By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
An old topic was brought up again Tuesday.
Through much of 2013, members of the Keizer Parks and Recreation Advisory Board discussed various ways of securing more funding for Keizer parks.
At the end of the year, then-mayor Lore Christopher splashed cold water on the idea and implored Parks Board members to focus on the Big Toy play structure project and updates to the Keizer Rapids Park master plan.
Now, talk of more funding for parks has come up again.
The idea was brought up during the Parks Board’s annual Parks Tour with Keizer City Councilors in early September. Councilor Marlene Parsons talked about the idea at Tuesday’s Parks Board meeting, sharing information she learned at a recent conference.
“Springfield and Bend have special parks districts, like we do here with the Keizer Fire District,” Parsons said. “It would be a special district, with its own board of directors and staff to take care of the parks. It would be a separate entity from the city, like how the fire district is separate.”
Parsons said the Bend Parks and Recreation District and the Willamalane Parks and Recreation District in Springfield work for those cities.
“They have beautiful parks,” Parsons said. “They know they’re getting that money every year, instead of bond or levy money that can run out. They are very excited about it and have enough money to keep the parks up. It’s something you can ponder as a group. It’s not a lot of tax money, but it is another tax.”
Parsons noted she has some friends in Bend.
“The people I know in the Bend area rave about their parks,” she said.
Staffing and equipment questions would have to be worked out, with Parsons suggesting the Parks Board hold a couple of work sessions to tackle those details.
“They all have very nice parks,” Parsons said of the other areas. “I haven’t found any negatives. I talked to Bend and Willamalane both and found nothing negative.”
Parks Board member J.T. Hager noted the details would be the key thing.
“I’m an advocate,” Hager said. “My only question is the process. Most of the staff and board stuff would be taken care of in the process. It’s not like you’re eliminating something and starting over. The big thing is it stabilizes the funding.”
Parsons agreed that would be a big advantage. Currently, money for parks comes from the same fund as other city services, with parks often getting low priority.
“It does stabilize funding,” Parsons said. “It will continually get the funding. We’re building this humongous park at Keizer Rapids and we want to expand it, but we can’t (with current funding). Ten years from now, are we still going to have that same thing? You just don’t know.”
Parks Board member Richard Walsh noted a task force was formed several years to look at the idea of forming a library district, so some of that information gathered could be relevant.
“When parks funding is mixed in with water funding and a water main blows out, there’s no question where your money goes,” Walsh said. “The money pretty much goes everywhere but parks when water, sewer and police use the same funds. The real advantage (of a separate district) for parks is for funding to be separate from that.”
Parsons cautioned this isn’t an overnight solution.
“You would need a couple of work sessions to talk about the process and what the first steps are,” she said. “It might take a couple of years to come to fruition. It’s a huge project.”
Hager felt that might be optimistic.
“It’s going to be more like five years,” he said. “We’re going in the right direction in exploring this. I want to see stabilized funding for our parks. Part of our work will be to continue to have good relations with the council. They want to have good parks too, so we’re not at odds. These are all things that can be worked out.
“The only challenge is presenting this to the public to show they are the beneficiaries of stabilized funding for the parks,” Hager added. “Parks are going to deteriorate. We saw that on the Parks Tour. We need stabilized funding for it. The long-term results are to our benefit.”