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Parks and Rec slashes budget, schedules levy

Though forced to cut almost $16,000 out of their 2002 budget after Washington voters approved Initiative 747 last week, the five commissioners of the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District probably will not increase the district’s levy amount when it goes to a vote in February.

On Thursday night, the commissioners unanimously approved a budget that includes $535,099 in revenue, $468,715 in expenses, and enough money to pay for the same amount of park maintenance as the district budgeted for 2001. Even though some of the commissioners said this might not be enough — considering the fact that the park has more than doubled in size during the past two years — they seemed ready by meeting’s end to ask voters for the same levy the district has maintained since it was formed in 1985 — a 15-cent tax on every $1,000 of property in the district.

Commissioner Curt Gordon said he wanted the district to take a financially conservative stance in the wake of I-747, a measure that limits the percentage by which taxing districts can raise taxes from year to year. The I-747 limit is 1 percent or a rate equal to the implicit price deflector, whichever is less. Prior to the measure’s passage, 6 percent was the limit.

Raising the levy rate now, after voters have indicated they do not want any more property tax increases, would give them an excuse to say No, Gordon said.

“I don’t want to give them an excuse,” he said.

If they did reject it, the district would have only one more chance — in August — to pass a levy issue before the current levy expires, and the district would run out of money in 2003.

Keeping the levy rate at 15 cents should work, said Commissioner Dave Haworth, even with projected revenue losses as high as $138,482 by 2008 due to I-747. Provided the levy term is limited to two years instead of a six-year maximum, the district will still have over $145,000 in cash and reserves in the bank. Anything beyond two years will force the district to dip into that money.

But those reserves could also be tapped as early as next year. To fit the district’s budget to the requirements of I-747, parks director Suzette Hart had to cut several hundred hours of park maintenance time out of the 2002 budget, as well as funds for cement garbage cans, a $3,000 boom sprayer, and the entire $1,000 cost of the district’s swim voucher program. Of highest concern at the meeting were the maintenance hours. Park maintenance supervisor Tom Fallon reminded the commissioners that the size of the park has tripled since 1999, while the amount of turf and lawns has doubled. Maintaining the extra space without an increase in man hours or funding might force him to ask for more money sometime next year.

Also a factor in the budget cuts is an estimated $4,000 savings on election costs for the Feb. 5 levy vote. The parks district will split the approximate $8,000 election expense with the South Whidbey School District, which is running its own levy issue.

Hart and the district’s commissioners had planned a budget prior to the passage of I-747 that called for a 6-percent increase. No cuts are expected in the district’s programs, which Commissioner Gordon said break even.

The commissioners will decide on the amount and duration of the district’s levy at their Dec. 12 meeting.

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