By Ann McCreary
Proponents of creating a recreation district in the Methow Valley are collecting signatures on a petition with the goal of placing the proposal before voters in the April 2014 election.
The petition calls for creation of a “metropolitan park district” called the Methow Valley Recreation District, and election of a five-member board of commissioners to oversee the district.
The recreation district would maintain existing recreational facilities, such as the Wagner Memorial Pool in Twisp and the Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink, and would provide funding for additional facilities and programs, according to the petition language.
“We would like to get petitions collected by end of the year. I think that would give us time to get it on the ballot,” said Fred Wert, a Winthrop resident who has helped organize the petition effort.
The new petition-gathering initiative continues a process begun earlier this year, Wert said. Backers began gathering signatures in June but withdrew petitions in July because of timing and technical issues. After further research they decided to renew efforts to create a recreation district under a different state statute, Wert said.
Interested citizens have met over the past few months to discuss the concept and have created an organization called Friends of the Recreation District (FORD) to guide the petition drive and to raise funds needed to place the proposal on the ballot in April.
The proposed recreation district would have the same boundaries as the Methow Valley School District. It would be a special taxing district under state law, with the ability to raise money through a property tax levy to maintain and expand recreational opportunities in the valley.
“The need for a recreation district stems from the fact that most of the major improved parks and facilities are located in the two small towns [Winthrop and Twisp] which constantly struggle to maintain those facilities while balancing competing demands on town tax funds or private donations,” Wert said in announcing the new petition drive.
“At the same time there are additional proposals for more recreation facilities such as the Twisp Community Trail and the refrigeration of the Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink, but no clear source of revenue for funding new projects,” the announcement said.
Important to economy
Proponents of the recreation district note that recreation is important in the Methow Valley as part of residents’ lifestyle, as well as a major part of the valley economy.
Funding recreation through a district-wide tax levy would spread the financial burden of supporting recreational facilities and programs more equitably among people who use them, according to supporters of the proposal.
Recreation district backers must gather at least 600 signatures – 15 percent of registered voters in the school district boundaries – to submit to Okanogan County election officials to get the measure on the ballot.
The ballot would allow voters to vote for or against the idea of forming a recreation district, and would also include the names of candidates for the five district commission seats.
If the district wins voter approval, commissioners would develop a budget to support the activities of the district, and the county assessor would set a tax levy to raise the needed funds, Wert said. Revenues would not be available until 2015, he noted.
Petitions are currently located at Glover Street Market in Twisp, the Country Clinic in Winthrop, and the Mazama Country Store, Wert said. “It’s actually fun to collect signatures, because the amount of enthusiasm people have for recreation is incredible,” he said.
For more information contact Wert at 996-3642.