Fort Steilacoom Park will become a true city park at the conclusion of a new three-year agreement with Pierce County to be finalized in the next month or so.
Under the proposed deal, Pierce County will pay the city $50,000 a year to offset Lakewood’s costs to maintain the 340-acre regional park through 2014, when the county’s lease agreement with the state is set to expire. The city has operated and managed the park since 2006.
“This is really kind of eliminating the middleman and getting them directly in line,” Deputy County Executive Kevin Phelps said.
The handover is not a surprise. Since 2008, the Pierce County Council has expressed its intent to cut costs by transferring some parks and open spaces to local agencies.
From 2006 to 2010, the city and county split the cost to maintain and operate the park, which now runs more than $400,000 a year. Last year, the agencies inked a one-year agreement that reduced the county’s contribution to $150,000. This final agreement cuts that contribution by two-thirds.
“They are going to be getting out of the business, and it’s time for the city to step in,” Lakewood Parks, Recreation and Community Services Director Mary Dodsworth said.
Phelps said the city can better maintain the park than the county, which operates a host of parks spread over a much wider area.
The Lakewood City Council approved the new agreement last week with a unanimous vote. The Pierce County Council will vote in a month or so.
Dodsworth said officials will review the county’s lease before engaging the state in negotiations. She said Lakewood will want to “modernize” the lease to reflect significant changes to the park since the county’s lease was signed back in 1970, 26 years before Lakewood became a city.
One thing the city doesn’t want to change much is the lease costs. The county leases the park for about $1,500 a year. Dodsworth noted that the city has invested millions to improve the park in the past several years, such as new restrooms in 2011.
The county’s contribution is a reimbursement to the city’s general fund. Lakewood Finance Director Choi Halladay said the reduction was reflected in the two-year budget when the City Council approved midterm budget adjustments late last year.
Located across from Western State Hospital, Fort Steilacoom Park features ballfields, an off-leash dog park, historic barns, natural areas and miles of walking trails. It also hosts special events such as bike races and Civil War re-enactments.
A year ago, the city released a conceptual blueprint for improvements to the park that embraces its farming history to increase visitors and raise revenue. Dodsworth said there’s no money in the budget to move that initiative forward now.
Christian Hill: 253-274-7390