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Si View considers it future

SNOQULAMIE VALLEY - Si View Metropolitan Park District commissioner Kevin Haggerty believes that the Valley's parks and recreation resources could amount to something more than just the sum of their parts.

As the Valley continues to grow, the missions and reach of local parks organizations are starting to rub up against each other. Rather than make neighbors compete for the same visitors and tax dollars, Haggerty would like to see a more cooperative effort in the future.

"No one is really looking at regional services," Haggerty said. "We think the district needs to take on a leadership role to look at the possibilities of expanding services."

Earlier this month, leaders from the cities of North Bend and Snoqualmie met with the leaders of the park district to talk about the park services all three groups bring to the Valley. The district has met quarterly with the two cities' leaders ever since it was formed in 2003. The district was created with a 72-percent approval from voters after the county closed the Si View Community Center, a local landmark and home to the area's only public swimming pool. The district, with a taxing authority coverage that stretches over all of North Bend and its unincorporated areas up to and around Snoqualmie, reopened the center and has steadily grown to include various recreation programs. It is governed by an elected five-member commission and has a budget of more than $1 million.

Formed out of a desire to save a pool, the park district wants to continue offering aquatic services to the area. Si View Director Jessi Richardson said a recent survey done by the district showed that aquatics came second only to trails as the most popular recreational activity in the area. Keeping that pool is expensive, however. Richardson estimated that nearly a quarter of the district's budget goes toward pool maintenance, a number that will surely rise as pending major repairs come closer on the calendar.

"It is what it is," Richardson said. "It is an old pool."

Keeping the pool funded is one challenge, another may be keeping the pool's swimmers. Prior to the park district's formation, Snoqualmie looked into the community center business by trying to build a facility in its Snoqualmie Ridge neighborhood with the help of land and mitigation money from home builder Quadrant. Although a plan for a more than $9-million community center with a pool was disapproved by the city's voters in 2002, the city would still like to move ahead, a confidence boosted by the added population that will come from the second phase of Snoqualmie Ridge. Snoqualmie Parks and Recreation Department Director Al Frank said the city will take another public survey at the beginning of next year to see what its citizens want to see in their community center. If the city wants a pool and builds a state-of-the art facility, Snoqualmie City Councilman Matt Larson said the park district would lose a sizable chunk of its users. Richardson agreed, saying that around 30 percent of the Si View pool's users come from Snoqualmie.

Rather than have competing pools, Haggerty said both organizations could come together to meet the aquatic needs of all the Valley's residents. Where the pool could be built hasn't been decided yet, but Larson said a regional approach to aquatics may behoove everyone in both North Bend and Snoqualmie.

"Regionalism is a thing we have to look at," Larson said.

Haggerty said a new pool doesn't have to mean the end of the Si View pool, which could be used for therapeutic exercises or swimming lessons for small children.

The partnership does not necessarily have to stop at a pool, either. Haggerty and Richardson said that Si View is the only local organization with a growing and focused recreation program. The programs and administrative forte of the park district could take on the task of managing some area parks.

Additionally, Larson said one of the benefits of having the Valley's parks managed by one park district is that its budget would not be at the mercy of other city departments. With one taxing authority gathering money for parks, tax payers would know where all that money is going.

"You can see where the natural partnership is," Richardson said.

If any parks were to change hands, Snoqualmie would have the most to hand over. The city presently has about 115 acres of active parks. The 2004 maintenance and operation budget for its park department, which has eight full-time staff, was around $700,000.

North Bend's parks are overseen by its public works department, which has three full-time staff and hires two part-time seasonal employees in the summer months to manage the parks. It has 40 acres of active recreational space. It spent $342,481 on maintenance and operation in 2004.

Both cities have land that is preserved as open space and do not count toward its park acreage, such as Tollgate Farm in North Bend and Meadowbrook Farm, which is shared between North Bend and Snoqualmie. Both cities also have expenses that may be short-term or one-time expenditures. North Bend, for example, spent $173,044 in 2004 on park improvements ($125,000 of which came from a grant that went toward the acquisition of Tollgate Farm).

While the budgets for city parks may be stifled at times, Si View actually has some financial room to grow into. It annually taxes property owners in its district 39 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation (about $117 on a $300,000 home), but has the ability to tax up to 75 cents (about $225 on a $300,000 home). Haggerty said the district, however, has no immediate plans to raise that levy rate.

To look into all the options, a committee was formed of district, North Bend and Snoqualmie leaders. Richardson and Haggerty will be representing the district. Snoqualmie will be represented by Frank and parks board member Brent Lutz, while North Bend will be represented by parks commission member Jennifer Rees. The committee will be looking at other cities and organizations to see what kind of partnerships can be formed.

"There are a lot of different models to look at," said Sara Sayles, special projects coordinator for North Bend who went to the recent quarterly meeting with the district.

Haggerty said cities would not have to give over any parks or services to benefit from a simple cooperative effort, but said the conversation should begin about how Valley organizations can serve each other.

The next quarterly meeting with the district and North Bend and Snoqualmie will be in October.

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