Law allows toilets, trash cans back in the parks

A change in state law will allow Island County officials to use a different method to pay for maintenance at county parks, which translate to a return of portable toilets and trash pickup to some South Whidbey parks.

Island County Budget Director Elaine Marlow said state lawmakers passed a bill that allows local governments to use real estate excise taxes, or REET funds, for the the maintenance and operation of parks. Previously, REET funds used in parks departments were restricted to major repair projects or the purchase of property.

“It’s truly only a temporary stopgap measure to keep our parks open,” Marlow said, noting that the change in law sunsets in 2016.

Still, it’s good news for the county parks department and those who frequent the parks. The parks department, which is under the public works umbrella, lost all but a third of its funding in various rounds of budget cuts. The department was left with one part-time person on each island to handle maintenance in the 67 parks and habitat areas, as well as the county campus in Coupeville.

In February, county officials announced the end of garbage collection at county parks. Soon after, all trash cans were removed.

In addition, parks officials stopped paying for portable toilets at parks, which could have become an especially big problem during the upcoming salmon season when anglers flock to certain beaches.

But the change in state law allows the county to channel an extra $40,000 in REET funds to parks maintenance.

Steve Marx, Island County assistant public works director and parks superintendent, said the extra cash will allow him to restore the two park technicians to full time and hire a temporary employee to work for five months on mowing and parks maintenance.

Marx said he is returning trash pickup to the county’s two most popular parks, Double Bluff and Freeland, and may consider other parks in the future.

On the potty front, Marx said the parks department will start paying for the portable toilets at Patmore and Marguerite Brons, both of which are off-leash dog parks. The group FETCH! had been picking up the toilet tab for months.

In addition, Marx said he’ll use some of the funds to pay for portable toilets at popular beach parks — like Driftwood Beach, Mutiny Bay and Dave Mackie — during the upcoming pink salmon season. He didn’t want to speculate on what all the hardcore fishermen and women would do without them.

Of course, there’s a price to using the REET funds for maintenance and operation. Marlow said major repair projects have simply been kicked on down the road. And it’s not a permanent fix to the parks funding problem since the law reverts to the former restrictions on REET funds in four years. Lawmakers predicted that counties will be in better financial situations by then and will be able to fund parks maintenance in other ways.

In the meantime, Marx said he was very happy about the way people reacted to the end of trash pickup at the parks. The employees put up signs asking people to “pack in, pack out” trash. He said the majority of people complied. And for the few who didn’t, Adopt-a-Park volunteers and Good Samaritans cleaned up after them.

“We are very appreciative that the public has supported us in that fashion,” he said.


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