KEIZERTIMES/File photo

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

A Keizer City Council work session to launch the parks survey Monday, Jan. 9, turned contentious when one Keizer resident voiced adamant opposition to the idea of attaching a fee to water and sewer bills to create a dedicated parks fund.

“I would rather you close three or four parks than try to collect this fee the way you are trying to do it,” said Judy DeSpain.

DeSpain said the survey, which does not include language saying how a dedicated parks fee would be collected, is disingenuous.

“The issue is adding it to people’s utility bills, and what upsets me most is that you are not having a vote,” DeSpain said.

While neither the Keizer Parks and Recreation Advisory Board nor the city council are recommending a fee yet – they are waiting for results from the parks survey in mid-March – it is one of a slim number of avenues for the city to pursue in raising the funds needed to maintain and improve Keizer parks. To date, the most commonly-discussed method for collecting a fee would be through the city-issued utility bills, but it could also be set up as an additional bill – with additional costs – if a fee moves forward.

“We’re in this situation because a governing body did not take care of things. This fee can be added to or raised at the whim of a future city council,” DeSpain said.

Mayor Cathy Clark countered DeSpain’s claim that the city has failed in its duties.

“Our parks funds come from the general fund and the general fund has flatlined and our expenses have not,” Clark said.

The city gets an annual 3 percent increase in property taxes, but found out in October 2016 that an additional PERS (Public Employee Retirement System) payment would likely consume the lion’s share of this year’s property tax increase. At the time, City Finance Director Tim Wood said the city could expect similar payments due for the next couple of bienniums.

Without room to expand the parks budget within the existing general fund, maintenance, even basics like regular mowing, could suffer without additional funds, said Public Works Director Bill Lawyer said during the work session.

The city is only obligated to perform mowing in parks which means other amenities could be closed or removed without repercussion beyond resident dissatisfaction.

Both Clark and Councilor Roland Herrera said the focus, for the time being, is on whether residents would support a fee, not the mechanism by which it would be collected.

“One of the options we put on (the survey) is status quo. If that is what the majority of people want, then there’s not much we will do to move it forward,” Herrera said.