South Whidbey parks leaders eye later ballot, new facilities

Christian Popp, 4, laughs and implores his mother, Kelsey Popp, to push him higher on the swing set at Dan Porter Memorial Park. The family had recently moved to Oak Harbor and visited Clinton’s park, an Island County property.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Christian Popp, 4, laughs and implores his mother, Kelsey Popp, to push him higher on the swing set at Dan Porter Memorial Park. The family had recently moved to Oak Harbor and visited Clinton’s park, an Island County property.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District commissioners have big plans ahead, including revisiting the defeated but not dead aquatics center.

During the Board of Commissioners regular meeting Wednesday, the commissioners began early discussions about the need for a new aquatics facility, the possibility of taking on new parks currently managed by Island County, and the parks district’s upcoming maintenance and operations levy.

One of the most costly additions to the parks district’s facilities would be the aquatics center, though it wouldn’t be the only major drain on finances.

Another venture under consideration is operating the Holmes Harbor Golf Course. It is owned by the Holmes Harbor Sewer District and leased to Craig Moore, who opened the course to golfers in late July.

The parks board is considering seeking voter approval for its maintenance and operations levy, the major source of the district’s funding, in April or fall 2014.

Residents of South Whidbey pay 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value — about $45 for a $300,000 property. According to 2012 Island County Assessor documents, the district received $931,084 in levy dollars, $329,271 of which came from a 20-year general obligation bond approved in February 2008. The district has an operating budget of $752,000.

Bond funds are used for upgrades to the Sports Complex, Trustland Trails and Community Park, as well as renovations at Castle Park.

The last time the parks district sought voter support for its levy, 3,765 voters, or 62 percent, approved the measure.

If South Whidbey Parks wants to take over more properties and facilities on South Whidbey, district officials said they will need more money, and lots of it.

Tom Fallon, the parks district’s facilities and grounds supervisor, said Dan Porter, Dave Mackie and Freeland parks each have “major infrastructure problems,” which means major infrastructure spending.

“I don’t want to nickel and dime the public,” said Doug Coutts, South Whidbey parks director. “I don’t want to go back and ask for another penny for these three parks.”

Any possible acquisitions of county parks, however, are a long way off.

“That discussion with Island County is so in its infancy, we have not looked at those properties,” Coutts said.

The possible aquatics center may look different from the previous project pitched in 2008. In that February ballot measure five years ago, 61 percent of voters rejected the $15.2 million project.

Limiting the financial burden of taxpayers was key for parks board members, who said a partnership with another agency was one option. Another way the commissioners said the cost could be lowered was by scaling back the size of the project.

Coutts told the commissioners he wanted the district to take care of and improve its existing facilities before acquiring any others.

One family noticed the effect of Island County not maintaining one of its South Whidbey parks. Kelsey and Curtis Popp, who recently moved to Oak Harbor, visited Dan Porter Memorial Park with their four sons and found one of the slides unusable because of a spilled milkshake. When Kelsey Popp went to the bathroom to look for paper towels to clean the mess, she discovered it was locked.

Taking on the golf course was estimated to cost an additional $360,000, about nine cents per $1,000 property assessment. Coutts said the soonest the parks district would seek a levy to fund the operation was 2015.

Although the golf course is operational, the district wanted its committee to evaluate the viability of running the Holmes Harbor course in case it becomes available. Earlier this year, the sewer district approached South Whidbey Parks about running the course after a private operator withdrew his proposal to run the course on an annual $1 lease.

The commissioners, on Coutts’ advice, wanted to avoid seeking the levy in February, when the parks district measure would be the only item on the ballot.

Running a measure alone means the agency would have to fund the full cost of administering the election, up to $28,000 for mailing and processing about 12,000 ballots.


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