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County seeks help with Kingston parks
KINGSTON — Between 1988 and 2002, Kitsap County invested $920,000 in acquiring the Kingston Skate Park. Today, it can’t afford to pick up the park’s trash.
Ditto at other county parks in Kingston. County Commissioner Rob Gelder said Kingston Cooperative Preschool has volunteered to empty the trash at Kola Kole Park and place it in the Community Center dumpster. The North Kitsap Little League will cut the grass at Kola Kole Park through June, using “an old mower” the county will store by the sheriff’s office.
Gelder and parks officials were expected to meet with Kingston Port Commissioner Walt Elliott and others Thursday to discuss the use of volunteers in maintaining the county’s parks in Kingston. The problem, according to Gelder: Diminished resources. The county parks department owns 6,119 acres of parks, of which 833 are maintained, on a budget of $3.3 million — down from $4 million in 2008. AmeriCorps volunteers maintained four Kingston parks in 2011, but Parks Supervisor Dori Leckner was unable to renew that program again this year.
“Parks, along with the Department of Community Development, has taken a large amount of budget cuts in the past several years,” Gelder wrote in an email after a phone interview Wednesday. “It would be ideal if we could resource this department to an adequate level. Until that time returns, we need to reach out to the community and ask for their assistance. Parks staff have tried to be creative and keep the level of service up for our parks throughout the county.”
Elliott initiated the meeting after Parks Stewardship Coordinator Lori Raymaker told Kingston’s local parks and trails subcommittee that the county “would no longer be able to do certain functions around Kingston and was looking for volunteers to do this stuff.”
Bobbie Moore, Elliott’s wife and chairwoman of the Village Green Metropolitan Park Commission, said it will be difficult to get people involved when there’s a perception the county is maintaining its parks in other communities.
“It’s not fair to ask the same core group of five to 10 volunteers to do it,” she said. “We’re already maintaining the trails at Quiet Place Park, picking up trash and cutting the lawn at Arness and Kola Kole parks, and picking up trash and maintaining the skate park.”
All told, the county owns these parks and facilities in Kingston: A Quiet Place Park, 9.3 acres, which was donated; Arness Roadside Park, 1 acre; Carpenter Lake, a 38-acre natural resource area purchased for $2 million; Kingston Community Center, which was transferred from the community to the parks department; Kola Kole Park, 3 acres; Kingston Nike Site, a 15-acre natural resource area; Kingston Saltmarsh, a 14-acre natural resource area purchased in 2000 for $275,000; Kingston Skate Park, 1 acre, purchased for $920,372; Kingston Tennis Courts, 1 acre; and Village Green, 3 acres purchased in 2006 for $1.75 million.
Kingston voters established the local park district to acquire, develop and maintain Village Green — the park district is expected to take ownership next month, Gelder and Moore said — but Moore believes the county may want the park district to take responsibility for other Kingston parks as well.
Gelder said the creation of the taxpayer-supported metropolitan park district “opens the door to having that conversation,” but he said that conversation won’t happen for a long time.
“When they created the (Village Green) MPD, they focused on that specific park,” Gelder said. “They narrowed their focus.”
Moore said the metropolitan park district wouldn’t have to change its bylaws to assume responsibility for more parks. “No, we’d have to change our identities and move out of town,” she said. “We promised the voters.”
Specifically, the Village Green Metropolitan Park District was established by voters to redevelop the former Navy housing site into a community park, with a community center, library, and Boys and Girls Club. The community center and library currently share a building on a sliver of land that divides inbound and outbound traffic lanes.
The park district levies a property tax of 5 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation. That comes out to an average of $50 per household, a total of $56,000 raised for the district its first year.
“That’s the threshold of pain we are committed to keeping,” Moore said. The threshold of pain would have to grow if the district took responsibility for more parks. The district has set a limit of 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, but under state law can charge 70 cents per $1,000.
So what’s next, besides building a volunteer crew, for county parks? Gelder said the county is moving forward with its Forest Stewardship Program, which will allow selective cutting of trees on county park lands to improve forest health and generate revenue for park maintenance.
Leckner is working with Larry Thornburg at Kitsap Community Resources to hire a crew supervisor and small crew funded through Community Jobs, an employment program of the state Department of Commerce.
And Leckner is visiting the Kingston parks twice a week, “which means the level of service is no different than any other park,” Gelder said.