Funding issues ahead for KP Metro Park District


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Chris Fitzgerald, KP News

Peninsula Metro Park District in Gig Harbor has a generous budget for employees, improvements, equipment and materials, and funding to support it through a variety of means, including a 2006 property tax assessment. Contrast this with Key Peninsula Metro Park District (KPMPD), whose director, Scott Gallacher, is the district’s only full-time employee (he employs one seasonal employee as well). The district’s three parks are miles apart, and the district has neither truck nor trailer to use for hauling bark, gravel, fence posts, etc. The district’s 1980s field tractor has thousands of hours on it and an oil leak. Gallacher used some of his own tools to construct the new trail signs at Rocky Creek Conservation Area, and when he first arrived at his new position, he also furnished the first aid kit.

Gallacher acknowledges that in the past, “This community has done a lot with nothing, and that’s great. One person brought these tools, someone else had those skills; they put something together that worked with what they had.”

He goes on to explain the difference between building with commercial wear-and-tear in mind, and using whatever materials are at hand. For instance, when the concession facility was renovated, the floor received two coats of epoxy, and the walls were surfaced with a commercial-grade product. Those materials were more expensive at the outset, but, he says, “You only have to do them once. We risk park liability by using (substandard) materials for commercial use.”

Having been on the job now for over 12 months, Gallacher is in a common-sense position to assess the day-to-day needs of the park district properties. “I’m in the public service business,” he says. “I could use another maintenance person full time (and keep them busy year round with projects). The park district needs to plan six years out — think in the future… The population and demand on/for services is not declining, it’s increasing. That is not going to stop.”

KPMPD board President Paula DeMoss agrees that Volunteer Park has deferred maintenance issues using thousands of budget dollars, and that the park will eventually be inadequate to meet increased public demands. She said there is no way for the park district to meet the increased demand for services on its present budget.

Not surprisingly, because he confronts the need daily, Gallacher advocates at park board meetings for a property tax assessment. “We can’t plan, acquire and/or maintain park properties relying on the (subsistence) zoo/trek funds; they are like a yo-yo, tied to the economy and cannot be counted on,” he says. “Of course, I have a proposed budget, but I never know from month to month what is really coming in. For the park district to grow and expand services, we need to build infrastructure, and it cannot be done on the current budget.”

That statement is an echo of statements made in an article in the April 2004 issue of KP News by Byron Olson, director of management and budget for Tacoma’s metro parks district. He said the zoo/trek tax fluctuated with the economy. “You try and forecast as best you can. You work with folks to create an economic forecast based on past history,” he told KP News.

KPMPD Commissioner Kip Clinton is sympathetic with this dilemma. As recently as the week of May 15, she said, “Frankly, I think we will have to ask the public for a levy to match capital improvement grants,” possibly as early as next year. She acknowledged that the district needs a master plan to go after grants. The old park board thought they had one in a document researched and crafted by former Key Peninsula resident Simon Priest. However, due to copyright issues stated in a letter received in May, it appears that document may not be available to use. A major grant source has a June 1 deadline, and the prospect of meeting it is remote.

Gallacher’s experience with funding is that public or private grant agencies, and those of the local, state, and federal government, like to fund projects “when multiple collaborations and individuals step up to be involved as well.”

“They don’t like to be asked for money when you (the district, in this case) are not giving money also, especially governmental granting agencies,” he says.

Commissioner Caril Ridley says, “Popular parks tradition tells us, ‘If you build it they will come’… Building for the future requires financial backing… donations, grants, project-levies and sometimes tax-allocations designed to build infrastructure that eventually bring future profits and create self-sustainability. The Key Peninsula’s parks district has been traditionally underfunded… unable to grow beyond its original Volunteer Park facilities and expand land resources for a growing district. (We) understand this region’s potential for growth and recognize our mandate to build effective foundations for future parks, recreation and leisure time activity… A healthy community doesn’t just happen. Creating a progressive society requires citizens offering as well as receiving.”

DeMoss believes the more people who move to the peninsula, the easier it will be to get funding, because people will want to “support the park district.” She avoids words like “tax assessment” and “levy,” although she says if one had to be used, a tax assessment makes more sense than a levy, which has costs associated with it. The district can impose a limited tax without public vote.

She says, “We will not do anything without public support. We are trying our best to (show people that we want to) make the 360 acre park benefit everyone on the peninsula.”

As a guest speaker at the Key Peninsula Community Planning Board meeting May 17, Gallacher shared with the committee members and audience the vision of KPMPD for park lands both under its jurisdiction, and those it hoped to acquire in the near future (360-acre park on SR 302/144th Street and possibly the Purdy Spit). He exhibited newly acquired conceptual maps of the proposed 360-acre park, and described the property’s topography. He spoke of plans to install equipment, continue land-banking for future parks, and build an extensive trail system.

In answer to a question from fire commissioner and planning board member Jim Bosch regarding funding, he replied, “We’re small. We’re trying to collaborate with everybody — grants, nonprofits…”

Another board member asked, “How are you hoping to acquire this land?” Gallacher said they were hoping to get the 360-acre land as a gift from the state through a land transfer from the Department of Natural Resources. “So,” asked Bosch, “you basically don’t have any money to buy land if somebody doesn’t give it to you?” To which Gallacher answered, “That’s correct.”

Other audience members suggested KPMPD focus on current park ownership and install playground equipment. Gallacher replied that he would be happy to do that, if he had the budget for it. Everything comes back to the budget — to money, the lack of it, and the need for it to meet the desires of park users.

In an article in the April 2004 issue of the KP News, Ben Thompson, then chair of the Key Peninsula Metro Park Formation Committee, and Mike Salatino, commissioner for the now-dissolved Key Peninsula Parks and Recreation District, maintained that creating a metro park district would “not only provide a stable source of funding but also relieve the peninsula’s taxpayers of the need to pass special levies.”

“There aren’t going to be new taxes as a direct result of the creation of the district,” Thompson told the KP News at the time.

Two years after those words were spoken, the relatively new district finds itself long on projects both needed and desired, and short on funding. The director and a few of the commissioners say they believe that to grow the park system everyone seems to want, hard choices will need to be made, and soon.