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Kent could close park playfields, restrooms, swim dock
City playfields, restrooms, playgrounds, swim and fishing docks could close in Kent in the next year or two without a new revenue source to repair the facilities.
Voters rejected a property tax levy increase Nov. 6 with nearly 60 percent against the measure. City officials wanted that money to raise about $29 million over six years, $18.3 million for parks and $10.7 million for streets.
Now council members are discussing whether to go back to voters with a smaller levy request to at least address some of the park repairs. A new business and occupation tax adopted by the City Council in October will bring in about $5 million per year for street repairs starting in 2013.
Parks Director Jeff Watling discussed at the Council's Parks and Human Services Committee on Nov. 15 about what could happen if no money becomes available to fix park facilities.
"The problem doesn't go away," Watling told the committee. "We will see decay and decline in the system. We need to find a way to get capital into the system. Whether we are able to address it or not, we'll need planning.
"There could be broader consequences. To be the urban (park) system we want, you will see hard work on our part as staff. But we can't print money."
Park staff, however, can close facilities that become unsafe to use. The long list of potential closures includes:
• Wilson Playfields - soccer and baseball fields that need synthetic turf replaced.
• Lake Meridian Park - swim and fishing dock that is decaying and would cost $120,000 to remove if it becomes unsafe.
• Kent Memorial Park - bleachers at main baseball field, restrooms and concession stand.
• Van Doren Park - restroom and playground.
• Lake Fenwick Park - floating walkway.
Councilwoman Elizabeth Albertson asked Watling at the meeting how long before Wilson Playfields might have to close.
"It's a year to two years away of not being able to use it," Watling said.
The 2012 capital budget includes $285,000 for park repairs, which is a similar amount to the previous few years, Watling said.
"It's not a surprise we have a backlog of aging assets that continues to grow," he said.
If voters had approved the levy, the parks department would have received about $3 million per year for repairs.
Council President Dennis Higgins said he plans to ask the citizens group that came up with the initial park repair list for the levy measure to re-convene later this year or early next year to see what ideas it might have to resolve the problem.
"It may be the desire by the group to run another (levy) campaign," Higgins said. "Voters have spoken and perhaps we didn't do a good enough job of educating them or perhaps they don't want parks and playfields.
"But there are consequences to their decisions. And who am I to say whether they are wrong or not? I want to work for a solution. But we can't fix things when we don't have any money."
Councilwoman Dana Ralph liked the idea of referring to voters a measure with fewer parks to repair.
"We have hard decisions to make and maybe we need to pare down the list more," Ralph said. "Maybe we can fix a few really key items and not have as broad of an offering."
Albertson said the city has been hit hard with the loss of the streamlined sales tax.
"We need another funding source to replace the one we lost," she said. "We lost a major funding source that hit all areas of the city, including parks."
The streamlined sales tax measured passed by the Legislature in 2008 changed the state from an origin-based system for local retail sales tax to a destination-based system. That cost Kent a lot of tax money with so many businesses in the city that ship or deliver goods to other areas of the state. The sales tax is now collected where the buyer purchases merchandise rather than where the product shipped from.
Kent does receive about $5 million annually from the state to help make up for the lost streamlined sales tax revenue, although the city lobbies hard each year to make sure the Legislature keeps that mitigation fund going.