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As county targets budget, Si View may be fair game

NORTH BEND - Children, with their parents close behind, run wild every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the Sno-Valley Indoor Playground at the Si View Community Center.

The indoor playground, which charges $1 per child a day, has grown steadily in the five years that parents have been bringing their children. The playground is voluntary in nature, with parents watching their own kids and cleaning up after them. Everyone clearly has a good time, and the parents swear by its necessity.

Si View may be a much-used building, but it also has the unfortunate distinction of being a King County-funded facility in a year when budget deficits are running high.

The county is still trying to figure out how to solve an expected $50 million shortfall for the 2003 budget year, and its parks, not being absolutely essential to the business of the county, have been hit. Twenty of the county's 44 parks that were closed for the winter will remain closed, and there have been no guarantees that the cuts will end.

Metropolitan King County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert said Executive Ron Sims would like to see Si View remain open since it is the only county park in the city of North Bend.

Although there has been no explicit mention of Si View being closed, the District 3 councilwoman said everything is fair game.

"We are looking into a variety of ways to try and keep it open," Lambert said. "But if the money isn't there, it isn't there."

Al Dams, a spokesman for the King County Department of Parks and Recreation, said there may be some permanent relief in the future for parks. The county will consider forming a metro park district, which would be funded with its own tax. That would prevent the Parks and Recreation Department from having to scramble for general-fund dollars as it does now.

"We compete for the money with the courts, jails, etc., which are all required by law," Dams said. "We're considered a discretionary fund."

Sno-Valley Indoor Playground board member Heather Hamerly said the county recently told the board that its contract with the county, which was was supposed to last until the end of the year, had been thrown out. The county gave the playground two options to stay open; each would require the playground to pay more money to the county in order to use the building.

"The county is in a bad way and we understand that," Hamerly said. "For a lot of parents, though, this is the only game in town. It rains a lot here and we need an indoor facility."

Services for children would not be the only program to suffer. Jackie Andrewjeski, who brings her son to the playground, also teaches an aerobics class five days a week at the center. If the center closed, she said the community would not have a convenient and inexpensive place for all the adult activities that are held at the center.

"It would be devastating," she said.

Talk about a budget shortfall sounds suspicious to some parents who question other county expenditures. Dams estimated the center costs about $300,000 a year to run, which isn't a lot compared to other facilities.

"They got creative when they funded the new stadium [Safeco Field]," said Wanda Boe, one of the first parents to start bringing her children to the program five years ago. "They should get creative now."

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