(Jenna Dennison Photo) A current view of the construction underway at the Ober Park playground project.

(Jenna Dennison Photo) A current view of the construction underway at the Ober Park playground project.

Busy season at parks district

New playground coming to Ober Park, upcoming election, and more.

With 18 parks and facilities on Vashon, the Vashon Park District has been, in the words of Executive Director Elaine Ott-Rocheford, “just busy as bees.” A new playground project is in full swing, elections are coming up that will seat new Parks commissioners, and programs are being revamped, as COVID restrictions allow. Much is happening in the department.

Ober Park Playground Project

Ober Park’s playground space is currently in the midst of a makeover, with the previously existing playground structures being swapped out for something new.

According to Ott-Rocheford, surveys done by the Park District showed that the 20-year-old equipment was “showing increasing deterioration,” which drove the project forward.

“We partnered with the Vashon Senior Center and Seeds for Success, and came up with a concept of calling this ‘Ober Park Playground for All,’” said Ott-Rocheford. “We want to replace the deteriorating structures with ADA-friendly [Americans with Disabilities Act] kids’ playground structures, and then the back area that was formerly the little kids’ playground, we’re turning that into a senior and ADA-friendly exercise area with about three to seven pieces of exercise equipment.”

The playground project is largely funded through a King County Youth and Amateur Sports Grant. Costs are also being covered by some levy funds and through donations from the Senior Center and Vashon Rotary. The total cost of the project is $288,530, with $93,239 coming from Park District levy funds. The remainder is funded through the grant and donations.

Ott-Rocheford said they plan to have the project completed by the end of October, but the end date is “highly weather dependent.”

Parks Commissioner Election

The Nov. 2 general election is coming up, with ballots to be mailed as of Wednesday, Oct. 13, according to King County Elections.

In the upcoming election, three Park & Recreation District Commissioner seats will be up for election. Joshua Henderson is running for Commissioner Position 1, Sarah George is running for Commissioner Position 2, and Keith Prior and Steven Brewer are running for Commissioner Position 4.

When asked what would be the largest challenge for the newest commissioners, Ott-Rocheford said that funding would be one of the big issues.

This relates back to levy funding, which caused Parks woes in 2021 after higher levies than expected were approved by Vashon’s Healthcare District and Fire District commissioners. This resulted in an 11.5% budget shortfall for Parks this year, as the budget is largely funded by levy dollars.

According to the Washington state Constitution, property taxpayers cannot pay more than 1% per $1,000 of their assessed property value in property taxes, which equates to $10. This is also known as “the $10 constitutional limit.”

Within every $10 that is paid, $5.90 represents what is called the local taxing district structure. In this structure, tax rates cannot exceed a total of $5.90 per thousand dollars of a property owner’s assessed value.

Taxing districts in the structure are rated in a “pecking order,” as Ott-Rocheford described it, in terms of priority. The parks district on Vashon is at the bottom of that “pecking order.”

“Other taxing agencies that are in a higher priority category than us ended up taking more than was anticipated,” said Ott-Rocheford. “What happens … when other taxing agencies effectively take levy revenue from a lower level taxing agency, that agency is ‘pro-rationed.’”

The funding crisis led the park district to reach out to Representative Joe Fitzgibbon, who helped put together a bill that passed in April that will move the Vashon Parks District out of the $5.90 structure.

As of 2022, the Park District will be able to access funds in the two remaining funds in the “$10 constitutional limit,” which are the $3.60 state fund, the $0.50 gap and the $5.90 local taxing district structure.

“It’s a solution that helps us considerably,” said Ott-Rocheford.

Still, Ott-Rocheford said that capital and asset preservation needs would be of significant concern to the new commissioners, and that additional grant writing and fundraising would be necessary to meet those needs.

Happening at Vashon Parks

Throughout the pandemic, Vashon parks have been open. According to Ott-Rocheford, it was a top priority for people to be able to “safely recreate outside.”

“As the COVID restrictions have lifted, particularly in June, it’s been really fun getting things up and running again,” said Ott-Rocheford. “For example, we had a really successful sailing camp this summer in June with a really cool increase in family lessons.”

Parks also hosted a highly successful series of Concerts in the Park this summer, presented in partnership with Vashon Events, and was a site for Vashon Repertory Theatre’s first annual theater festival — with both events collectively bringing thousands of islanders back into the grassy, bowl-shaped amphitheater of Ober Park.

The Parks District’s Sports Clubs are also now back in full swing, and the pool has reopened for lap swims. In addition, Parks is also preparing to get its ski school ready to open again soon.

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