DuPont says no thanks to free help at city parks

Staff writerFebruary 20, 2014 

Two groups of citizens worried about declining maintenance at parks in the city of DuPont volunteered recently to pick up landscape costs for five years to help the cash-strapped South Pierce city.

The council rejected their offer in a 4-3 vote last week.

“Let’s get our acts together and start running our parks and our departments and stop relying on charity,” Councilman Michael Gorski said, explaining his vote to turn down the offer. “This is one of these things that sounds fantastic on the surface, but it really makes no sense.”

DuPont Mayor Michael Grayum, on the other hand, thought the offer made good sense. As the city faces difficult financial times, he said he’s worked to encourage volunteering and looked for ways to partner with community groups.

He hopes the Feb. 11 vote by the council doesn’t discourage people from helping in the future.

“I think it sends an inconsistent message,” Grayum said. “Both of these entities, a private entity and an association, have stepped up and said ‘we want to adopt the parks’ and they got told no.”

The Northwest Landing Residential Owners Association and Commercial Owners Association approached the city with the offer at the end of 2013. The organizations volunteered to maintain Ross Plaza and Clocktower Park, two city-owned properties that are central to the 3,000-acre planned Northwest Landing community.

Ross Plaza is the site of movies in the park, fire safety day, the DuPont music festival and holiday tree-lighting event. It also holds the city’s veterans war memorial.

Clocktower is the location of the city’s Fourth of July celebration.

The offer isn’t the first time the owners associations have reached out to the city. Last year they maintained the median along Center Drive.

TruGreen, a landscaping company in DuPont, also volunteered to maintain the ball fields at the city’s Powderworks Park last year. The city welcomed the assistance.

For the neighbors who live near the parks and the business owners whose clients drive by them, council approval would have brought improvements. Jim Tweedy, president of the commercial association, said the group is concerned about the level of maintenance at the parks.

Councilman Roger Westman voted against the agreement, saying he doesn’t think it would be equitable for some city parks to receive maintenance while others do not. He also said it would be unfair to ask owners association members to cover park maintenance costs while other park users wouldn’t pay.

But Councilman Michael Courts said the city shouldn’t deny someone the opportunity to volunteer.

“It would be foolhardy and disingenuous to encourage volunteerism on one hand and discourage an offer on the other hand,” he said. “I would rather have the properties maintained for the next year and have a problem the year after, than not have them maintained at all.”

The city scaled back park maintenance in 2010 as part of larger budget cuts. Since 2010, public works staff and seasonal workers have done minimal mowing, fertilizing, weeding and irrigation in the city’s 12 parks.

DuPont faced its budget crisis on the heels of its explosive growth; the city’s population grew 155 percent over a 10-year period, and stood at 8,199 people in 2010.

To balance its 2013 budget, the council approved cuts and tax increases to cover a shortfall caused in part by debt on the city’s civic center buildings. Most of those adjustments were carried into the 2014 budget.

Under the proposed agreement with the associations, the city still would be responsible for maintaining park amenities, such as play equipment and trash containers.

The mayor saw the agreement as a win for the city. Parks staff is working on a long-term plan to pay for parks, but the city has needs to address now, Grayum said.

Tweedy said he was surprised by the council’s decision, but it won’t deter the association from offering help in the future.

“There always has been a tremendous volunteer spirit in DuPont,” he said.

The council’s newest members — Gorski, Shawna Gasak and Andy Estep — voted against the agreements, along with longtime Councilman Westman. Council members Courts, Penny Coffey and Kathleen Trotter voted in favor.

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467 brynn.grimley@ thenewstribune.com

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