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Parks district gets its levy bump

Voters soundly approved the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District's ballot request to continue its maintenance and operation levy on Tuesday night.

Results came in showing 65.27 percent - 3,016 ballots - of South Whidbey voters said "yes" to the measure, which would will also increase the existing rate by 3 cents. Beginning in Jan. 1, 2015, the new rate will be 18 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. It's expected to generate an estimated $118,000 of additional revenue for district's coffers.

"That's excellent," said Don Wood, the parks board president. "That shows the support for the parks and what we do for the community. I'm definitely pleased."

This will be the the district's first levy increase since its founding in 1983. Current commissioners justified the request by citing rising costs, such as fuel and supplies, as well as lower property values around the district - similar reasoning from the South Whidbey School District's capital levy and the South Whidbey Fire/EMS levy increases approved last year.

The parks district hopes to restore its budget to 2009 levels - the highest in district history - with a budget of about $707,000. Parks leaders on the board and Director Doug Coutts have said that the additional funding would not be spent on large capital projects, such as an aquatics center that may double as new parks district headquarters; the current space on Maxwelton Road near the main entrance to Community Park is owned by Island County and leased by the parks district. It could, however, pay for the construction of new picnic shelters and other small capital projects.

News of the levy increase approval was welcomed by Krista Loercher, president of the nonprofit South Whidbey Parks and Aquatics Foundation. The organization did not advocate for the levy measure.

"I think we have a terrific parks and recreation district," she said, adding that she hopes increased funding could go toward expanded aquatics programs.

"We would love to find more aquatics programming activities for the community," Loercher added. "We have a lot of wonderful aquatic resources here: beautiful lakes, shoreline, community pools."

Rather, parks officials said they would focus the funds on the properties and buildings they already own, like Community Park and Trustland Trails. Since the district had its apex funding in 2009, the agency took on management of three Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife lakes - Deer, Lone and Goss - all without asking for additional funding.

"Realistically, Tom's [Fallon, facilities and grounds supervisor] been scraping by with a full-time and a part-time employee," Wood said.

"It eases up the struggle that we've been dealing with," he added.

The special election received low voter turnout, with 12,008 ballots mailed to South Whidbey voters and only 4,621 returned.

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