WENATCHEE — Voters may be asked in November to tax themselves to pay for Wenatchee’s parks, which could take a financial hit as Town Toyota Center debt consumes more of the city’s budget.
The city’s parks board will talk Tuesday about asking the City Council to place the proposal on the general election ballot.
If approved by voters, the proposed Wenatchee Metropolitan Park District would have the authority to tax property owners within the city limits up to 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.
A June 8 memo to parks board members from city parks director Dave Erickson states that city funding for parks and recreation may be reduced or eliminated altogether because of a budget shortfall.
City leaders are currently working on a new agreement to help pay off the Town Toyota Center’s $41.8 million debt. If the current interest-only construction bonds are refinanced this year, the city is looking at paying $2.7 million to $2.8 million a year for the next 30 years.
Earlier this month, Mayor Dennis Johnson presented three possible scenarios to the City Council for meeting that debt obligation. All three scenarios included closing the city pool and either reducing or cutting parks funding starting next year.
State law allows cities and counties to form parks districts — with voter approval — to manage, maintain, improve and acquire parks and recreational facilities. The measure can be placed on the ballot either by a petition of citizens or a resolution of the municipality’s governing body, in this case the City Council.
There are 12 metropolitan parks districts in Washington, the oldest one in Tacoma was formed in 1907. The Eastmont Metropolitan Park District in Douglas County was created in 2004.
The ballot measure would require approval by a majority of voters.
While the district can tax up to 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, Erickson, in his memo, recommended a rate of 35 cents. That would generate about $775,000 a year — enough to fund the city’s current recreation program and to set aside some money for capital improvements.
At the 35-cent rate, the owner of a $250,000 home would pay $87.50 a year.
The city’s current budget for parks and recreation is about $550,000 a year, which pays for recreational programs and the pool. However, that does not include maintenance, which is funded through the Public Works Department.
The waterfront park system, including Riverfront Park and Walla Walla Point Park, are operated and funded by the Chelan County PUD. The city also now owns Saddlerock, but the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust has pledged to pay for upkeep of its trail system.
Possible future projects that could be funded if a parks district is created include building a new youth athletic field, skate park, off-leash dog park, replacing picnic shelters, upgrading handicap accessibility at existing parks and developing trails.
If voters approve the new taxing district, city leaders will then have to decide whether the parks district or the city will provide the park services. Erickson explained that having the city continue to oversee parks and recreation would be the easiest option. The city would contract with the parks district, which would hand over the tax revenues.
A second option would be for the parks district to be in charge, similar to how the Eastmont district is operated. Under the scenario, Erickson said, the city would have to lease or transfer ownership of its parks, vehicles and equipment to the district, and the district would have to hire its own staff and find its own office space in the community.
The City Council must decide by July 28 whether to place the measure on the November ballot.
Michelle McNiel: 664-7152