maintain existing parks and recreational facilities, or to buy and create new parks and facilities.

The department plans to hold a survey next year, with some of the questions relating to a metropolitan park district. But Maxine Whattam, Kennewick’s community services supervisor, said they hope to gain some insight into what the community wants to see with parks.

The plan is to send out 4,000 postcards to try to get residents to fill out an online survey, Lange said. The department will send out postcards to a random sample of Kennewick residents, with the goal of getting almost 400 back. The cost is estimated at $2,500 and would come out of the department’s budget.

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.

The cost would be about $112 a year for the owner of a $150,000 home, Lange said.

From the responses, they hope to get a taste for how much education would be needed should the city decide to pursue a ballot measure and whether that is feasible, Lange said.

It might be something the community just isn’t ready for, like the recent failed ballot measures for the proposed expansion for the Three Rivers Convention Center and the regional aquatic center, he said.

Forming a metropolitan park district isn’t the only option being researched.

Crowdfunding is something that has been used to raise money for park improvements by other cities. There are different modelsthat allow people to give toward a specific project, Whattam said.

Those who pledge money pay them only if the cause successfully raises enough money to complete the project, Commissioner Kurt Beckley said.

Kennewick also could create an endowment fund for parks, Lange said. Seattle is a good example, and people and businesses actually can donate shares of stock to the fund in addition to cash.

Such an effort could be successful if it starts small and accomplishments are actively promoted, he said.

City staff also are looking into impact fees for parks, traffic and fire, said Terry Walsh, Kennewick’s director of employee and community relations. Staff will work with local builders and developers to determine what would be feasible and acceptable.