Parks and Rec District will ask for levy lift

The South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District will ask for an increase in its operations levy.

The South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District will be asking voters in February for an increase in its maintenance and operations levy.

Commissioners for the park and rec district’s board chose the highest amount of three options for a four-year replacement levy. If passed, it will be effective starting in 2023.

The commissioners settled on a tax rate of 22 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. Other options proposed were 20 and 21 cents.

Although difficult to predict just how much revenue the levy will bring in, Executive Director Doug Coutts had estimated last month that 22 cents would bring in $1.3 million if based on this year’s property values.

The current levy, which expires at the end of 2022, charged property owners 20 cents per $1,000 of assessed properties in its first year. The levy amount increased by 1% each year.

At the parks and rec district’s most recent meeting on Nov. 17, Commissioner Matt Simms led the discussion about choosing the levy rate.

“To me, that’s the fundamental decision that we make in a time like this: Do we keep doing a great job of maintaining the existing infrastructure, or do we allow some bandwidth to expand services and programs and park facilities to people we don’t currently serve today?” he asked the other commissioners.

Coutts agreed that was the heart of the issue.

“I never want us to be in the position where we have to go to the voters and say, ‘We need a 43-cent increase in our levy,’ which is basically what the hospital did,” he said.

Commissioner Erik Jokinen voiced his support for the levy increase, which could help build up the district’s reserve funds.

“We’re already seeing climate change and the cost that something simple impacts organizations, and I don’t think parks and rec is immune to that,” he said. “I think having reserves is a very wise move.”

Commissioner Krista Loercher said she thought the residents of South Whidbey were appreciative of pop-up Zumba in the park, outdoor pickleball and other programming that has helped keep them “healthy and sane” during the pandemic.

“It’s about livability and having access to beautifully maintained parks and having a wealth of programs is part of that livability and it is our responsibility to move things forward and expand services and facilities for others in the community,” she said.

In the end, the board of commissioners agreed on a millage rate of 22 cents per $1,000 in a 4-0 vote, with Commissioner Josh Coleman absent from the vote.