Park District sets budget, priorities for new year

Commissioners of the Vashon Park District have approved a $1.5 million dollar spending plan for 2020

Commissioners of the Vashon Park District have approved a $1.5 million dollar spending plan for 2020 that will provide for general expenses while fulfilling ongoing commitments such as the expansion of recreation programming.

Their motion to approve the budget last week comes at the end of a months-long campaign to pass a levy that was palatable to enough voters to keep the district open and funded. Meanwhile, commissioners face a backlog of asset preservation work in district properties amid a growing unease that Washington state’s tax model will pit the district against others in the coming months, siphoning off their revenue before sending them back to square one.

Executive Director Elaine Ott-Rocheford said most of the district’s budget will encompass maintenance and operations needs while accounting for a $400,000 minimum financial reserve as per policy. The district will carry over $575,000 from this year, incurring $178,000 more in levy dollars than 2019, even while voters approved a $.45 levy rate last month that is less than its previous rate of $.50. The district’s $.50 levy — voter-approved in 2015 — eroded to $.41 over time due to the increase of assessed property values on the island.

Commissioners allocated $50,000 in the budget to support recreation activities, delivering on a promise to voters to do so, while also committing $115,000 to address some capital project needs as outlined in the district’s strategic plan.

Those include the completion of safety modifications to the Point Robinson Lighthouse, augmented by some grant funding, and the replacement of two trucks for the maintenance staff as well as the cost to insure them.

“Those trucks are 20 years old and we’re holding them together with duct tape. One in particular, it’s constantly breaking down. It’s becoming throwing good money after bad just to keep it running,” said Ott-Rocheford, adding that their present condition poses safety concerns.

Another item in the district’s budget is $20,000 to pay for legal fees stemming from the work of an environmental attorney who is negotiating the terms of a lease with the state for the tidelands under the Tramp Harbor dock. Ott-Rocheford added that one of the largest capital projects in 2020 will be the replacement of the Ober Park playground thanks to a $175,000 Youth and Amateur Sports Grant from King County awarded earlier this year. The district’s budget will set aside funding to cover architectural and permitting fees for the project since they are not a part of the grant.

The district is working toward constructing a permanent restroom at VES Field, though the project is entirely grant-funded at a cost of $60,000, and Ott-Rocheford said it is the board’s goal to not spend taxpayer dollars on the work.

The budgeted cost for administrative needs is up $25,000 from this year at $392,000, in part due to computer upgrades, insurance and fees including contracted fire protection services with Vashon Island Fire & Rescue (VIFR). As part of the commons agreement with the school district for community use of school facilities, the park district will pay $86,000, up $12,000 from this year.

Maintenance remains the largest expense in the budget at $578,000, accounting for temporary summer workers, materials, new tools and equipment such as a leaf vacuum and backup irrigation pump for the VES fields. The current pump often breaks down during the summer and without water, the condition of the field can deteriorate quickly.

The minimum wage in King County is set to increase to $13.50 on Jan. 1, affecting the cost of operating the community pool, which is staffed by primarily minimum wage-earning workers. The pool summer budget is about $10,000 higher than last year at $114,000, but the winter budget has swelled to $62,000, an increase of $25,000 more than what was budgeted last year. Ott-Rocheford noted that the dual budgets do not tell the whole picture of the pool’s true cost to the district as surprise expenses can affect either season. But she was optimistic about the future of the facility, praising manager Randy Turner for his part in a successful swim season under the bubble.

Skate camps at the Burton Adventure Recreation Center were more successful than expected and earned revenue for the district — so much so that the district did not spend the majority of funds from a $36,000 King County Youth Sports Grant that provided for the employment of part-time, trained staff to supervise park goers awarded last year. The remaining funds can be used through 2020, assisting the district to develop more recreation programs at the park, said Ott-Rocheford.

On Wednesday, after press time, board chair Bob McMahon and commissioner Karen Gardner met with state representatives Joe Fitzgibbon and Eileen Cody to discuss potential options for settling the many conflicts surrounding Tramp Harbor dock. But Ott-Rocheford said the other purpose of the conversation will be to convey to Fitzgibbon and Cody their concerns about the junior taxing district model in light of the formation of the island’s hospital district.

Washington law mandates that combined, cities, counties and special districts cannot levy greater than $5.90 per $1,000 of assessed value. If that amount were surpassed, the tax revenue of some taxing districts would be curtailed. On Vashon, the park district would be affected first.

Ott-Rocheford said that a conversation she had with the director of finance of the King County Library System all but confirmed that their board will seek a levy lift this year, from its current $.33 rate to $.50. In addition, the VIFR board moved to increase its levy rate from $1.43 to $1.47 per $1,000 of assessed value last month. Together with commissioners of the island’s hospital district choosing their own levy rate this year — they suggested $.45 cents during the campaign leading up to election day — Ott-Rocheford said the park district could stand to lose as much as a third of its levy revenue amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In an interview with The Beachcomber, McMahon said that the next several months will be crucial for the district as more becomes clear. He noted that commissioners will be hard at work in the early months of 2020 ranking the district’s capital improvement priorities, choosing which to delay and debating those they cannot put off any longer.

“Things are shaping up well. We’ll have some interesting things to talk about at the beginning of the year. We should know a lot more at that point,” he said.

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