COMMENTARY: Bringing recreation back to the park and rec district

  • Tuesday, May 15, 2018 12:42pm
  • Opinion
Scott Harvey (Courtesy Photo)

Scott Harvey (Courtesy Photo)

Before the “Great Recession,” the Vashon Park and Recreation District actually had a robust offering of recreation programs. A major reduction in revenue, coupled with a dramatic increase in the cost of a single project, eliminated all recreational offerings and resulted in significant deferred maintenance.

When I ran for re-election to the park board, many islanders told me they wanted recreational programs again. When the park district conducted its $30,000 survey of island priorities two years ago, the return of recreational programs was the top priority, even higher than covering the pool, even though the estimated cost was $300,000.

Unfortunately, managing park district expenses while addressing urgent deferred maintenance issues and building a reasonable reserve has delayed our ability to offer recreational programs to the community.

Four years ago we were deep in debt and our facilities were not being properly maintained. Now we have an adequate reserve, the district is nearly debt-free, our maintenance department is fully staffed and our expenses are under control. We no longer are the only park district in the state that borrows money to pay its operating expenses.

While some of our larger challenges require long-term solutions, our financial house is in order, overall, and we are committed to creating recreational programs in 2019. In order to properly manage the new programs while not overextending the park district, the park board voted to initially invest $100,000 in these programs next year.

Our challenge is what to offer. Many of the programs that previously were under the park district umbrella have moved on and no longer need our help.

Unlike many politicians, we did not claim to know what the community wanted. So we had a well-publicized open house to seek community input. Only five people attended, and we received an additional two emails. In addition, Karen Gardner and Abby Antonelis have reached out to the Vashon Senior Center and other groups, and still are seeking suggestions at km.gardner@gmail.com and abbyantonelis@gmail.com.

While the park district is committed to providing programs for all groups, it is especially interested in offering programs for seniors (our fastest growing demographic group) and the disabled (a very underserved group). To be clear, the $100,000 investment is to subsidize 25 to 75 percent of these program costs, so everyone can afford to participate. In the past, we have focused on facilities for groups. This is our opportunity to engage with other members of the community who have varied interests.

That is why I am writing this final plea for ideas. To be clear, this is only about recreational programs. We already have money in the budget for the pool and our parks/fields to serve our youth sports programs. The question is do we really want a park and recreation district, or just a park district. I also look forward to hearing from you at sdharvey50@comcast.net and thank you for your continued support.

— Scott Harvey is the vice chair of the park board.

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