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River park, ballfields could go to voters

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

August 5, 2006

Three public agencies agree that a waterfront park might not be possible without taxpayer help.

Neither the City of Hood River nor the Hood River Valley Parks and Recreation District have extra funds to pay the $45,000 of projected annual maintenance costs.

The city is climbing out of a $1.7 million budget hole and the parks district can only afford $53,600 a year to maintain almost 12 acres of parks and trails.

“It’s going to take several years for us to get solvent and we need to fund police and other basic services first,” said City Councilor Paul Cummings.

“It’s a common challenge throughout Oregon that we have the money to build parks but not the money to maintain them,” said Lori Stirn, director of the parks district.

The Port of Hood River already finances the upkeep of 63.6 acres for recreation along the Columbia River. Plus, the port board believes its fiscal share of the park plan was fulfilled by the donation of six acres valued at $1.7 million.

“Sometime soon we’re going to have to be able to say, ‘Whose park is this and how is it going to be maintained?’ That’s the nagging thing in the back of our minds as we move forward,’’ said Christine Knowles, co-chair of the Park Development Committee.

On Wednesday evening, officials from all three agencies met at the Hood River Inn to discuss the issue. Their goal was to explore all of the available options and decide how to move forward. Also in attendance were Hood River County Administrator Dave Meriwether and Nick Hogan, finance director for the Hood River County School District.

Since all of the public entities owned green space, Stirn, felt their representatives would have valuable input to offer.

“There are some big challenges to maintaining the wonderful open space and park lands that we have. And that’s what prompted this discussion,” she said.

The group decided that if the voters were asked to approve a property tax for maintenance purposes, it should also include new ball fields. The parks district has an agreement to purchase 30 acres at the junction of Barrett and Alameda drives. The estimated yearly cost to keep the grounds in shape for heavy sports use is $200,000.

The preliminary conversation about a tax proposal yielded no firm numbers. The possible figures thrown about ranged from seven to 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. It was also undecided about whether the levy should be presented just to city voters or citizens throughout the park district, which covers the entire county except Cascade Locks.

“We’re talking about projects that benefit more than just the City of Hood River and I would not want the citizens of Hood River asked to foot the bill,” said Mayor Linda Streich.

However, Glenna Mahurin and Ross Brown, members of the parks district board of directors, said residents in outlying areas would be hesitant to support a waterfront park.

“I don’t think the majority of people in Parkdale are going to use this park and I don’t think it’s (levy) going to go countywide,” said Mahurin.

Hogan said Hood River County had a history of nixing levies the first time — and then passing them on the second try. So, he felt that a reasonable request was likely to be approved at some point.

Renee van de Griend from the parks board believed that people were drawn to the rural area for outdoor recreation — and would be willing to support new opportunities.

“I just feel really strongly that all of the agencies need to come together and respond to the citizens. I think we can all work together and find a way to make things happen,” she said.

The consensus of the group was to form a committee that pulled together some firm numbers. Once the financial amounts needed for maintenance of ballparks and a waterfront park is known, a decision can be made about whether to proceed with a levy proposal.

In addition, the committee is tasked with scouting out other funding options.

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