Mayor kicks parks fee idea to the curb

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Lore Christopher, Richard Walsh

Lore Christopher, Richard Walsh

By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

Mayor Lore Christopher dumped plenty of water on Keizer parks Monday evening.

Three members of the Keizer Parks and Recreation Advisory Board – chair Richard Walsh, vice chair Brandon Smith and departing member Rick Day – came to the Keizer City Council meeting on Monday to give an update on several projects.

The one garnering the most feedback was a plan by Parks Board members to have a public hearing in February to elicit feedback and comment from community members about what improvements they would like to see in Keizer’s parks.

Parks Board members planned to take that information and form recommendations for park improvements, which would be forwarded to the council. If approved by councilors, a payment plan would have gone to voters next fall.

At least, that was the plan coming into Monday evening.

By the end of the meeting, Parks Board members found themselves being asked to not touch the subject again until October, courtesy of statements by Christopher, who acknowledged her stance dumped “cold water” on plans.

Based on a recent e-mail exchange between Walsh and councilor Dennis Koho – as mentioned in the Keizertimes last week – regarding the issue, some fireworks were anticipated for Monday. Shortly before the meeting, however, Koho sent an e-mail that he was in the hospital.

“The hospital has kindly invited me to stay over a night or two,” Koho wrote. “Looks like I will miss council tonight.”

In a follow-up e-mail with the Keizertimes Tuesday morning, Koho gave some more information.

“I really wanted to be there but my doc told me to get (to the hospital) ASAP,” Koho wrote. “He was worried about a possible small stroke. No definitive word yet.”

With Koho absent, Parks Board members touched on several subjects before coming to the funding issue.

“It will be millions to do all the projects that are wanted done,” Walsh said. “There’s no way the city has those resources in our lifetime, so that started a dialogue. We also got the charge from this council in January to work on a long-range plan. We thought you wanted us to engage the community, which includes talking with the community. We looked at different ways and decided to have a public hearing.”

Walsh noted various funding mechanisms were discussed, including levies which can be no more than five years in length.

“It requires a public vote, which we’re fine with,” Walsh said. “But once you build things, if you don’t have a way to maintain it, that will suck money from departments like police. You would need a way to maintain, so we frowned on it.”

The favored approach was a fee – tentatively targeted at $2 per household – to pay for capital improvements and parks maintenance, with that fee being sent to the public for a vote next fall.

Day said the fee would raise an estimated $300,000 to $350,000 a year, in addition to the 3.2 percent of general fund money parks currently get.

“It’s badly needed,” said Day, who has completed three terms on the Parks Board. “That dollar figure is not crazy. If it’s $2 per house, $350,000 per year, it’s about one-third for maintenance and about 55 percent for equipment. You have to have a continuous cycle.”

Smith noted the majority of the Parks Board meetings for the past year have been focused on creating stable long-term parks financing.

“We wanted to have everything lined up first before going to council,” said Smith, himself a former councilor. “We want to have these improvements around forever.”

Christopher balked at the idea of adding something to the water bill.

“We did learn from last time we elected to collect a fee on the water bill, and that was the 9-1-1 bill,” Christopher said. “That election was 80-20 against. What I got from that was not just a no, but a hell no. I would never advocate adding anything to the water bill unless it was directly for water or sewer.”

The mayor agreed there is need for stable parks funding.

“Long term, we’re all concerned with parks financing,” she said. “We want to have financing for a capital improvement plan. What we weren’t prepared for was undertaking a huge project in the community build play structure, which takes a lot of community catalyst activity. My concern is we can’t take on two big projects at the same time. Let’s do the community build first.”

Christopher said she talked to a half-dozen people recently who felt the money raised for parks long-term would be used for the Keizer Rapids Park Playground Project.

“What I’m saying is I don’t think there’s the will on the council to take on two long-term projects, doing this simultaneous with the community build,” Christopher said. “They are getting mixed up. People think money on the water bill will go to the community build. It will be difficult to explain the two as separate issues. When the community build is done, we can look at this.

“I know that’s a little bit of cold water and I don’t mean it to be,” she added. “Let’s do the community build, then build upon that success.”

Walsh sought clarification.

“So what you’re telling me is, no, we’re not doing the election in 2014?” he asked.

Christopher confirmed that was correct.

“No, we are not doing the election in 2014,” she said.

Mayor noted she and Koho were for sure against it, then let other councilors speak.

“The community build has put the brakes on this,” said Marlene Quinn, who chairs the community build task force along with Walsh. “Trying to do this community build and the election is a lot to put on our plates. I agree with the mayor.”

Cathy Clark said she wanted more public input, while council president Joe Egli had a concern about how the process was handled.

“You guys have worked so hard, I hate to throw cold water on this,” Egli said. “I feel you already put the target out there with the tax. I feel like you’re getting the cart in front of the horse.”

Walsh emphasized plans were just being discussed.

“In my mind, we were getting a general idea range people might be okay with,” he said. “We purposely did not have specific ideas. That’s why we left it open. If all the people came to the hearing and we don’t need anything, then fine. Nothing was set in stone. I’m sorry if the impression came out the other way. We noted clearly we hadn’t heard from the people yet.”

Christopher suggested the hearing be moved back several months.

“So schedule it for October of next year,” she said. “Complete the community build, then talk about the capital improvement plan.”

Day respectfully disagreed with the idea things can’t be done at the same time.

“We have 60 to 120 initiatives in my business this year,” said Day, owner of Advantage Precast. “I hear you mayor, but I feel we can do more than one project. Parks are massively underfunded.”

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