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Decision nears for Fall City park district

Supporters of a new Fall City Park District promote the cause at Fall City Park. The group seeks to manage park and recreation facilities in Fall City neighborhoods and parts of the Fall City Fire District. A mail-in vote on the creation of the district is set for Feb. 3.  - Seth Truscott / Snoqualmie Valley Record
Supporters of a new Fall City Park District promote the cause at Fall City Park. The group seeks to manage park and recreation facilities in Fall City neighborhoods and parts of the Fall City Fire District. A mail-in vote on the creation of the district is set for Feb. 3.
— image credit: Seth Truscott / Snoqualmie Valley Record

Fall City residents get their say Tuesday, Feb. 3, on whether to create a new agency to look after parks and playfields in their community.

The upcoming mail-only vote asks residents in several Fall City neighborhoods and parts of King County Fire District 27 to approve a district that would have taxing powers, a five member board and the job of running new and existing parks.

To maintain and acquire those parks, Fall City Park District would be authorized to tax up to 75 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value.

However, on the park district Web site, www.fallcityparks.org, park district backers have committed to roughly a 9.5 cent tax per $1,000 in property values.

According to the King County Assessor’s office, the new park district tax will begin collection in 2010. The park district must hold a public hearing and submit a budget to the county to begin collecting a tax. Once the initial rate is set, the district would be limited to a 1 percent per year increase.

Parks in the Fall City area include Fall City Park, Quigley Park and the Fall City Natural Area. Park district supporters have stated that, if created, the district would seek to create new ball- and playfields.

Fall City Park

District supporters have long said that the new agency is about all of Fall City’s parks facilities, not any single one. However, the issues surrounding Fall City Community Park and its proposed transfer to the Snoqualmie Tribe make the upcoming February vote a potential referendum on that transfer.

Both parks commission candidate Perry Wilkins and Matt Mattson, administrator for the Snoqualmie Tribe, are in agreement that some may see the vote as such a referendum.

“I personally think it is much more than that,” Wilkins said. “Yes, the park is an important part of Fall City, and we really do not want it to go away, but if the park is given away, we will need a park district even more to fill the potential void.”

In Wilkins’ view, the county can’t be counted on to look out for Fall City’s best interests.

“It is up to us to do that,” he said. “Many residents believe that the park and recreation interests of Fall City are not being adequately addressed by King County, as evidenced by the steps it has taken to complete the park transfer. Therefore, it is important for our community to take appropriate steps to ensure that our concerns and issues are addressed.”

Park transfer

The proposed agreement between the county and the Tribe was forwarded to the King County Council for approval three weeks ago.

Under the county’s proposal, Fall City Park uses and facilities would remain the same following a transfer. The park would continue to be used in perpetuity for recreation purposes, unless other land in the county is exchanged, to be used as a park. Access to the park by non-tribal members would not be limited in any way. The Tribe could schedule its own use of the park for special events, but could not override anyone else’s uses. The parking lot would continue to serve as a trailhead for the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, for so long as the trail exists, while the equestrian area would continue its use, unless another recreational use is selected through an open public process. The county’s historic preservation code would continue to apply to the hop shed and archaeological site at the park, and county land use laws would also continue to apply, for the forseeable future.

Kathy Lambert, who represents the Valley on the King County Council, said the proposed contract between the county and the Tribe isn’t perfect yet.

Lambert has asked her fellow council members to hold off on acting on the contract until the people of Fall City get their say at the ballot box. Lambert said she is very optimistic that the council won’t move on the agreement with the Tribe until after the February vote.

The part of the agreement that would allow the Tribe to sell Fall City Park in return for another piece of land “isn’t a good term to have in there,” Lambert said. “I think it should be taken out.”

Fall City Community Park “is a unique setting,” she added. “It’s integral to the flavor and the environment of Fall City.”

Tribe’s view

The Snoqualmie Tribe continues to feel a strong sense of connection to the land on which Fall City Park is located, according to Mattson.

The Tribe, he said, “continues to feel that it is the rightful steward of that land.

“Our hope continues to be that the park is transferred to the Tribe under the terms of the proposed agreement.”

Mattson said the Tribe is satisfied with the current language of the park transfer.

“Nobody has approached us about any proposed changes to the agreement,” he said. “Clearly, some leaders in the county and in the local community oppose the transfer to the Tribe despite the commitments and assurances that the Tribe has proposed,” Mattson said.

The Tribe intends to maintain the park “at or above” its current level.

“We will look at improvements to the current facilities if that park is tranferred to the Tribe,” Mattson said.

According to Lambert, the Tribe’s offer to take over operations at Fall City Park came during a time when King County was transferring ownership of parks to other agencies. However, Lambert said that most of those park transfers were in places soon to be annexed into cities, or already inside existing city limits.

“This park is different from the parks that the county divested itself of,” she said. “It is a local park in an incorporated area,” making the county the responsible party in her view.

“The county is supposed to be providing those local services,” Lambert said. “A local provider should not just be walking away from their responsibilities.”

“Now, the citizens of the community have said they would like more control,” Lambert said. It is her understanding that the Fall City Park District would represent a variety of users.

“We’re not excluding the Tribe,” she said.

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