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Si View's Prop. 1: Metro Parks District ponders program needs, funding as vote nears
Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo
Counting off her Kindergartners, after-school program instructor Lisa Bryant gets ready to take her group into the Fireside Room, for age-specific activities. The older students will stay behind for more free time, games in the gym, and then spend some time on homework.
Fridays are special at Si View Community Center. On Fridays, every child involved in the after-school program there, plus the ones in the satellite program at Fall City Elementary School, can go swimming, and then enjoy popcorn and a movie.
That’s on top of the arts and crafts, games, snacks, homework time and, on this particular October Friday, a costume box to explore, built into every other day of the Si View Metro Parks District program.
“Everybody who can hear me, put your hands on your head!”
That’s program leader Michael Bodwick, trying to quickly settle about 20 youngsters from North Bend Elementary School down so he can take attendance before the buses from other elementary schools begin to arrive, about 10 minutes apart.
“North Bend is our biggest group,” he said, later.
Roll call complete, it’s snack time, and the best-behaved students get their first choice of snacks.
A girl named Mia, in a gold-trimmed brown cape, skips to the snack table then back to her seat, curtsying before she sits down. She’ll wear that cape, snagged from the costume box as soon as she arrived, for most of the afternoon.
Before snack time ends, another group has arrived, and the process begins again. There are 48 students signed up for today’s program, says Bodwick.
Program director Jessica Fischer said “We have 120 different kids in the program between here and Fall City,” but only about half of them come on any particular day, averaging 40 at Si View and 20 at Fall City Elementary.
The numbers aren’t huge, not when compared with the 550 students who participate in one or more of Si View’s basketball programs each year, or the nearly 800 who attend day camp, but the program is significant, and its loss would be more so.
No one wants to eliminate the before- and after-school program, says Park District Director Travis Stombaugh, but dropping property values and Si View’s low position in the rankings for a share of property taxes levied may force the district to consider program reductions.
“We would have to look at everything and see what we could provide the public, but there would have to be reductions,” Stombaugh said, if district voters don’t restore Si View’s funding by approving Proposition 1 on the November ballot.
The Si View Metropolitan Parks District receives about 51 percent of its $2 million budget from property taxes – the other 49 percent comes from user fees. As a junior taxing district, Si View is in the third round of distributions of property tax money. Entities like cities and the county are first in line for the funds, capped by state law at $5.90 per $1,000 of assessed value. As assessed values fall, their tax rates rise to compensate, leaving almost nothing of the $5.90 for the junior districts.
In other words, “The pie is only so big, and it used to be that the pie was big enough that everybody got a slice,” said park district commissioner Mark Joselyn.
Last year, when Si View learned that it would get only about 9 cents per $1,000 as its share of the levy (an amount that had dropped to zero by the time of the elections as Joselyn recalled) it responded the only way it legally could – by asking the voters for help.
Proposition 1 in 2011, approved by about 88 percent of voters, protected 25 cents of Si View’s funding. In effect, it allowed the district to levy 25 cents per $1,000 throughout its district, including in the district’s unincorporated communities that had already exceeded the cap, for the next six years.
Proposition 2, approved by 75 percent of voters , authorized the district to levy for the rest of the 53-cent Si View levy.
This year, another Proposition 1 is on the ballot, to restore the amount of the Si View levy not covered by the six year levy approved in 2011.
“It should be no more than 27 cents,” said Stombaugh, although the final number will be calculated next year when the taxes are actually levied.
It’s not a tax increase, he says, “it’s a renewal.”
“The important point of this is it’s not an increase. We’ve been very mindful of spending our patrons’ dollars wisely,” said Joselyn.
On that point, Stombaugh points out that “We don’t take our max.” Since voters resoundingly approved the creation of the parks district in 2003, “we have always been authorized to take 75 cents per thousand.”
Stombaugh says he is optimistic that the voters will restore the parks district funding again this year, although he is concerned about being “drowned out” by all the other items on the ballot in a presidential election year. He hopes voters will remember to turn over their ballots and mark their votes on Proposition 1.
A 60 percent yes vote is needed for Proposition 1 to pass, along with a minimum voter turnout of 2,347.
If either requirement isn’t met, Stombaugh and the Si View commissioners will have some very difficult decisions ahead.
Stombaugh said the district does have $75,000, roughly a few months’ worth of operating costs, in reserve, which “would buy us time to make the necessary reductions in the level of service that we provide.”
He was reluctant to speculate on possible program cuts, saying the commission would have the final vote on them, but some programs are more likely than others, based on participation and on “cost recovery,” or how well they pay for themselves.
“You might have a combination of less open time. Maybe the community center closes earlier, or the pool doesn’t open as early… Maybe we cut back on all programming that’s less than 85 percent cost recovery,” he said.
The pool, offering swimming lessons to more than 300 children each session, operates at only 65 percent recovery.
Also, he said, the district delayed hiring a recreation program coordinator last year when the funding crisis began. He had hoped to fill that position this year, but that might be put off again.
By next year, however, Stombaugh hopes they won’t be asking the voters to again maintain their tax levy. Si View is partnering with several other metropolitan parks districts to lobby the legislature in its next session, for a more reliable funding source, not just for parks districts, but for all junior taxing districts.
“We’re not an island out here,” he said.
Joselyn said the commission is also doing its best to increase funding. For example, the 2013 budget projects a 10 percent increase in services and user fees, but no increase in staffing.
“We need a sustainable long-term funding mechanism,” Joselyn said. “The 5.90 cap does not enable revenues that are generated locally to be spent locally.”