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South Whidbey Parks leaders look into higher levy
Despite expectations of increased revenue from property taxes, South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District commissioners think they will need more money.
A preliminary budget by Director Doug Coutts showed a slight increase in revenue for 2014. Parks staff, however, have not received cost of living increases for a few years and inflation has raised the cost of other expenses, such as fuel and equipment.
“We don’t have enough money,” Commissioner Joel Gerlach said.
The second-year commissioner’s comment drew some chuckles from fellow board members and employees, who have worked and lived under stretch-the-dollar conditions for several years. Maintenance took a $20,000 hit during last year’s budget, which strained the department’s abilities to respond to issues such as bathroom vandalism.
“I don’t budget for a bunch of vandalism and graffiti,” said Tom Fallon, Parks maintenance director.
Commissioners at a budget workshop Tuesday were particularly interested in seeing what could happen with an adjusted budget based on a 2-cent levy hike, bringing the existing levy rate to 17 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. Increasing the rate by just one penny could generate an additional $40,000 for the parks district.
That could about cover a gap in funding for the maintenance department and provide enough for cost of living increases and higher fuel costs. Commissioners thought another penny or possibly more could help the district preserve its reserve fund, which may be tapped to cover some expenses next year. The reserve fund is designed to have enough to cover three months’ worth of operations — about $212,000.
Parks is in a position to either seek a higher levy now and risk rejection or seek to renew the existing rate of 15 cents per $1,000.
In the past two years, voters were also asked to support a higher levy for South Whidbey Fire/EMS and South Whidbey schools, and will vote on a bond for Whidbey General Hospital this November. A parks levy will not appear on ballots until February 2014 at the earliest.
Commissioner Jim Porter, who will end his decades-long service to the parks district this year, said the district is in a tough place of either asking for more money now or going out for a two-year levy and asking for more in the near future. He supported looking into a bond measure to finance some of the district’s large expenses, such as replacing the irrigation and drainage at two of Community Park’s ball fields, which is estimated to cost as much as $100,000. That work, Fallon said, is years away, though drainage problems presently exist on fields 1 and 4.
“You can play football, baseball, soccer, Frisbee; you can skimboard because it floods sometimes,” said Commissioner Matt Simms. “They’re playable, but there could be improvement. To me, that’s a bond.”
For 2014, the district is looking at operating with $956,000 in revenue and $744,000 in expenses. Administrative costs are expected to rise nearly $50,000. Election costs stemming from the three commissioner races this November and a levy measure next year will cost about $16,000.
The director’s salary line item jumped $15,000 because the district operated without a director for nearly four months in 2013. Other increases included the staff’s 1.1 percent salary increases, a new software system and computers, as well as about $2,500 more for conferences and training. One item, race director training for Programs Coordinator Carrie Monforte, who runs the district’s biggest revenue-generating program, the Whidbey Triathlon, drew commissioners’ interest.
“That could pay off triple for the program’s revenue,” said Simms, who noted that attendance has dipped the past two years and the Whidbey Island Area Fair changed dates to be the same weekend as the race.
Parks commissioners will meet again in November to continue budget discussions.