Parks budget readied

Though it will spend at least $30,000 more to pay a beefed-up full time staff, commissioners in the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District plan to slash some badly needed items out of their 2002 budget as they try to spend little more than they did this year.

A draft budget considered by the commissioners last week shows the district spending $477,969 in 2002, up about $29,000 from this year. Between this increase and some cuts in the parks maintenance budget, part-time program administration wages, and transfers to bond and project funds, the district will be able to afford more part-time maintenance workers and a full-time program coordinator.

Overall, the change is not a big one considering the changes at the South Whidbey Community Park over the past year. Since the 2001 budget was approved, the park has developed an additional 30 acres of playfields and woodland trails, has hired a new director, and has put a greater emphasis on developing and managing its sports, arts and cultural programs.

Next year, the district will spend at least $4,000 more on simply mowing and fertilizing its larger inventory of lawns. That figure does not include $45,000 the district planned to spend on a new lawn tractor. Due to this year’s budget constraints, park maintenance staff will have to wait until 2003 to take delivery on the new machine.

The district’s capital fund, which is figured outside of the regular budget balance sheets, shows $202,000 going toward building a new skateboard and bicycle park. Most of the money — $150,000 — is coming from a state recreation grant and a donation from the South Whidbey Rotary Club.

Also up is the cost of program administration. This month, the district will hire a full-time administrator for $30,312 per year. The district spent about $18,000 on part-time and full-time programming staff this year.

Offsetting the new spending are projected cuts in some maintenance and equipment.

Of course, none of these preliminary numbers will matter if voters do not approve the district’s levy in February. Currently, the district charges taxpayers 15 cents for every $1,000 of real property they own. Suzette Hart, the district’s director, said parks commissioners are considering keeping the levy at or near that rate for a period of time shorter than the standard six-year levy life.

If the district fails to pass a levy next year, it would have to fall back on a $160,500 reserve in 2003 until it could convince voters to support a ballot measure.

Though limiting the levy amount may bring more support at the polls, it could hurt the district if Initiative 747 passes in November. The initiative would limit the district to a 1 percent per year increase on its levy rate, as opposed to the 6 percent the district is planning for 2002. The limitation would not leave much room for employee wage increases or for expanding park programs or facilities.

Hart said the district has dual draft budgets planned for either contingency. The district’s commissioners will meet on Nov. 14 to hold a public hearing about the budget. That hearing begins at 7 p.m. in the community room at the South Whidbey Intermediate School.

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