Budget rises as top issue for South Whidbey parks candidates

CLINTON — Money and park use are the main issues for the Clinton candidates for the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District board.

Both Joel Gerlach, 45, and Jean Streitler, 42, know the parks district is in a bind financially. Property values are down, and so are revenues for the parks. Both Gerlach and Streitler are frequent South Whidbey parks users.

In an early display of prudence, the candidates have avoided spending on a campaign, preferring to let their peers and community elect them to the four-year term based on name and deeds.

What separates them is how they see parks being used. They are on opposite sides of the football — or is it fútbol?

Gerlach is an avid soccer supporter. He’s been on the South Whidbey Youth Soccer Club board of directors and coached South Whidbey High School soccer for the past 18 years. He’s also worked with the parks district during the creation of the Sports Complex and the upper field at South Whidbey Community Park.

“I love the park, whether I’m playing soccer or I’m hiking around in there or enjoying other people’s events,” Gerlach said.

A Whidbey Island resident since 1990, Gerlach was a commissioner with the Scatchet Head Water District and served as president for two years. The experience from that position gave him the chance to look at budgets and planning, which he said will help him serve on the parks board.

“With less money, you have to be more conservative,” Gerlach said.

Prioritizing park facilities and resources is paramount to keeping the district’s budget intact, he said.

“One of the things I do really well is solve problems,” Gerlach said. “As in these boards where, whether it was restoring our hillside or as water commissioner dealing with new waterlines and towers, it’s looking at all the things, getting all the information and coming up with the best solution.”

That doesn’t mean the self-employed general contractor has any answers for the parks board now. He wants to see the state of the parks district before he sets goals.

“The first thing I’m going to do is listen and pay attention,” Gerlach said.

“You have to have all the facts before you make decisions, before you make big decisions,” he added.

Maintaining the condition and status of the parks is important to Gerlach. Since expansion seems financially burdensome, he proposed enhancing what exists and finding new ways to generate revenue.

“We have to look at what’s our budget, where’s it going and do we need to shift it into some direction to prioritize it,” Gerlach said. “There are the options of putting out some new levies or bonds to try to raise some funds that way. But there could also be where, potentially, you have to increase the fees for some things.”

“There are probably some places where we could save money, that we just haven’t looked at yet,” he added. “I’m not going to say ahead of time that we’re going to cut all this stuff, because I don’t know.”

He pointed to the diversity of programs the parks district offers; archery classes, dog training and dodgeball. Adding nature walks, mushroom hunting could help bolster the parks’ coffers.

“They have a lot of activities for a very diversified group,” Gerlach said. “Anything that breaks even or makes a profit for the park is great, and anything that doesn’t we may have to look to see if it’s feasible to continue to do it.”

The issues are similar for Streitler.

He sees the parks as places for South Whidbey youths to spend their time, and football is just one way they can.

“It seems like the majority of the people using the parks are kids,” he said.

“Anything that I could do that would bring more kids to the park and somehow keep kids out of trouble and give them something to do, I would be proactive at doing those types of things,” Streitler added. “Kids on South Whidbey need things to do.”

Streitler has been the South Whidbey Youth Football League board president for 15 years. In that time, he oversaw the league’s expansion to three teams and inclusion in the North Cascade Youth Football League.

“We’ve been able to grow from year to year,” Streitler said. “We’ve done well with the financing and fundraising to purchase some equipment for three teams.”

He made sure to credit his fellow football board members, too.

“I work with a board, and I’m just one small part of a big picture. For me to take credit for something is not really right, because we’re a team.”

“I see the parks and rec as the same thing. We’d be a team of people gathered together to accomplish some goals.”

Streitler is familiar with what the park district has to offer. His family uses South Whidbey Community Park for family outings, horse riding on the trails and throwing a Frisbee. Streitler, who manages Harbor Plumbing, said his passion for parks and the South Whidbey community led him to run for the position.

“There’s never really been anybody on the board that was any kind of a voice for football,” Streitler said. “The park is a pretty large facility, and I think there probably could be room for some football goal posts, maybe.”

Revenues and expenses were also a point of interest for Streitler. Learning from the community about what it values in the district’s programs and facilities is a priority, he said.

“I don’t know that it means cutting things,” he said. “It might mean finding ways to make money, finding ways to generate funds, rather than making cuts.”

Expansion in the district should be delayed, Streitler said, until the board’s revenues increase.

“I know there are other facilities that the county is wanting the parks to be part of and help maintain and that’s always a big stretch financially,” he said. “I would say they need to prioritize.”

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