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Park budget saves for construction projects

Vashon Park District will put the finishing touches on its 2009 budget on Tuesday, a spending plan that cuts funds for a few programs and instead tucks money away for capital and unforeseen expenses.

Park officials said they were able to pare down costs while keeping programs and maintenance functions intact — and ending up with money set aside for emergencies and projects in the works.

The budget does, however, eliminate the parks’ community grant fund and its Toons@Noon program for this year.

Tunes@Noon, free lunch-hour concerts in the Village Green, never took off like staff had hoped, officials said, and the program’s elimination made sense. The community grant fund, a $10,000 account set aside for groups who request assistance with events and projects, has been eliminated before in lean years; 2009 is no different, staff said.

The district’s operating budget — $916,000 in 2009 — comes entirely from a property tax levy, and each year pays for the maintenance of 18 public parks, various construction projects as needed and the salaries of 14 employees — who this year receive a 4.9 percent cost-of-living salary increase. Because of the levy’s structure, this year’s budget is $50,000 larger than the district’s 2008 budget.

Balancing the budget is simply a matter of prioritizing, said Bill Ameling, park commissioner.

“Our job isn’t to save money; our job is to deliver the goods and services as economically as possible,” he said. “Are we going to spend the money? You bet. But where are we going to spend it — on operating or on capital?”

The park board chose the latter, and directed staff to trim as much as possible from areas including furniture, supplies and tools.

“We’re not going to use our attorney as often; we’re not going to have road work services done unless it has to be done,” said Wendy Braicks, Vashon Park District’s executive director.

Instead, park staff will save assets for upcoming potential projects, including overhauls of fields at Vashon Elementary School and Sunrise Ridge, an inspection of Tramp Harbor Dock and new maintenance trucks.

The budget also reflects essentially level funding for its reduced-fee fund, which offsets the costs of classes and programs for those who can’t afford them. Need for the fund is expected to be greater this year in light of the faltering economy, park officials said.

The park district will need Islanders’ help, Braicks reported, to bulk up this year’s $12,000 fund. Vashon Park District’s goal is that “everybody who wants to play gets to play,” according to its Web site. And in 2008, the district offered reduced tuition for 168 programs, totaling more than $14,000 — a need met last year partly by donations from Islanders and sports clubs.

The district’s proposed budget includes some common-sense allocations — to each of three funds intended for building projects, emergencies and other unforeseen costs.

After 2009, Vashon Park District will have $93,000 in its rainy-day fund, $64,000 for capital projects “in 2009 and beyond” and $285,000 in its unallocated fund — “money that hasn’t been spoken for,” but is intended to be spent in the coming year, said Braicks.

Ameling said he was confident the park district “has all the money it needs, but it doesn’t have more than it needs” to perform its duties sufficiently in the constraints of the proposed budget.

He added that he doesn’t regret any of the decisions the park staff and board made in the budgeting process.

“If there’s anything I regret, it’s the high cost of things,” he said. “We have this pile of capital money, ... but with the projects we’ve got going, it’s not enough.”

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