Twice a week, people signed up with South Whidbey Parks and Recreation program can play on pickleball courts in the gym of the South Whidbey Community Center. (Photo provided)

Twice a week, people signed up with South Whidbey Parks and Recreation program can play on pickleball courts in the gym of the South Whidbey Community Center. (Photo provided)

Fee puts districts in quite a pickle

Paying to play stirs up a racket with parks commissioners

A pickle is in the middle of two local government agencies.

Make that pickleball.

The South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District pays the South Whidbey School District to use the pickleball courts located in the former Langley middle school that’s now South Whidbey Community Center.

(Whew, that’s a lot of South Whidbeys.)

Twice a week, parks and rec hosts classes for pickleball. It charges players $30-$35 a month or $6 to drop in and play. An introductory two-session class is $20.

Like other tenants of the community center, it rents space for use, $300 a month. Charging tenants at the old brick school is done for all occupants, such as artists, nonprofits and other organizations.

The school district still owns the building, but day-to-day operations are run by Readiness to Learn Foundation, a nonprofit that works in partnership with schools, communities and families.

Commissioners overseeing the parks and rec board are crying foul over the price of providing a pickleball program.

“It’s a sad day when the school district decides they’re going to charge a parks district,” said Matt Simms, one of five commissioners overseeing South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District.

Pickleball, described as “the fastest growing sport in America,” is a combination of ping-pong, tennis, and badminton. It’s played on a badminton-sized court with a low net and it uses whiffle balls and paddles.

The game came up at a recent parks and rec monthly meeting when next’s year budget was being discussed.

Commissioners made a racket when they learned the district had paid $1,800 for pickleball court fees for 2018.

“They’re double dipping the taxpayer,” Commissioner Dennis Hunter said. “That’s what they’re doing.”

All wondered why the situation didn’t fall under the interlocal agreement between parks and schools. Signed Dec. 15, 2004, it states the school district won’t be charged to use the parks’ fields and facilities and that the parks district won’t be charged to use school buildings or grounds.

“All they are doing is moving tax dollars between two taxed entities and they are both in the same district,” Commissioner Mark Helpenstell said. “It seems silly to me.”

But to South Whidbey School District Superin-tendent Jo Moccia, the arrangement not only makes sense, it’s been resolved.

The issue was discussed at two school board meetings, Moccia explained.

“The board decided at the end of October to allow the South Whidbey Community Center to schedule its own facility use, ” Moccia said. It also decided the community center is no longer is part of the interlocal agreement with the parks and rec district, she said.

“Essentially, South Whidbey Community Center is used and totally paid for by the tenants,” Moccia said. “The school district uses the facility for sports activities and has assigned a custodian to clean up after these activities as it is expecting the parks users to do.”

Moccia said the parks and rec district pays $300 a month for use of the gyms for pickle ball. The fee covers maintenance and custodial costs associated with gym use.

The fee is actually lower than the advertised rate, Moccia added, and it was an agreement worked out cooperatively with Carrie Monforte, recreation supervisor for the parks and rec district.

“Originally, the parks (district) was offered use of the gyms for pickleball at no charge if they would provide their own custodian to clean the premises after their usage of the facility,” Moccia said. “The parks declined this arrangement, stating that it would be less expensive for them to pay the fee.”

Describing the various businesses, nonprofits and artists renting space at the center, Moccia said none are given a break on rent.

“The Community Center’s operating costs are sustained through rents and Common Area Maintenance fees paid by tenants and entities that rent rooms on an hourly basis,” Moccia said. “Their fees are not calculated to subsidize usage of the facility for the Parks Department or any other public entity.”

So is this a case of “game over” or is the ball still in play?

Doug Coutts, parks and rec director, said he’s scheduled a joint meeting between the boards of the parks and school districts.

Jan. 9 is the date that’s been set.

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