By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
It looks to be another tight budget year for the parks department in Public Works in Keizer.
That helped launch another discussion of how to bring in more funds at Tuesday’s Keizer Parks and Recreation Advisory Board meeting.
The discussion got going when Robert Johnson, Parks supervisor for the city, gave a preview of the upcoming 2016-17 fiscal year budget.
“I’ve been given another status quo budget,” Johnson said. “Bottom line, it doesn’t increase at all. We know the challenges we had this year and it will be more challenging as we get no more funding.”
Johnson said the cost of temporary employees – a proposal to hire an additional full-time employee last year didn’t get approved – has gone up 23 percent or about $10,000. He and Bill Lawyer, Public Works director, looked at options and determined the money could be made up in only two places: pulling $10,000 in funding designated for Keizer Little League Park or from the Parks Board’s matching grant program.
“That covers the cost increase, but includes no more hours, which we need,” Johnson said. “We’re just trying to stay afloat. We’re not seeing an increase (in general fund revenue), from what I’ve been told.”
Johnson said the situation reinforces what has become a hot topic for Parks Board members at recent meetings.
“This shows how important it is to be searching for more permanent money,” he said. “It’s very important.”
Brandon Smith, the Keizer City Council liaison who sat on the Parks Board for two years between council stints, reminded board members of recent history.
“A few years ago, the Parks Board spent seven months looking at funding options, then the council asked us to stop working on it,” Smith said. “The Parks Board was told not to pursue that as an option right now. The council has a goal to address stable funding for parks. It’s up to the Parks Board to do that. It’s up to the Parks Board to have hearings, to do the research and to make a recommendation to the council.”
Smith was referring to multiple lengthy discussions throughout 2013 amongst Parks Board members about long-term park funding options. Late that year, then-mayor Lore Christopher dumped cold water on the plans so Parks Board members could instead focus on long-term plans for Keizer Rapids Park.
Parks Board member Jim Taylor, who was on the council at the time, referenced recent talk of a possible parks district.
“You’re going to find out it’s unpopular with the public,” Taylor predicted. “People will look at it as just another tax. I think we need to look at a five-year levy. A levy you can sell; a district you can’t. The district is probably the best way to go, but it’s not going to sell. People don’t want another tax.”
Smith noted some councilors have been doing research on park districts in cities such as Bend and Springfield.
“There are cities out there that have successfully implemented districts,” Smith said. “There are pros and cons to both ways, you’re right. There are cons to selling districts (to voters), but there are cities that have done that. We would be working closely with those cities to put the best option forward, whether it be a levy, a district or something else.”
Taylor said he would hate to see the Parks Board spend a “huge amount of time on either of those or something else that won’t swim” with voters.
“I understand, but that’s how huge the stakes are,” Smith argued. “It’s up to this board to do that research. The stakes are very high, no doubt. It will take time. It took a year to do the revised master plan for Keizer Rapids Park. This is a bigger project than that.”
J.T. Hager noted what was discussed in 2013 is a good starting point and emphasized the need to keep looking at options.
“What I hear from Robert, with a status quo budget, that’s really a go backwards budget,” Hager said. “We won’t be equal to last year. We are getting down to pretty crunch times. Are we serious about keeping and maintaining our parks? If we put it out to the community that to help with the tax bill we will have to let the parks go and no longer maintain them, I don’t think that will fly. I don’t think anyone wants us to stop maintaining parks. We need stabilized funding to maintain the parks for the betterment of the entire community.”
Smith said more community dialogue is needed.
“You have to bring in people and have discussions,” Smith said. “You need to see what the community wants before you decide which mechanism.”
Hager said exorbitant projects aren’t being talked about.
“We haven’t talked about building any Taj Mahals,” Hager said. “I look around and see some very basic parks, basic play structures and paths. The amphitheater (at KRP) didn’t cost a lot to the taxpayer, but boy is that an asset. People will agree Keizer Rapids Park is an asset to the city and it was well done in terms of the economics on it. We have strong things to present to the community. The Parks Board, with the council, has done an excellent job being wise with money, which benefits the entire community.”
Smith pointed to last fall’s election results, with Keizer Fire District passing a bond measure and a proposed tax for increased transit funding failing.
“The people of Keizer will pay for what they believe is better for the community,” he said. “A lot of it is the message and the public perception of what they’re paying for. The Keizer Fire District wins almost every time.”
Clint Holland agreed with Hager and referenced the sand volleyball courts built last year, as well as the dog park at KRP.
“We do have some Taj Mahals because of the volunteers who take it over,” Holland said.
Smith agreed and pointed to the Big Toy play structure at KRP as another prime example. The city funding for that was $100,000 in the way of System Development Charges.
“That is part of the messaging: it cost the city $100,000, which came through developers,” Smith said. “We did it the right way and were smart. It was the best use of limited funds.”
Scott Klug noted he goes to parks in Bend certain times of the year for the events offered there and expressed concern about how little some parks in Keizer are being used.
Richard Walsh agreed and said he went to a number of parks last weekend, with big numbers of people at KRP but nowhere else except the skate park behind city hall.
“If we go for a levy or a district, we need to have a vision that excites people,” Walsh said. “The old paradigm was you go to your neighborhood parks. That way is dying. Now, people put the kids in the car seat and drive to a park. They drive right by the neighborhood parks to get to the one they go to.
“If you want to get people excited, do what we did with the Big Toy,” he added later. “Get stakeholders and the interested people excited about something really cool. Rhonda Rich tried to get the same excitement for Willamette Manor Park for years, but couldn’t do it because it wasn’t a big enough project for people to get excited. It wasn’t a destination park. It needs to be exciting stuff. If you say you just want basic parks, it will fail.”
Smith picked up on that.
“If you go out tomorrow (for a vote), it would fail,” Smith said. “You have to sell the project. With the Big Toy, you didn’t tell them what it would be. You asked them what they wanted. You’re right, if it’s a request just for more money for the city to spend, it will go down. You need to excite people so they become stakeholders. They will vote and tell their neighbors to vote for it.”
Holland and Walsh both referenced the Salem-Keizer School District getting a $240 million bond passed a few years ago, with a key point being something for each school community to get excited about.