Terry Lee, the executive director of the Peninsula Metropolitan Parks District, presented a wide-ranging update last Thursday during the weekly Public Affairs Forum, sponsored by the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce.
Lee touched on the background and history of PenMet Parks, the financial health of the district and a comprehensive roundup of its parks and properties.
BACKGROUND AND HISTORY
Voters approved the formation of PenMet Parks in May 2004 for a municipal subdivision of the state with its own taxing authority, similar to that of a fire or school district. PenMet Parks started with two properties, 38 acres transferred from the Peninsula Parks & Recreation District.
Today, PenMet Parks has 13 active parks and nine other properties which comprise a total of 700 acres, Lee said, with a current assessed value of $36 million.
“Quite a change,” he told the audience at Cottesmore of Life Care.
A majority of PenMet Parks’ funding comes from property taxes. Considering the lackluster economy and property values, PenMet Parks’ taxing district isn’t likely to be flush with new funds, Lee said.
“Until we see property tax values go up ... all we can do is maintain what we’ve got,” Lee said, adding that’s why partnerships with other entities — the Peninsula School District and Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One, for example — are important.
PenMet Parks’ finances appear to be in good shape. If there were to be another economic downturn, Lee said PenMet Parks is well suited to ride it out with $2 million in reserves, significantly more than the $600,000 it requires itself to keep.
The district also owns all of its property outright.
“We don’t owe a nickel to anyone, and that’s very rare,” Lee said. “We’ve got a heck of a foundation. We’re careful with taxpayer money.”
Lee gave a rundown of all of the district’s parks and properties, including:
• Sehmel Homestead Park: Located at 10123 78th Avenue and Sehmel Drive NW, the 98-acre park opened in May 2010. It includes an inclusive playground developed with the help of Boundless Playgrounds, a leading national nonprofit developer in the United States and Canada. It also includes an artificial turf soccer/football field, a Boeing Mariners Care baseball field, two softball fields, tennis and basketball courts, a 1,000-person amphitheater, a 100-person pavilion, picnic areas, a 3-acre open grass meadow, more than four miles of trails and 70 acres of preserved nature.
“It’s an amazing park,” Lee said.
• Cushman Trail: “The Cushman Trail goes through the center of Gig Harbor,” Lee said.
It’s owned by Tacoma Public Utilities and permitted for use to PenMet Parks and the City of Gig Harbor. The 16-foot wide trail — Reid Drive NW at 14th Avenue NW to 96th Street NW — extends north through Gig Harbor for about 5 miles.
Phase 2 of the Cushman Trail involves extending the trail and is a project in partnership with Pierce County, Tacoma Power and Gig Harbor. The new trail extension is 2 1/2 miles of 16-foot-wide pervious asphalt with 4-foot-wide gravel shoulders.
• Bujacich property, leased from the Peninsula School District in 2011. The off-leash dog park on the site has not officially opened, but that hasn’t stopped people and pets from dropping by.
“The word is out,” Lee said.
• Tacoma DeMolay Sandspit Nature Preserve, at the northeast tip of Fox Island, was purchased by PenMet Parks in 2010. The park will be managed to preserve the natural features and host selective activities.
“Saltwater access is at a premium on the peninsula,” Lee said.
For more information about PenMet Parks, visit www.penmetparks.org.
Reporter Brett Davis can be reached at 253-358-4151 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_brett.