South Whidbey campground funding in limbo with state capital budget

Although the state’s operating budget was approved at the last minute on June 30 to prevent a government shutdown, lawmakers continue to be at loggerheads over the capital budget.

That could have an impact close to home, as the failure to agree on a capital budget means the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District is currently in the dark over whether or not its proposed campground will receive funding in 2018. The power to reconvene the Legislature for a special session lies with the governor, and he has yet to announce any plans for a fourth one.

The Legislature officially adjourned its third special session on Thursday evening without approving a two-year capital budget. The adjournment means construction projects and certain grants for 2018 still don’t have funding.

That includes the state’s grant program, the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP). That’s the pot the parks district is hoping will fund its proposed campground project in Community Park.

The district applied for more than half a million dollars for the first of two phases of construction.

“Without a capital budget, the future of all new WWRP projects is in limbo,” said Danica Johnson, communications and marketing coordinator for WWRP. “Some projects will not be able to move forward, some will need to seek alternative funding and many will waste valuable time and effort as they wait.”

The failure to agree on a capital budget stems from an unrelated squabble over a water-rights bill, as the dispute prevented a vote on a two-year budget.

Lawmakers continue to negotiate. However, all WWRP grant funding could be delayed for at least one year if an agreement isn’t reached by the end of 2017. It’s unclear if one is close to fruition.

“That means a lot of those projects have to wait, they might not be able to purchase the land they need, they might not be able to start construction, etc,” Johnson said.

As feet continue to drag in Olympia, the parks district is sitting tight to see if it will receive cash in the first place before considering alternative sources of funding. Parks Director Doug Coutts said in the proposed budget’s current form, the Community Park campground project would score grant monies.

That’s a change from one month ago when the campground project and others involving land acquisition weren’t slated to receive funding.

Coutts and the parks district aren’t getting too far ahead of themselves, despite funding looking more likely than it previously did. He told the district’s commissioners at last week’s monthly meeting that he’d been in contact with state Rep. Norma Smith’s office and was told the lawmaker is cautiously optimistic a capital budget will be approved this year.

“Stranger things have happened and things can change, so until it’s signed, sealed and delivered, I won’t believe it,” Coutts said at last week’s monthly commissioners meeting. “We’ll see what happens.”

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