Parks board seeks boost to matching grant fund

A conversation about instituting a parks improvement fund aimed at assisting youth projects turned into a plan to ask for a $5,000 increase to a matching grant program administered by the Keizer Parks Advisory Board at a meeting Tuesday, March 12.

Inspired by some of the past projects completed with a matching grant fund, Board Member Matt Lawyer brought forth an idea to create a similar program directed at youth with a few changes.

“[The fund would] enable and encourage youth to participate in the volunteer experience by paying for maintenance projects or installation of benches and tables while working with a sponsor from the city council or parks board,” said Lawyer.

The idea was also informed by a conversation with City Councilor Dan Kohler. One recent Keizer Eagle Scout, and a liaison to the Keizer Parks Board, was looking for a service project and ended up taking his time and talent to Salem because the neighbor to the south would offer funding up front instead of reimbursement.

Lawyer suggested beginning with a $2,000 annual allowance for the program. However, whereas adults and other groups must pay for improvements out-of-pocket and then get reimbursed, youth projects could be funded directly through the fund.

Robert Johnson, Keizer’s parks supervisor, said the idea had the support of staff, but suggested not limiting the program to $2,000 from the outset. Instead, he suggested, roll it into ask for the existing matching grant program.

“Limiting yourself too much could prevent a fantastic project from being completed,” Johnson said. “You still want to encourage a matching effort, but it’s sometimes the reimbursement that holds some people up if an Eagle Scout’s family doesn’t have funds to get a project started.”

While the underlying idea was one board members supported, the mechanics of how it would work became more heated.

“I like what we’re doing here, but not the way we’re doing it,” said Clint Holland, a board member. “If we’re not matching [money], we’ll use the [fund] twice as fast.”

It should be noted that discussions such as these are rare for the municipal committees and boards in Keizer. The Parks Advisory Board is the only such entity with authority over how a portion of city budget (the $10,000 matching grant fund) is spent.

“If we start pulling items from one line item in different directions there are going to be a lot of questions about where the money is, where it’s coming from and where it’s going,” said Donna Bradley, a board member.

The board is also on a deadline. To get any increase in the existing matching grant program or establish a youth fund, it needs approval of the city’s budget committee that begins meeting in April.

In the end, the board passed a recommendation to request a $5,000 increase to the overall matching grant program to meet the budget deadline and plan to return to the issue at a future meeting to determine how youth funding will fit into the picture.

The recommendation passed with a 6-2 vote, Bradley and Holland voted against the motion.