By Ann McCreary

Thirteen local residents are candidates for the Methow Valley Recreation District commission, which will be established if voters approve formation of the proposed district in a special election on April 22.

Candidates declared their intention to run for the district commission during a three-day filing period held by the Okanogan County auditor last week. The commission, which would oversee the recreation district, has five at-large positions.

The candidates are: Position 1 — Don Fitzpatrick Jr. and Julie Palm; Position 2 — Christine Holm and Kevin Van Buren; Position 3 — Brent Walker, Steven Stacy and Camden Shaw; Position 4 — Mike Fort, Bart Bradshaw and Kristin Devin; Position 5 — Paula Stokes, John Northcott and Julie Muyllaert.

During the election voters will choose to approve or reject formation of the district, and vote on the candidates for the governing commission.

The recreation district proposal will appear on the ballot as the result of a successful petition drive conducted by local residents in recent months.

The district would be formed under a state statute, RCW 35.61, authorizing creation of “Metropolitan Parks Districts.” The proposed recreation district has the same boundaries as the Methow Valley School District, and would raise money through a tax levy on property in the district to support recreational facilities, programs and services.

Under the statute, district commissioners have the authority to levy up to 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed value on property in the district, although the actual amount will be based on a budget set by commissioners, said Fred Wert of Friends of the Recreation District, a grassroots organization promoting the district. Revenue from the property tax would not be available until June 2015.

The recreation district under RCW 35.61 has a number of powers, including the authority to buy and sell property, condemn property, annex property into the district, issue bonds and employ staff.

Wert said the district is expected to act primarily as a funding source, contracting with nonprofit organizations and agencies that operate recreational programs and facilities. These could include the towns of Twisp and Winthrop, the school district, state and federal agencies, or businesses and individuals that provide recreational opportunities, Wert said.

Commissioners of the district may receive a stipend for days worked, like most elected officials. To receive the stipend, they must pass a resolution allowing payment of up to $90 per day. Individual commissioners can elect not to receive a stipend, and commissioners cannot earn more than $8,640 per year in stipends.

Not all in favor

Friends of the Recreation District has put forward a slate of five candidates — one for each commission position — “committed to assisting the formation of the Methow Valley Recreation District (MVRD) and making it a success in sustaining and creating great recreation opportunities in the Methow Valley,” according to an announcement from the organization on Friday.

“They all have a history of being very active in the support of recreation activities throughout the MVRD service area,” the announcement said. Those candidates are Palm, Van Buren, Shaw, Devin and Muyllaert.

Not everyone who has filed to run for the commission supports formation of the recreation district, however. Mike Fort, a candidate for Position 4, said he decided to run in order to have a voice in how the district is run if voters approve it.

“I’m not for it, but want to have some say in how they administer the WAC [state law] with regards to citizens in the school district,” Fort said Tuesday. “I’m uncomfortable with the taxing authority, the eminent domain authority it gives them [the commissioners]. I want to be involved in the process.”

Wert said the evaluation and funding decisions made by the recreation district commission with regard to recreational programs and facilities “in some ways will be a more rigorous process than either of the towns [Winthrop and Twisp] go through right now.”

The impetus to form a special taxing district came in part due to the inability of Twisp and Winthrop to adequately fund recreation programs and maintain existing facilities that are within their jurisdictions, but used by residents of the entire valley, Wert said. While towns are able to obtain grant money for capital projects, such as trail development, they are often unable to find funds to maintain facilities once they are built, he said.

Some residents have raised questions about the statute, RCW 35.61, selected by district backers to create the recreation district, Wert said. “I’ve gotten more calls about that than anything else.”

The 1907 statute initially applied to cities over 5,000 population and has been amended since then, according to the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington. In 2002 the law was amended to allow cities under 5,000 and counties to form park districts.

This statute was chosen because it “allows residents within the defined boundaries to make the decision to create the district without the involvement of the county commissioners,” according to information on Friends of the Recreation district website.

“There is clear evidence that the county commissioners may not support formation of a parks and recreation district. This approach allows the residents to make the decision themselves,” the website said.

The Friends of the Recreation District website includes profiles of its slate of candidates and information about the district proposal at www.methowrecreationdistrict.org. For more information contact Wert at 996-3642.