By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
A planned survey of Keizer residents on the issue of parks funding has a looming deadline and may be headed back to the drawing board.
The members of Keizer Parks and Recreation Advisory Board are hoping to assess just how much city residents are willing to pay for increased parks maintenance and improvements, but how they are going to put the question before residents remained something of a mystery after a meeting Tuesday, July 12.
The goal is to gauge Keizerites’ willingness to pay an additional fee – and how much – on their utility bills to create a dedicated parks fund.
Board members Matt Lawyer and Donna Bradley presented their co-members with a draft questionnaire, but it didn’t take long for everything from the length of the survey to specific questions to come under fire.
Even before those questions began, some members took issue with how topreface the survey. Lawyer, along with Jim Taylor and JT Hager, hoped to include a statement regarding why the questions are being asked.
“It’s because of our low tax base that we are unable to maintain the parks at the level that is satisfactory and that’s unlikely to change in the near future,” said Taylor.
“I would want to know why you’re doing a survey. It’s a simple answer: we’re underfunded,” Hager added. “The parks master plan is a good plan and we haven’t come close to having enough money to implement it.”
Bradley contended that the survey had missed the mark thus far.
“This is a starting point to find out what people want, not what they’ll pay,” she said. “It should be a two-part process, ask what they want now and later ask what they would pay.”
While an additional survey would incur additional costs, Lawyer said it would also take longer than the board originally envisioned. It hopes to present the survey findings to the council in January.
Board members also contested the specifics of the draft survey, which currently includes questions about which parks maintenance and amenity improvements residents would like to see get priority as well as how much they would be willing to pay.
In the draft survey, residents would be presented with $1, $2, $3, $4 or $5 options, but some board members felt the numbers posed questions of their own.
“I would eliminate $1 and $2 option because that’s not enough funding. That’s like asking if you want to feed a family of four on a two-person budget? We should start with $3,” Hager said.
Taylor pushed back.
“I would like to keep the $1 and $2 in because when this comes back, we have to prove that there are people who want to pay something,” he said.
Board members Scott Klug and Richard Walsh felt some sort of explanatory statement should be added to each of the dollar figures.
“Someone can look at these numbers and not have any idea which ones take care of the problems we’re facing,” Klug said. “If there’s a certain amount that we are underfunded, I want to know what that is as a resident of the city.”
“We could show which figures would keep us underfunded, which ones would maintain existing facilities and which ones would permit us to build new facilities and fields,” Walsh added.
Walsh also expressed concern over the spread of the dollar figures.
“Looking at the options we have, (responders) are going to think $1 is low and $5 is high and that we want them to pick the number in the middle,” he said.
Robert Johnson, Keizer’s parks supervisor, said a $1.50 fee would allow the city to add one full-time and one part-time parks employee, which would allow the city to perform routine maintenance on an annual basis.
“You could do a better job of maintaining turf year-round,” Johnson said. However, little, if any, money would be left over for parks improvements at the $1.50 level.
“Watering and mowing would be a step up,” Walsh said.
Johnson said he and Bill Lawyer, Keizer Public Works director, are developing a table of possible funding levels with descriptions of what each option would permit the city to do within Keizer parks.
Taylor eventually suggested withholding the dollar figures completely.
“We ask if they are willing to support a minimal fee,” he said. “Community meetings will be where we get the number and they tell us how much they’re willing to pay. If we ask for a number in relation to the wrong question, the results are going to be skewed.”
As a way to move the conversation forward, Lawyer asked board members to submit their survey revisions in writing and come to the August meeting prepared to talk about which community groups are going to be asked for input.
“We have to remember that we are trying to present this to the council so they can move the process forward,” Lawyer said.