Ballots go out Friday for the April 26 special election, and University Place voters will be asked to decide a question that could help shape its future as a community:
Will it continue to offer recreation and park programs that enhance the quality of life for its citizens, young and old?
We think voters should respond affirmatively and approve creation of a metropolitan park district, an independent entity to oversee recreation programs in the city.
This isn’t just about continuing youth sports and senior center activities. It’s also about affirming that a great city — or one aspiring to greatness — does more than fix potholes and provide police protection. It supports its human infrastructure, too.
There is tangible value in providing recreation opportunities.
Not all young families can afford to pay the full cost for their children to participate in extracurricular activities, and communities with bored, inactive children are less welcoming places to live.
Not every senior citizen has relatives and friends nearby who can provide dimension to their lives. The Senior Community Center does that, offering arts, crafts, card games, bingo and fitness activities that keep our elders alert and involved.
If voters reject the metro park district proposal, the senior center will close at the end of the year. There will be no more sports and arts programs for youth except ones that more well-off families can afford to pay for out of pocket. And the city will be a lesser place for that.
Thanks to a successful grass-roots signature-gathering campaign, voters are being asked to create and fund a metropolitan park district. That’s because the University Place City Council, which is looking at ways to dig out of a $1 million budget hole, is ending the city’s $390,000 annual subsidy for recreation programs. User fees paid about $370,000 in 2015.
The city will continue to maintain its 17 parks, playgrounds and open spaces. If the park district is formed, taking over those properties could be negotiated by the five-member park board at some future date. (Candidates running for those positions also appear on the April 26 ballot.)
Creating a metro park district does have costs associated with it. Under state law, the board could set a property tax rate of no more than 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. That would cost the owner of a $250,000 home about $187 a year at a maximum, but proponents of the measure say public input would be sought in setting the rate.
Metropolitan park districts are nothing new in this area. Tacoma has had one for 109 years, and it’s the main reason the city has an incredible park system. PenMet Parks, which serves unincorporated areas of the Gig Harbor peninsula, is a younger district, winning voter approval in 2004.
With their own, independent revenue source, these districts can offer park and recreation programs that don’t have to compete with other city services. That provides more stability and consistency for users.
University Place voters would be wise to look to those examples and agree to support their local parks and recreation programs.